Photo: Feng Li/Getty Images
China dominates at ping pong, and now we have a good idea why thanks to a big article by Christopher Beam in this month’s GQ.Beam, who lives in Beijing, embedded himself in the Chinese ping pong world for the article and learned a lot about the cultural infrastructure that produces a litany of gold medal winners.
Here are the keys to China’s ping pong supremacy:
Culture. Ping pong matters as a sport in China. Some top players make seven figures, normal people play pick-up games at parks, and there is a cottage industry or clubs and shops build around the sport.
Infrastructure. Beam trained in a ping-pong academy where young students pay a few thousand dollars a year to live and train. After that, there is promotional line where the kids get recruited to play competitively in college, make a regional team, and finally get considered for the national team. Beam adds that each school and training centre teaches the kids the same way, so the transition between coaches and provinces in seamless.
Coaching. There’s a moment when Beam is watching a training session and says, “All at once ping-pong looks like a sport.”
Students are taught to play with correct techniques and specific skills, and they practice them over and over again. Ping pong is professionalized in China.
Teaching them while they’re young. A coach tells Beam he can never be that good because his bad technique is already habitual. In China, players are taught from an insanely early age. As a result, they habitually play with perfect technique.
Number of people. Beam says this might be the biggest factor. Not only does China have a massive population, they love ping pong and the sport is accessible to almost everyone. There are millions and millions of accomplished players to chose from.
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