Two weeks before the Olympic table tennis trials in April, 16-year-old San Jose, Calif., native Ariel Hsing’s nerves were getting the best of her.
“I was just putting a lot of pressure on myself,” said Hsing, who—spoiler alert—will represent the U.S. at the London Games. “My mom just told me not to think so much about it. She said, ‘You don’t have to make it on your first try.’”
Her mother’s words, which helped Hsing relax and realize a longtime dream, served as a reminder that too much pressure is counterproductive.
Hsing had already learned the hard way that it was possible to practice too much. During her preparation for the 2010 Youth Olympic Games, she suffered tennis elbow after practicing table tennis seven days a week for five-to-six hours a day.
Hsing has since dialed back her training routine, if only slightly.
“I’ll always have one day off,” Hsing said last month. “For me, if I don’t play for one day it’ll make quite a big difference. If I don’t train for a week, I’ll need one or two days just to get back to normal.”
Normal for Hsing, the highest-ranked and oldest member of the U.S. women’s team, is incredibly good. Her success is the product of a lot of practice, all the while maintaining her honor roll status at Valley Christian in San Jose.
Throughout her junior year, Hsing woke up at 7 a.m. to practice serves for 30 minutes before leaving for school. Around lunchtime, her dad picked her up and drove her to a local table tennis club, where she trained for two hours. From there, it was off to another club for an additional two hours. Finally: homework, dinner and sleep.
“Each coach has his own strengths,” Hsing said of the value of playing at multiple clubs. “You also get to play against different kinds of styles, different kind of players and in different environments.”
Hsing's exposure to different players isn't limited to the clubs. She is likely the only competitor in London who has played against Warren Buffett and Bill Gates. (She is surely the only competitor in London who refers to that duo as Uncle Warren and Uncle Bill.)
Hsing isn’t expected to stand on the podium in London—no American has ever medaled in table tennis—but the experience should prepare her for 2016 and beyond.
She doesn’t have to make it on her first try. Don’t be shocked if she does.