31 Jul 2020

Ireland's Sophie Earley, 14, has burst onto the scene with a stunning show at cadet level in Europe and with the help of Sport Ireland, ITTF has managed to gain some added insight into the teenage prodigy's journey so far.

by Kabir Nagpal

Sophie Earley has more than showcased her talent on the junior and cadet circuit in recent years, performing well enough to earn her a step up to the next stage of her development. A new recruit at French Club, Nimes TTC for the 2020-21 season in the Pro A League, Sophie Earley is set to play a minimum of 10 matches against French opposition as well as other players from across Europe and beyond.

First steps

Featuring on the global stage on a regular basis in recent years, however, Earley’s first steps into the sport of table tennis were local in Ireland, taking up the sport because she saw her brothers having a good time and didn’t want to feel left out:

“I started table tennis when I was six because I wanted to do whatever my two brothers did and honestly I loved it straight away. I was fascinated by all the different spins and speeds that came with the ball and how cool it seemed to be really good at the sport. I started to play for fun and as a few years passed I started to improve and win titles in my age categories in Ireland. Then I started to progress to the international stage;  Euro Minis etc and work my way from there. When I was 11 I realised after some good results that I could become really good at this sport. I began to go to ETTU and ITTF development camps, and compete at more prestigious competitions and they really benefited my game and helped me reach where I am today.” Sophie Earley

Currently ranked eighth in the Cadet World Rankings, and second in the European Rankings, her journey began to take flight in the Hopes Team, collecting a silver medal at the 2019 ITTF World Cadet Challenge in Poland. An outstanding figure on the day, she defeated the two highest ranked players on the continent, at the time, on her way to the podium.

Even Massimo Costantini, the ITTF High Performance Elite Coach has been in awe of her voyage at this young age:

“For her age, Sophie has many abilities in her pockets and time to time she has been able to make the best use of them – going from a ‘consistency’ game to defending to suddenly attacking and many more. She is a player that it is not easy to play against, and you have got to be ready for some headache competing with her. What I like in Sophie is her attitude of being relaxed, giving the impression not be worried to win the point and play for the joy of playing. It is all a good pre-requisite to be a Champion in future” Massimo Costantini, ITTF High Performance Elite Coach

Balancing act

Reaching these heights whilst being in school has proven no mean feat, with Sophie working hard to find the right balance between her education and athletic endeavours with much caution:

“During the school period it’s very difficult to train a lot as I go to school from 09:00-16:00. I would train for roughly two hours a day every day, but making sure I put 100% effort into these sessions so I can get the most out of them. However, I am able to play more on the weekends with my brothers and club mates.” Sophie Earley

Time management struggles have seen the teenager become more dependent on her family, friends as well as national and international colleagues. Speaking to Sport Ireland and the ITTF, Earley revealed her path has been made much simpler thanks to the extra support she has received from various sources:

“I really feel like the ITTF programmes have helped me develop as a player. They have helped me to better understand  my style of play, what I’m good at, what I’m not so good at etc. It’s really nice to be able to get feedback from some of the best coaches around the world and play with so many different players from around the world as well. I’m thrilled that I have signed to play for Nimes in Pro A and National 1 in the French League, and I’m honestly privileged to play in such a high quality league. I really hope that I can make the most of this opportunity as I feel this could be very beneficial for my career.” Sophie Earley

Style of play and goals

Earley’s move to Nimes means she becomes the first female athlete from Ireland to play at the highest level of club competition France has to offer. Earley also credits this achievement for Irish Table Tennis to the European Talent Camps held by the ITTF, and also to Ormeau Table Tennis Club in Northern Ireland.

Looking ahead, Earley has dreams and targets just like any true professional and recognises just how much hard work is required to realise her potential:

“My long term goals are to become one of the best players internationally as a senior and to compete at the Youth Olympics, Commonwealth games and the Olympic Games and I would hope that I would be able to perform well at these competitions. I also hope that I can enjoy table tennis to its fullest and make the most out of what I’m doing.” Sophie Earley

Features Sophie Earley