(By Isabella Xu)
In past National Youth Ranking Tournaments, I usually placed at around second-to-last every single time. After each tournament, I would just accept this with an “Okay, well, I’ll just try to do better next time,” and not actually work harder to improve. At the next competition, I would end up still being second-to-last.
But one day, I had a sudden realization: I wanted to get better at this sport. I wanted to place higher and not get second-to-last every single time. I wanted to win medals and trophies. With this newfound motivation, I started to train harder and work towards my goals. As I played more and more matches, I started to learn how to enjoy the competition and all the challenges that come with it. One way I did this was by thinking of both winning and losing as a positive: an experience. There’s always going to be victories and losses, and results can sometimes be extremely disappointing, but what you learn from all those experiences will help you do better in the future.
So, was it my more positive attitude and my sudden desire to work harder that led me directly to finally making top 7 and onto the U17 U.S. National Team? Definitely not. At the ICC U15 National Team Trials, I didn’t even advance from the first round-robin group because of a bad loss. Honestly, I was so disappointed that I just wanted to go home and quit. Maybe I’d take up volleyball, or track, or even golf. However, I changed my perspective and knew that the experience would help me to become mentally stronger and prepare me for future matches. After eating a bowl of Chipotle, I told my mom, “one bad loss doesn’t define how I’m going to do later on.” I think it’s extremely important to be able to turn the page on a more negative experience and start fresh, because when you have a bad day, you don’t just say, “Tomorrow’s definitely going to be a bad day too. And the next day. And the next.” You should aim for, “My goal today is to do better than yesterday.”
After ICC, I was even more motivated to improve and work harder. During a one-week camp in California, I was super excited to train with strong players and couldn’t wait to see immediate results in the North Carolina Body Armour State Championships. Unfortunately, when I got back to NC, I didn’t do as well as I would have liked. Although I was jetlagged and tired, I had still expected to see a big difference and improvement, or something like that.
With what seemed like disappointment after disappointment, I wasn’t looking forward much to the U17 National Team Trials at Westchester in New York. I had lost quite a lot of self-confidence and didn’t expect to do that well. However, I was extremely happy I advanced first out of my small group after winning a close match from down 1-2. The next day, my first match was a strong opponent who I had previously lost to at ICC. Surprisingly, I came back from down 0-2 and won the match. Later that day, I won another match after being down 0-2. I ended up advancing third out of the four people that advanced from my group. Ecstatic that I was in the final group, I knew I had a chance to make the team and wanted to do my best. Surprising myself yet again by coming back from down 1-2 against another strong player I also previously lost to at ICC, I was extremely satisfied with my performance. This close match proved to be important to how the final rankings would turn out. I ended up placing 5th, making it onto the team.
My journey of finally having a breakthrough and making it onto the U17 U.S. National Team was a roller coaster of emotions and different learning experiences. Nothing comes that easily. Just like how stars can’t shine without darkness, you can’t have success without disappointments. As people always say, “No pain, no gain!” A big thank you to Tian Ye for coaching me at Westchester.
Special thanks to my coach, Di Yu, for always sticking with me throughout my table tennis journey, from a beginner to making the U17 U.S. National Team. Thank you Triangle Badminton and Table Tennis for providing such a great facility and awesome coaches! Thanks Coach AJ for helping me improve my game. Also, huge thanks to Bowmar Sports for their sponsorship and support!
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