By CAROL LI
To some, playing table tennis is merely a hobby; however, for Yang, it is a lifestyle.
Sophomore Rachel Yang is a member of the United States of America table tennis team and ranked sixth among players under eighteen in the nation. From practicing for hours every day to planning her next competition, Yang has a bustling schedule with very minimal downtime.
Yang started table tennis at the young age of seven, with her father as her main motivator.
“I started playing because of my dad,” Yang said. “He loves sports, so he wanted to introduce me to the wonderful world of being in table tennis since it was one of the safer activities out there.”
As table tennis developed from a simple pastime to potential career, Yang’s dad constantly pushed her to become the player she is today.
“As a kid, all I wanted to do was play for fun and never practice. My dad was the one to tell me to take this sport seriously and [would help me] practice my serves even after my lessons ended,” Yang said.
Moreover, Yang’s mom provided mental support and guided her along every game.
“My mom encourages me mentally. Whenever I play, she would always watch and give me motivation, or calm me down if I ever got anxious or scared during games,” Yang said. “One time, I was competing internationally and the game was set for three A.M. California time. My mom would not let the time difference stop her and woke up in the early morning just to watch my live stream. So, even though she is not physically present, I am thankful for the fact that my mother supports me unconditionally.”
Yang gains much insight from her sister, who also shares the love of table tennis with her.
“Although we have different playing styles, my sister is the example that I learn from, especially from her in-game composure and effective strategies,” Yang said.
One of Yang’s dreams is to qualify for the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo, Japan and hopes to achieve this through consistent efforts to improve herself.
“Since I was young, one of my main goals was to make it to the Olympics. Being able to perform in front of such a large public audience is something that I really want to experience, but simply being able to qualify is also amazing,” Yang said. “To be able to play at such a high level, I often practice to shape up my strokes and regularly watch films of professionals to learn new strategies.”
Yang is particularly inspired by South Korean professional table tennis player Joo Sae-hyuk because of his well-rounded skills.
“Joo Sae-Hyuk is someone I really look up to because he has represented Korea for a really long time by participating in multiple Olympics. His especially unique style inspires the way I play because he executes his plays very well,” Yang said. “For example, some players will have a long stroke but not have a high-quality shot. On the other hand, Joo Sae-Hyuk avoids that by knowing a bit of every attack, which helps him to attack the ball but also defends when necessary.”
Yang believes what sets her apart from her competitors are her methods and positioning.
“My table tennis style is more on the defensive side, which means that I stand at the back of the table and wait for the ball to come to me,” Yang said. “This gives me an advantage because I have the element of surprise. Usually, I am very patient, and the opponent never knows when I am simply going to return the ball or attack it and put the shot away.”
Without such a swamped schedule, it is easy to get overloaded with schoolwork. By being able to set aside some time for homework, Yang says she is able to stay on top of her work.
“I try my best to get all my school work done by managing my time well and start once I get home from practice,” Yang said. “Because I have so many responsibilities, it is [very] important that I finish all my school work on time and not procrastinate.”
About once every month, Yang competes in Pan American Junior tournaments, where she takes on players from Latin America, North America, Brazil and Chile. Currently, her biggest achievement is receiving third place at the Panama Junior Tournament.
“When I won the award, the emotions that I felt were really overwhelming [due to the fact that] it had been my most successful competition. [In addition], my parents were watching me from home so I was extremely happy that I was able to make them proud,” Yang said.
While it may seem an easy going sport, table tennis is not all fun and games. According to Yang, it is easy to crack under pressure, especially when the stakes are so high and one shot can determine whether she makes it to the next round or is disqualified.
“Whenever I feel stressed or if I feel like I am not playing my best during matches, I remind myself that one bad game will not ruin my life,” Yang said. “This mindset helps me stay motivated and not give up, and also allows me to play the best I can, which is ultimately the most important part of table tennis for me.”
In terms of the future, Yang hopes to attend the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA).
“I want to go to this school because it is close to home, and many of my table tennis peers attend UCLA and say it is a great campus,” Yang said.
For right now, however, her main goal is to keep up with school work and enjoy the holidays with friends and family.
“I am hoping to finish all my homework and be able to enjoy my Thanksgiving with my family and exchange Christmas gifts with my friends,” Yang said.
As a result, table tennis has a large impact on Yang’s life and she hopes to take her skills to the next level through hard practice. So, when watching the 2020 Olympics, make sure to keep an eye out for fellow classmate Rachel Yang.