Ariel Hsing is the current up-and-coming star of women’s table tennis. She put in a great performance at London 2012, only narrowly losing 4-2 to the eventual winner, Li Xiaoxia of China, in the third round.
And she’s only 16! And she’s from the USA, a country not particularly known for it’s table tennis champions.
I have to admit that before the Olympics I had never heard of Ariel Hsing! It is likely that I’m not as clued up on women’s table tennis as perhaps I should be but from talking to some other players, it seems I am not alone. I therefore decided to try and find out as much about Ariel Hsing as possible.
This article will track the rise of Ariel Hsing, from a regular seven year old kid to a US national champion, and beyond. My aim is to look at how she became so good, so early. Did you do loads of practice? Is she just naturally talented? Were her parents overly pushy? What clubs and programs was she part of?
I will try to include as many videos as possible, as I think these are able to give you a much better insight into her life than I can with words alone.
So let’s start at the very beginning…
Ariel Hsing, aged 7, begins playing table tennis.
The story goes that her parents were going to practice at a local club and on one occasion were unable to find a babysitter, so they brought her along. That was her introduction to the sport and from then on she began to play herself and enjoy the game.
The club was Palo Alto Table Tennis Club, in California. It was a club with excellent facilities and a great coach, named Dennis Davis. The club was sponsored by Joola and had a well run junior program that had produced many top US players.
Palo Alto TTC must have been delighted when seven year old Ariel turned up on their doorstep, with a bubbly personality and parents that could play. It was possibly the perfect combination for a young player.
And Palo Alto was possibly the best place in the US for a seven year old to find themselves, if they wanted to become an Olympic table tennis player. So that’s a pretty good start.
Ariel Hsing, aged 8, is already playing table tennis with excellent technique. Here is a video of her practising. You get to see her forehand and backhand drive and a bit of regular movement. Very impressive for an eight year old. She has obviously accumulated many hours of practice already.
But she has not just simply been play. She has been playing with a purpose. It is clear that the coaches at Palo Alto have been spending lots of time laying strong foundations. Within a year of her picking up a back she has learnt a solid basic technique and begun learning how to quickly and effectively move to the ball.
It’s worth pointing out that Ariel must enjoy what she’s doing as it’s pretty hard to get an 8 year old to play this much if their not having fun. It shows the quality of the coaching at the club. The practice sessions must have been spot on technically but also fun and enjoyable for Ariel.
Ariel Hsing, aged 9, begins to compete. She wins the girl’s US under 10 national championships, proving that she is the best in the country for her age group.
Later in the year she is invited to Warren Buffett’s 75th birthday party by one of Warren friends. Buffett had long been a fan of the sport and they thought playing with her would be something he would enjoy. She gets to play a game against the investor and beats him, of course. Her relationship with Warren Buffett and his friend Bill Gates will continue all the way to London 2012. Sorry for the spoiler.
Ariel Hsing is now 10 and I found a video of her playing a match in the US. She’s the one in the black t-shirt. She is playing a much older girl and doesn’t seem to be intimidated at all.
If there is such a thing as ‘talent’ for table tennis then I believe it has something to do with the ability to be confident and relaxed when playing matches. The ability to play as well in matches as you can in practice. That is something that some younger players either seem to have or not have. I think that Ariel clearly has it!
What she is doing in the game is nothing spectacular. She’s only ten, yes, but I’ve seen ten year old play table tennis like that before. What she is doing, however, is being very positive. The points she’s losing are coming from her own mistakes, rather than her opponents strengths. She is getting in early and appears to be fearless when it comes to competing and going for her big shots.
The video below gives you a great insight into ten year old Ariel.
She says she is already training for two hours a day, six days a week. So that’s 12 hours a week at the age of ten. This is very intense but her parents seem to keep her grounded and understand the importance of other aspects of life. She also seems very mature for her age. A great video this one and well worth a watch.
Ariel Hsing, now aged 11, plays table tennis with Warren Buffett, for the second time, at a Berkshire Hathaway conference. She met him two years earlier at his 75th birthday party.
She’s clearly having a lot of fun and enjoying the attention of Buffett and the reporters.
Ariel Hsing is now 12 and has started to grow. This video shows her playing Gao Jun in an exhibition match during the Beijing 2008 US Olympic Qualifiers. It looks like her game has improved a lot in the last couple of years. Strangely enough she will face Gao a year later in a competitive match. The final of the women’s singles at the US nationals.
She then goes on to play Whitney Ping, again!
This was the girl she played two years ago in the 2006 video. It’s great to be able to compare the two performances. She loses 4-0 but her game has clearly improved massively. Her increase in size has no doubt had a big effect and her trademark ‘sa’ or squeak is already in full effect.
At the 2008 US Nationals Ariel loses to Crystal Huang in the women’s final. A great performance from Ariel, now aged 13. That’s right she is in the US national championships women’s singles final at age 13! The last game of the final is below.
Surprisingly, she was knocked out in the semi’s of the cadet girls and lost in the final of the junior girls to Lily Zhang. She managed to win one singles title, in the form of the U21 women’s. This time she beat Lily Zhang. They will continue to battle with each other for the next four years as they both focus on becoming the top table tennis player in the US.
