Back in the summer of 2014 I wrote an article about an extraordinary young girl called Charlotte Bardsley (you can find that original article at the bottom of this page). Charlotte had only started playing table tennis 18 months earlier but she had already risen to the highly sought after position of U12 English national champion!
At the start of a new year, and two-and-a-half years after my original piece, I decided now would be the perfect time to check in with her and find out about all the progress she has made with her table tennis since our last encounter.
Though ranking information isn’t an absolute guide to a player’s performance level, it does show the relative progress over the long-term. From what I can see from the data, Charlotte has actually increased her rate of progression in the past year or so!
Charlotte is currently the England #1 cadet (U15), and is also a top 15 player within the England senior women’s rankings. Perhaps more significantly, she is ranked at #6 in Europe and at #24 on the ITTF world cadet list – which is very good progress for a player who only joined a table tennis club just four years ago.
To get to this level in the England national rankings, Charlotte has been consistently winning medals at the major tournaments around the country.
At the international level, her breakthrough came at the European Youth Championships in 2016. The England cadet girls team performed brilliantly to defeat teams from Norway, Latvia, Portugal, Italy, France, Germany, and Hungary. Such a good string of results put them in 5th position overall. This was in a competition where they had actually started without any seeding and had been placed in the bottom division.
I wanted to find out from Charlotte how she has found the experience of playing at competitions such as the European Youth Championships. I also wanted to know some tips she has got for other young players who are trying to improve their game and what she’s got planned for the future.
Let me hand over to Charlotte…
“Competing in Zagreb for the England team was a really great experience and a good opportunity to show everybody how we had improved as a group of players. It is a huge tournament with some amazingly good players there.
England cadet girls had not had a team entered for a while, so perhaps some of the other countries underestimated our capabilities. We all played well individually and collectively, so that put a lot of pressure on our opponents at some critical points in the matches. We had nothing to fear as nobody expected us to finish so high.
Playing at an international event involves a lot more focus and attention than a regular tournament. The matches are usually spread over several days and you can be playing early in the morning or late at night. It is important to be ready to play your very best table tennis at any point as there are no easy matches.
You have to recover quickly and go again and play at your maximum. The speed and overall consistency of players is so much higher than what you might see in a local tournament, so you can’t afford to drop your level at any moment in a match.
To improve your results, the first thing is… you have to be really prepared to do the hard work on the table. I don’t think we always fully appreciate the amount of time needed to learn the skills for this sport. So the training has to be enjoyable or you won’t be able to do it for very long.
I think you need to be able to learn from watching other players or talking and listening to a coach who understands how you want to play. The more you can understand your own game the better you can then focus your training around how to win more points in matches.
I just hope I can keep on learning a lot from the people around me who have supported me so well. I want to be able to play at international senior level at some point, so I know that will involve a lot of hard work to get there. I also enjoy helping and coaching some of the younger players, so I can imagine doing more of that soon.”
I first met an 11-year-old Charlotte Bardsley at the English Schools National Championships in April 2013. Back then she was tiny and had just met Tin-Tin Ho (one of her table tennis idols) and was quite overwhelmed.
She had only been playing table tennis for a few months but I had sent a few emails back and forth with her father, Richard – who was trying his best to learn all he could about the new sport his daughter had become “hooked” on.
Four years on and I’m pleased to say that Charlotte is very much following in the footsteps of a young Tin-Tin Ho, and has certainly marked herself out as one of the brightest stars for the future of English table tennis. I can very much imagine her playing alongside Tin-Tin in the England women’s team within the next few years. And with other young players, such as Denise Payet, also performing well internationally, perhaps this could be the beginnings of a revival for the England women’s team.
My original article on Charlotte Bardsley (from July 2014) is below…
Beginner to National Champ in 18 Months
Is it possible to go from being practically a beginner to a national champion in just 18 months? It sounds like a potential tagline for a future Expert in a Year 2.0 project. But it isn’t!
This isn’t another one of my challenges and it isn’t a theoretical question, it’s real life. To be more specific; it’s Charlotte’s life.
Twelve-year-old Charlotte Bardsley has been hard at work for the past year and a half transforming herself into the English Under 12 National Champion, after putting in a brilliant performance at the National Championships held on 1st June 2014. Along the way she has won several other events, putting her current ranking amongst the top ten cadet (U15) girls in England.
I asked her father, Richard, to explain her progress…
“Charlotte was first introduced to table tennis one day after school and attended a few sessions held in a local village hall. However, it really got started when we went to Woodfield Table Tennis club near Wolverhampton in February 2013. We both knew next to nothing about table tennis and have found the past year a real challenge as there is so much to learn. However, we have discovered what a great and very inclusive sport table tennis actually is. Everybody can play each other, at any age, and more or less the same equipment is used for the club players as the elite players. The game can be simple to start with, but we have discovered so many layers of detail which makes it so interesting to learn.
I think the reason Charlotte has been successful so far is that all of the elements needed in her initial development were at Woodfield. When you see the pictures on the wall of players such as Helen Lower, who achieved so much at the club individually and also with England, that really inspired Charlotte. It showed that success was possible if she was putting the hard work in as Helen had done. Then having lots of training sessions with good cadet and junior players set the standard of what is needed to achieve in the tournaments.
Having some regular team competitions also helped her individual tournaments as you can get to play a lot of matches during a day and being on your own at a big tournament can be quite a difficult experience. Charlotte was part of the successful Staffordshire county cadet team that won promotion to the premier division this season and then also played for Woodfield national junior and cadet league teams. The coaches at the club have always been very supportive and have been very encouraged by Charlotte’s energy and enthusiasm for the sport. As well as regular Woodfield sessions, Charlotte also trains with a regional team at Wood Green Academy and attends training camps when time allows.
So, in summary, I think the main reasons for fast learning is really that the player has to be very self motivated and has to be very determined to do the long hours of training. The coaches play a big part in the development but the responsibility of using every learning opportunity is really with the player and not the coach or parents. The player can then know their own game better and understand what they have to improve on rather than always relying on a coach for telling them what to do. Having some inspirational players and coaches around can make a big difference to that initial ignition of interest and then sustaining the application and dedication of using each available minute, week after week.
Finding new opportunities to learn and keep the sport fresh and interesting is key for ongoing development. We have found items like Ben’s blog and the challenge with Sam very interesting to follow and we have asked Ben many questions along the way. Then finally for the younger players, it seems quite important to maintain a balance of activity and not become bored or burned out doing just one thing. Charlotte continues with several other sports which support both agility and fitness in table tennis.”
I would like to say a huge thank you to Charlotte and Richard Bardsley for giving us an insight into their experiences of table tennis. It has been a real pleasure to follow Charlotte’s progress and see her achieve so much in such as short amount of time. With Charlotte’s positive mentality, and the support of her family, club and coaches, I can see Charlotte going a long way in this sport!