How to become a professional table tennis player

How to Become a Professional Table Tennis Player

Every table tennis player’s dream is to become a professional player. We just love playing table tennis, and if we could, we’d be in the training hall 24/7.

Professional players can, and must, train around 4-8 hours per day. Their job is to play table tennis well, so they must commit to their craft and put in hours upon hours of hard work toward that goal.

In this article, you’ll find every attribute you must have if you want to make table tennis your profession.

What you need to become a professional player

To become a professional table tennis player, you’ll need many things to go your way. We’ll discuss each one in detail, starting with the most important factor for becoming a professional table tennis player: Youth.

Age 

The age you begin playing at, as in all sports, is very important. 

If you want to become a professional table tennis player, your best is to start early. Most pros started playing between the ages of 3 and 10. 

I would say that the cutoff age to start playing table tennis and get to become a professional player is around 11 or 12 years old, and even then, these players would be at a huge disadvantage compared to those that started earlier.

I highly doubt anyone aged 13 or up could go pro in table tennis simply because there are 9 and 10-year-olds with many years of experience that are at an intermediate level while being 3 years younger than them.

In table tennis, the ball weighs less than 3 grams, so even an 8-year-old kid can hit winners past their opponents.

It’s important to set the foundations early so that when the player gets to ages 12-13 and up, they just have to worry about hitting the ball with more quality, learning tactics, and working on their physique rather than learning basic table tennis techniques.

If you learn techniques at a very young age, you’ll have a massive head start because then it’ll be just a matter of improving your timing, power, and consistency. You’ll have a foundation to build on.

German legend Timo Boll started playing at 4 years old, and he was already attacking consistently at age 6. When he was 9, he could execute most advanced techniques and he was already a high-level tournament player.

Here’s a video of Timo’s evolution as a player:

This isn’t to say that you can’t get to a very high level or even semi-pro level if you start playing table tennis at ages 12 and up.

I consider age 12 to be the absolute maximum age to start playing table tennis if you want to make it your full-time profession and have a lengthy career in the sport.

You can get to the level where you play tournaments for money and high-level leagues even if you start a bit after age 12.

Training time

If you want to become a professional table tennis player, you have to put in the hours to get to that level. Even if you’re naturally supremely talented.

Professional table tennis players typically train between 4-8 hours per day every weekday. 

Most professional players will train from Monday to Friday, play their league matches either on Saturday or Sunday and have a day off.

Training is comprised of physical training, mental training, and training at the table. 

A regular day for a professional player is the following:

8 AM: Wake up and have breakfast.

9 AM: Morning training session.

12 PM: Have lunch

2 PM: Perform physical training at the gym

3 PM: Rest for an hour or two

5 PM: Afternoon-evening training session.

7-8 PM: Have dinner and some time to relax.

This is why professional table tennis players have seemingly perfect timing and move so well. They are working on their bodies 24/7. If they’re not training, they’re resting so that they recover properly for their next training session.

Training quality

Another very important factor to take into account if you want to become a professional player is the quality of your training sessions.

An aspiring pro should have a very good coach, train with strong players, and train in a smart, comprehensive way.

A professional player must have no flaws in their game, so every player needs a personalized training regimen. 

Some players will need to work on their footwork more intensively, others will need to do lots of strength training, etc.

The player must train with the same intensity as they play. Even if a player trains 6 hours a day, if they’re just hitting the ball mindlessly, they’ll improve at a slower pace than optimal.

The player should have good feedback from their coach and their training routine should be balanced to enhance the player’s strengths and get rid of any weaknesses the player may have. 

Most aspiring pros will earn a spot on their country’s junior national teams, and they’ll usually train at a special training center for the national team players.

If you can get on the junior national teams, you’ll be guaranteed to have high-quality training since the coaches of the national team are the best there are, and the facilities are excellent.

Training with the national team also gets young players used to intensive training and hard work.

Some young players will be training like professional players before they hit their 10th birthday.

This is especially true in China, where young, talented players are sent to table tennis schools. Then, the best players in the table tennis schools are moved to special provincial teams.

Here’s a video of young Chinese players and their training regimen: 

The best provincial players are then selected for the Chinese national team, and that’s why the Chinese dominate virtually every single major table tennis tournament.

Talent 

One of the most important factors for aspiring professional players is their talent. 

Some players have superior hand-eye coordination skills, natural footwork, a better feel for the ball, and better control over their bodies when compared to the average person.

This makes these special players improve at a much faster pace than your average player.