Ariel finished the year ranked 33rd in the world, in U15′s, with two more years left.
Ariel Hsing is now 13 and spends the year climbing the world senior ranking list. She is 484th in January and 373rd by December, an increase of more than 100 places in a year. A great achievement.
Here is an interview with Ariel from October 2009. She comes across as extremely dedicated and very like-able. We also get a look at the ICC, in California. This is an amazing table tennis program set up by Rajul Sheth. I really want to get in contact with this guy because he seems to have done extremely well, both in terms of coaching and development. At present (September 2012) the ICC has six full-time coaches! It’s an extremely professional set-up and Ariel was very lucky to have it in her backyard, so to speak.
At the US Nationals she once again loses in the final of the women’s singles event but this time wins the U15 girl’s trophy that alluded her the year before.
The video below is of Ariel’s women’s singles final against Gao Jun, the player she did an exhibition match with a year earlier. If I’m right Gao Jun pretty much came out of retirement to play this as they said she hadn’t entered for a few years.
Ariel finished the year ranked 18th in the world, in U15′s.
Ariel Hsing has now turned 14 and is playing her last year in the U15 age group.
She is clearly taking the sport very seriously, as she pushes to become one of the best cadets in the world. In an interview she tells a reporter that she trains three hours a day, six days a week. So that’s 18 hours a week of practice.
2010 is the first year that Ariel manages to win the coveted US National Women’s Singles title. This is an incredible achievement as Hsing is still a cadet but is beating all of the top juniors and seniors in the US.
The video below is of the last game in the women’s singles final vs Lily Zhang, another cadet. She has to play Lily a lot!
The fact that the US national women’s final is between two cadet players, I guess highlights the lack of quality players in the US but it’s a great testament to the work of the ICC and the dedication of this new generation of US youngsters.
Ariel finished the year ranked 8th in the world, for U15′s and 185th for seniors. That’s almost an increase of 200 places to her senior ranking in a single year! Her targets are now well and truly set on competing at London 2012 and then pushing for a medal at Rio 2016.
Ariel Hsing, is now 15, a junior (under 18 player), and is ranked 27th in the world.
She has a fantastic time at the US Nationals winning the women’s singles title (for the second year running), the under 21 girl’s event and the mixed doubles. She seems to be developing the ability to win when it matters. Her and Lily Zhang appear to be pretty ‘neck-and-neck’ but Ariel is often able to win the big events. She appears to be very mentally tough.
By December 2011, Ariel is ranked 18th in the juniors and 117th in the seniors, in the world.
Ariel Hsing is 16, and 2012 is the year of her first Olympic Games. The build up begins and the video below gives you a glimpse into Ariel’s preparation for London 2012. She manages to qualify and becomes part of Team USA. She is beginning to become more famous and in the spotlight, in the US.
We all know about her great performance in London. Unfortunately, this was the only video I could find on YouTube of the game.
At present, September 2012, Ariel Hsing is ranked 7th in the ITTF junior girls list. She has also moved up to 85th in the women’s ranking list due to her recent wins. She still has another year as a junior and will be pushing hard for the top spot.
Ariel’s relationship with Warren Buffett and Bill Gates has continued and they even came to watch her play at London 2012. I’m sure their support has played a part in her success and helped her to build a greater public profile for herself and the sport in the US.
The future for Ariel Hsing…
Looks very bright! She is still very young, of course, but if she continues developing as she has there is no reason why she can’t seriously challenge the Chinese at Rio 2016. If you follow her senior ITTF ranking you can see a steady improvement, year by year, from the young American who appears almost unstoppable.
She has a great program in her home area of California that will continue to push her to improve and as she gets older she will have to opportunity to focus completely on table tennis is she chooses too. Remember, up until this point she has been practicing after school and trying to catch up on school work after getting back from international tournaments. A distraction that other professional players need not worry about.
I have attempted to calculate the number of accumulated hours of table tennis practice completed by Ariel Hsing. I based my figures on snippets from interviews I’ve watched where she talks about her practice and a little bit of estimation as well.
The conservative figure I came up with was 5,000 hours. I think we can say pretty convincingly that in the last ten years Ariel has spent at least 5,000 hours in purposeful practice. It’s worth pointing out as well that I said ten years, for all of you that have read Bounce by Matthew Syed that will ring a bell. If you haven’t then check out my book review of Bounce.
It is very likely that she has done six, seven or even eight thousand hours of practice already, and very high quality practice at that. However I’m not convinced that her performance is down to practice alone. Her positive mental attitude on and off the table appears to have played a huge part in her development.
I cannot stress this enough. The more interviews I watch of Ariel Hsing the more convinced I am that she has an incredible mental ability to push herself to perform, to be confident and fearless when playing and to be mature and grounded when she’s not playing. This is something that, in my opinion, is rarely seen in top young table tennis players.
And there we have it. We’ve come to end of a very long but hopefully very insightful post. I certainly feel like I know Ariel Hsing extremely well after spending all day researching her. If you would like to follow her on Twitter you should check out my post on professional table tennis players on Twitter. A link to her account is listed on there. I would also recommend you take a look at the ICC, where Ariel trains.
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