Interest in table tennis is so high among Asian Americans that there are 12 youth clubs in the Bay Area. One of them, operated by the India Community Center in Milpitas, has been running a winter camp. From 3:30 to 6:30 p.m., more than 35 players hone their skills in hopes of qualifying and competing in local, regional and national competitions.
One of them is 13 year old Lily Zhang of Palo Alto; she currently is the #2 ranked U.S. junior woman. Zhang represents a new generation of player; many of their parents played table tennis in China and India before moving to the U.S.
"Well, my parents, they like to play, so when I was around six, I used to join them and I thought it was really fun," Zhang said.
Zhang is already a likely member of the 2012 Olympic team. For her and fellow members of the table tennis program, training involves 18 hours a week, three hours per day after school. Players in China, which has won every gold medal since table tennis became an Olympic sport in 1988, who play as many as 30 hours a week.
The table tennis team has five full-time and 15 part-time coaches, many of them champions and national level players from India and China. More than 100 teenagers participate in the program.
"It's really good for mental game and you have to have fast reflexes and work hard; I like everything abut it," Zhang said.
Because they spend so much time together, the players become friends, but at opposite sides of the table the dynamics change, especially because some players have already achieved national rankings.
"When you step inside the arena you guys are no longer friends; it's a match, you have to want to win the game," 11-year-old Aarsh Shah said. "After the game you can become friends again, but when you're playing the game, you have to try your hardest."