Taking myself as an example, I have seen players who started at the same age as me, got similar training quality and time and their level just skyrocketed past mine.

However, some players got similar training time and training quality as me but they didn’t progress as much. 

Every one of us has different degrees of talent. I think that my talent is average.

Some players are exceptionally gifted at the sport. They’re different from most players, and you can tell in the way they progress that they improve rapidly.

Say two different players are making a mistake, and their coach points it out. 

A player with average talent will struggle to change their technique but will get it right after around a month of training.

A talented player might correct that mistake in a matter of one or two training sessions, and this is why they improve so quickly.

Most Argentines will remember Fermín Tenti and his particular story.

Fermín was very different from your average table tennis player. His coach would say that if you told him to fix a technical error, he’d correct it the next time he hit the ball and he’d never make that mistake again.

By the time he was 14, he was already beating the best players in Argentina and he was one of the best junior players in the world, reaching the final of an ITTF juniors tournament.

He’s the same age as Hugo Calderano and they’d go against each other quite frequently in South American tournaments, sometimes Hugo won, but other matches went in Fermín’s favor.

He achieved his best ITTF ranking (#265 in the world) at just 18 years of age, and he was climbing up the rankings rapidly. 

We all believed he’d crack the top 100 in a year or two. However, Fermín had different plans.

Fermín Tenti grew tired of table tennis, and he started playing tennis instead. 

He decided to pursue a career as a tennis player, even though he was a table tennis player and tennis wasn’t his main focus at the time.

He started professional tennis training at 18. Seven years later, at the age of 25, Fermín just won his first professional tennis title, and at the moment of writing, he’s ranked #562 in the ATP tennis rankings.

A picture of Fermín Tenti after winning his First professional Table tennis title
Source: aadeporte

This goes to show that some people are different than the rest of us. Fermín could switch sports and be a professional player at both.

Virtually all professional players are more talented than average. 

If you want to make it to the very top of the sport, you must be a talented player and work as hard as you possibly can.

I would also include mental strength in the “talent” category. Some players have an obsession with winning and are perfectionists by nature.

These players will get as far as they want since they’ll always be willing to sacrifice anything just to win and reach their goals.

Funding

Last but not least is funding. Every aspiring professional player must have a source of funding to purchase their equipment, pay their coaches, pay tournament fees, plane tickets, and hotels to play abroad, etc.

Table tennis is an expensive sport, and before you start making money from playing table tennis, you have to invest quite a bit of money yourself.

However, most high-level players can usually get funding from the government and earn allowances to keep playing the sport and compete abroad.

It depends on the country and it also depends on how wealthy your parents are. From ages 5-18, the parents of an aspiring player will need to spend a lot of money on training expenses for their son/daughter.

How to tell if you can become a professional table tennis player

Whether you can go pro in table tennis depends on your current level, your rate of progress, and your age. 

A good indicator of your possibilities of going pro is if you’re among the best players in your age group in your country/province.

If you started playing table tennis at 8, you’re now 12 and you’re an upper intermediate/advanced player, chances are you have a good shot at going pro.

However, everything can change. You may grow tired of table tennis as Fermín did. 

Being a table tennis pro is very hard work and doing the same routine of training for hours on end every day for 10+ years is mentally and physically draining.

Most players who have a chance at going professional ultimately decide against it at some point and then focus on their studies or start working in other unrelated fields.

You’ll find lots of players that were within the best in the country at their age group but only 1 or 2 of the 10-15 best players only go pro. 

The rest move on to study or work, and some become coaches. 

A very good way to tell if you can become a professional player is to ask your coach. 

Experienced coaches will be able to tell you your chances of making table tennis your profession, and what you need to do if you want to become a professional player.

Most players won’t be able to make a living out of playing table tennis, but that’s fine. 

I prefer having table tennis as my hobby rather than my job. I find that if I train too frequently I lose motivation and I start getting injured.

I like going to the club 3 times a week and having a good time playing rather than having to train for 4-8 hours every day and having my job security depend on how well I play my league matches. Everyone has different goals in life.

Alvaro’s been playing Table Tennis since he was 15 and is now ranked within the top 200 in his native Argentina. He loves to compete in provincial tournaments and is always looking for ways to improve. Alvaro made his favourite memories with a racket in hand, and he joined the RacketInsight team to share his passion with other players!

Blade: Tibhar Stratus Power Wood | Forehand: Nittaku Fastarc G-1 | Backhand: Rasanter R42
Playstyle: Forehand Looper

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