by Olalekan Okusan
Earlier this year she won the women’s singles title at the Mark Bates Ltd English National Championships, succeeding in the annual event for the fourth time, her first being in 2016 when only 17 years old.
Additionally she secured mixed doubles gold for the third consecutive year, the sixth overall; the wins adding to her notable achievements at the Commonwealth Games. In 2014 in Glasgow and in 2018 in Gold Coast she clinched mixed doubles silver partnering Liam Pitchford; in the latter she added women’s team bronze lining up alongside Kelly Sibley and Maria Tsaptsinos.
Now matters are on hold; the lockdown as a result of COVID-19 has meant a change to the daily routine but she admitted an opportunity had been presented to bond with her family and the enforced break was proving a lesson in life.
Tin-Tin Ho explains.
Life during lockdown
Apart from the initial shock of rushing home from the suspension of the Polish Open, life has been good since the lockdown.
I have managed to find a routine that I enjoy and take some time for activities for which I never had the time previously. It has also been nice to spend time with the family, we are all thankfully healthy. For these reasons I am super grateful for the position I am in. However, I recognise and am aware of all the difficulties caused by the pandemic and the effects it has on a global scale.
There have been limitations due to the lockdown as I was preparing for the Olympic qualification events and also my league matches in Linz, so the season has been cut short because of that. I am also unable to train as much on the table as I usually do in Linz every day.
I have learnt that it is easy to take little everyday things for granted. It feels strange that I haven’t been able to hug my friends and go outside freely for months.
It has been a good reminder to cherish each moment you have, although it is easier said than done when life becomes very busy but I think being aware is a good starting point.
Also, I have also been trying to be mindful of my emotions and thoughts and to educate myself in things that could enhance my well-being which could in turn help others, in particular my mental health. To achieve this, I have enjoyed listening to podcasts; reading books I find interesting.
Life without table tennis
I am really lucky I have been able to train with my brother for an hour every day. He works from home, I play with my dad a few times each week; that being said, I miss the social aspect of table tennis.
I am excited for the day I can meet up with friends and coaches to play again! I also like reading, drawing, keeping a diary and playing the ukulele!
I have been doing a strength training programme at home, includes weights, running and high intensity bodyweight training. I have also been skipping and doing some speed work such as ladders.
What next after lockdown
I think it will be to go to a café with my friends for brunch and then walk around London.
However, I have a feeling the first place I will find myself in is a training hall!
Impact of table tennis in life
Table tennis has given me the opportunity to push pass my own boundaries. I have learnt the importance of hard work, discipline and failure through the sport.
It has also impacted my family as a whole, our lives have been heavily based on table tennis with my father as my coach, so it has been a way of culture and life in our family as well as a sport.
In a way, it has also become part of my identity amongst my friends at school so I guess it has also impacted me in that sense! I have also met some amazing people and many people of my inner circle of friendship are table tennis players.
I have also learnt that to find and make opportunities for yourself, it is important to be engaged and work hard. I have noticed that others were willing to share their expertise to help me if I first try to help myself by being focused in everything I do.
I have also learnt that ‘failure’ if one would like to call it that, is inevitable and it can be used positively. If one never fails, then there is the question of whether they are out of their comfort zone. Lastly, seeing the results in table tennis, being made where it was least expected, opens my eyes to what we are all capable of (in any aspect of life).
Rituals before major matches
My routine does change as to how my emotions are, as sometimes I need to calm down or other times I need to get myself sharp. Usually I will go to a quiet place and warm up physically with some jumps and mobility, whilst focusing myself on the match and reminding myself of any key things to remember.
Postponement of Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games
I think it was the correct decision for the safety of everyone.
Olympic Games targets
My first target is to qualify and afterwards would be to win matches there.
The Games is a celebration of sport. Athletes dedicate their whole lives for the Olympic Games so it’s truly an inspiring event for everyone to watch and to be a part of. I can imagine it to be every young athletes dream to be an Olympic champion for their country, as it was mine.
Combining education and high level play
What has worked for me since I was young was to prioritise what is important; this does mean a limited social life sometimes and using free time (especially when travelling) to study. It is also very helpful if I kept in touch with my teachers during my absence to keep up with the workload.
Asking friends to help with the understanding of missed lessons also helps. Sometimes, table tennis takes the backseat, this would typically be during exam season and when I have missed weeks of school, university to compete.
Advantages and disadvantages of being a pen-holder
For me, an advantage is that pen-holders can have more mobility around the wrist due to the grip; this allows me to have good feel of the ball especially around the net.
Another advantage could also be that pen-holders have the opportunity to have three different types of basic strokes (forehand, reverse backhand and backhand).
A disadvantage could be that because the wrist is quite mobile, the fingers need to have power (the grip needs to be firm around the wrist and fingers) when hitting the ball because if the fingers become loose then the player could lose control of the ball.
Sense of responsibility as England’s no 1.
I enjoyed being part of a team with Kelly Sibley and I was very inspired by her attitude, team work and leadership skills, so when she retired from the national team I tried my best to learn from her to bring the same atmosphere to the team.
Currently, the England team is relatively young, with some of my best friends and teammates that I have been playing with since I was a cadet, so in a way I don’t feel a sense of responsibility because we have good team morale and we all know each other very well.
However, I am aware that some players may look to me (not only me but the top players in England), so I do feel responsible in advocating good sportsmanship and attitude, which I try to do so.
Anything else from table tennis
I am planning to start my second year of Medical School in September, so I would like to become a doctor one day!