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Up-and-coming star Sam Chesterman aspires to life on the professional table tennis circuit



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Sam Chesterman, right, on his way to a silver medal at the Table Tennis England Junior National Championships at Nottingham University. Picture: Trevor Parsons (10196141)
Sam Chesterman, right, on his way to a silver medal at the Table Tennis England Junior National Championships at Nottingham University. Picture: Trevor Parsons (10196141)

When Sam Chesterman started to pick up a table tennis bat on a regular basis, he had little idea on the direction it would ultimately take his life.

With a group of friends, the nine-year-old would go to his brother’s secondary school, Coleridge Community College, to play at a club there.

The competitive nature of youngsters meant that they pushed each other to get better and better.

“We kept going to different clubs realising that there were a lot better players, there were more things to do, you can travel the world and there were so many different opportunities,” explains Chesterman.

“Watching videos of the top players, you think ‘I want to be like them one day’ so you keep wanting to get better and moving to different clubs and different bases around the country to try to be the best you can.”

The group of friends grew together – reminiscent of the story of The Times journalist Matthew Syed, who went on to compete at two Olympics and be men’s singles champion three times at the Commonwealth Table Tennis Championships – and helped Coleridge be crowned Under-13 Butterfly Schools Team champions in 2015.

But Chesterman wanted it that bit more.

“My friends were really good, but they didn’t really want to take it to the next level,” he says. “I moved to a different place in the country to improve more.”

His first port of call was the talent academy at Ackworth School in Pontefract, but now the 17-year-old attends the Grantham College Table Tennis Academy.

He is coached there by Gavin Evans, the former European junior No 1, and a regular week means three hours table tennis training a day and then competitions on a Saturday.

“He has got a lot of experience so he knows how to win matches,” says Chesterman. “So in tight situations he knows what to do at the right time and he knows what it takes physically as well because he’s been there.

“He helps all of us with our posture, and the load lift, so the fundamentals which we use.”

When you think of table tennis, it is difficult to imagine it as anything but a fast-paced game.

With the speed of shots, there seems no time to think during the course of a point, but that is what distinguishes those at the elite end.

Chesterman is developing those traits under the watchful eye of Evans, learning more about reaction times and how to read the game and the opponent.

“There are so many things to look out for, the angle of their bat, and a few other key elements which will help you understand which shot to play or where the ball is going,” explains Chesterman. “When you’ve played for so long it just comes naturally – it gets faster and faster as you get better.

“You play it so many times every single day, it just slows down for you and does not feel as quick as when you watch it.

“It’s mainly through match practice and every day on the table with different players so you understand every style and how they play.

“There is not really a specific coach that you can get in to work on that kind of stuff, it is just through experience.

“There is a lot of thought process. Mental strength is quite important because if you have no confidence in something you have basically already lost in yourself, your opponent is going to beat you because you have already beaten yourself.

“One thing is reading your opponent, and understanding their styles but another thing is knowing your strength and what you’re good at is so you can put that into play.”

It is all still a learning curve for Chesterman, who as well as domestic competitions plays in a league in Sweden once a month.

The opportunities available to table tennis players in mainland Europe are something that interests Chesterman in the future. And England table tennis appears to be in a good position, with Liam Pitchford having beaten three recent world No 1s, Olympic and world champion Ma Long and current and seven-time European champion Timo Boll in the past few months.

“Long-term, the aim would be to play professionally at a club abroad,” he said. “There are Sweden, France and Germany and a lot of others who take it really seriously and have many different clubs and leagues which you can play in.

“I only learnt about it when I started to watch it a lot more and got really interested in it. I saw a lot more videos of team matches going on and it was really interesting that was the next level.”

Shorter term, Chesterman is hoping to win a national junior title in the next couple of years.

But it all seems so far away from that initial club at Coleridge School.

“It just started for fun, and I didn’t really know how far you could take table tennis, and what level you could get to but I just carried on going and kept moving club and it became clearer,” he said.



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