Table Tennis training in China

If you are American or European, have you ever wondered what a Table Tennis training camp in China would be like?

Table Tennis in China

Table Tennis is China’s national sport. China is the leading TT nation. China has around 15 million licensed Table Tennis players. China is, without a doubt, holding the world’s best practice in training and competition. The Chinese are not only many, they are the best. How do they do it? What are the key success factors?

I don’t have all the answers to that, but I can describe our experience from a Table Tennis training camp in China.

Shi Cha Hai sports school

A few years ago my son and I went to Beijing, China for a two weeks Table Tennis training camp, to see what it’s like. We were curious of Beijing and in the Chinese people and culture. And then, of course, we had the interest to get proper Table Tennis training.

We stayed at a well-renowned sports school in the middle of Beijing, called Shi Cha Hai. It was very convenient.

We slept at the campus hotel and had most of our meals at the campus restaurant. It was the buffet style, which was good. Chinese food is different from western food, and also different from Chinese food in the west. But there was always at least something tasty to eat for everyone.

The training hall was only a few minutes walk away, in the middle of the campus. The main training hall had three rows of around 10 tables. It was full of players and there was a handful of coaches.

Training practice

We had 22 training sessions à 2.5 hours in two weeks. That is a lot of Table Tennis training. Of course, it gave results, but we didn’t make a jump on the ranking or anything like that when we got back home.

The training sessions had one water break for 10–15 minutes, in the middle. Apart from that, it was hard work all the time.

We started with a line-up followed by a warm-up.

Before the break, there was usually a set of practice missions. The coaches selected suitable exercises depending on your playing strength and style. The coaches could adapt to any level or style.

Our sparring partners or training opponents were school kids, aged 12–17. They were always at least on the same level as we were. The practice missions or exercises were much longer (up to 40–45 minutes) than we are used to (around 10 minutes). A few times we practiced 9–9 situations.

After the break, there was usually match training. As soon as you succeeded to win a match you got a stronger opponent for the next match. We usually had best of three or best of five games matches.

Once or a few times a week they called us to “service practice”. This meant first a short while of practicing your service (and picking balls). And right after that, we had a longer session of multiball training (and picking balls). One of our coaches was a former world champion, so multiball was a great experience.

Sometimes we got visits by elder men and ladies playing with the penholder grip. They were all good instructors. As sparring partners, they were great, as a complement. The reason is that they played very different compared to the kids, although at the same high level.

Once during our stay, we got a visit by a few players from the world elite. I can mention Yan An and Hao Shuai, both world No 7 at their best (as I was told). I and my son were not selected to play with any of them, unfortunately. I have my suspicions why that was...

A typical day

A typical day was something like this.

Wake up at 7 or 7.30. Put on the training clothes. 
Breakfast until 8 or 8.15. Brush your teeth and get your stuff. 
First training session 8.30–11.00. 
Take a quick shower, change clothes. 
Have lunch at 11.30. 
Do some sightseeing, visit a park or go to a table tennis equipment store. Or rest. 
Back and ready again at 14.15 the latest. 
Put on new training clothes. You need many T-shirts and socks! 
Get your stuff and buy more water bottles at the small campus store. 
Second training session 14.30–17.00. 
Take a quick shower, change clothes. 
Have dinner at 17.30. 
Evening activity, show with live performance or visit some site sightseeing (park/square/hutong/lake/temple/shopping street or shopping center). 
Wash up some socks and T-shirts and hang up to dry. 
Check the news and chat with family using the hotel WiFi. (You’d need a high-end VPN service if you need to access your personal services like Gmail or Facebook. We did not have that and used WeChat for communication with family at home.) 
Brush your teeth and go to bed at 23.30.

Combined vacation

Saturdays there was only one training session, in the morning. We spent afternoons and evenings on sightseeing and activities outside the campus. We had access to a bus that took us everywhere, and a local guide. And on Sundays, we had all day, for sightseeing, activities or shopping. We could make for instance two main sights and one evening show on a single Sunday.

In the two weeks, despite 55 hours of Table Tennis practice, we saw all the top ten sightseeing sights of Beijing. (Actually, our two weeks were 16 days with three weekends, plus travel days.)

We did the following.

Great Wall — Mutianyu 
Summer Palace 
Forbidden city 
Tiananmen Square 
Beihai park 
Temple of heaven 
Lama temple 
Ming graves 
Beijing Zoo 
Bird Nest/Olympic Stadium 
Wang Fu Yin 
Pearl market 
Silk market 
Antique market 
Acrobatic show (fantastic!) 
Panda show (Kung Fu and acrobatics) 
Beijing duck restaurant, with a great show 
and much, much more.

Pros and Cons with the trip

The main advantage was the focused training. With excellent sparring partners and convenient hosting arrangements. The combination of training, sightseeing and shopping was a big plus.

The main drawback was the communication problem. The coaches spoke none or very little English, nor did the kids. And our Mandarin (Chinese) were not splendid (still isn’t any good). There was one American-Chinese kid there, and he did some translations for us, very kind of him. In the future, if we do this again, I hope we can trust new technology for real-time voice translations. That would improve things.

Pros and Cons with Chinese training

The main differences and advantages with the Chinese training are

  • Much longer exercise sessions to beat the strokes in.
  • The amount of training.
  • An excellent system of handling sparring partners (at least for us).

The main disadvantages with the Chinese training are

  • Non-existent or unstructured theory and strategy. We also didn’t see much tactics or mental training.
  • Not so good warm-up.
  • Too much discipline (the leadership style was “carrot and stick, and control”). This is definitely hampering creativity, initiative, motivation and own planning, especially in our view as we are used to the coaching leadership style.

So, all in all, very much focus on drilling the technique. With technique, I mean things such as strokes, footwork, timing, spin, speed, and placement. And less focus on physiology, psychology, strategy and tactics.

To take away

  • We should prolong our club training sessions and our exercises. We all need more drill time to tune the brain’s automatic control system and to stabilize the muscle memory.

To bring

  • Better balance between strategy, tactics theory, mental training, physiology, and technique.

Right or wrong, this is our view. It was a great trip. Not unlikely we’ll do a repeat in the future if we can.

Some final tips

The first day you get there, go to Glasses City and buy new or extra glasses. Quick and friendly service, excellent selection, acceptable quality and cheap prices. You can buy progressive eyeglasses, goggles, spectacular spectacles or all kinds of sunglasses. Bring recipes for all your relatives.

Don’t expect to buy cheap Table Tennis equipment in Beijing. Prices are same or higher as at home, for the equipment you usually have. Chinese rubbers and Chinese brand shoes can be cheaper, though. But check the quality.

You can buy training clothes such as shorts, T-shirts, and socks very cheap at places like Silk market. But you’ll need master class bargaining skills. Quality varies.

If you are from the northern parts of Europe and are interested in doing the same kind of trip as we did, then you can check this site out