Ten-year-old table tennis player Emily Liu is one of the youngest athletes at the 2019 Canada Winter Games.
But it would be perilous to underestimate her.
The Grade-5 student routinely conquers competitors who are much older and larger.
Playing in the under-18 category, she admits can be scary. But Liu settles her nerves by rationalizing that this kind of age gap actually works in her favour.
“I calm down because if they’re older, I have no pressure. If somebody’s younger than you, you always think, I have to win this!” she said, “but if they’re older (and you lose), you think, well they have more experience…”
Liu taught herself to play for fun at age four by watching her brother, who is 11 years older, play ping pong.
“I used to pick up the balls,” she remembers. But Liu soon decided it was more fun to paddle them back and forth over the net.
She was such a natural at the sport that her parents, who had emigrated from China to Toronto, then Calgary, hired a coach to start working with her when Liu was six.
The composed elementary student now practises with the Calgary United Sport Table Tennis Association from two to three hours a day, four days a week. Besides fitting this in around her school work, violin practise and drawing, she also has a special session with her table tennis coach once a week, to further hone her skills.
While everyone has their own style of playing, Liu believes it takes great endurance and hand-to-eye coordination to do well — but mostly “it takes confidence.”
Her coach, Phillip Xie, credits Liu for “being very brave,” as well as focused, and “trying everything she can” to win. “I told her, ‘No pressure, do your best and enjoy the game.’”
With no siblings around her age, Liu said she loves the social aspect of getting together with other table tennis players.
Her team previously competed in Vancouver, B.C. where Liu was one of the best players under age 15. “I tell my friends about competitions and they support me.”
Of the 2019 Canada Games in Red Deer, Liu said, “I was kind of nervous at first, because I had never been to this big a gym (in Westerner Park) and there are new people here I didn’t meet before.”
But she handled herself well: Liu and her doubles partner, Judy Pan, started out on Saturday by beating a team from Saskatchewan.