What is the peak age for table tennis players? Is it too late for you to start table tennis? It’s a very common question that many players ask me. What are the chances if starting to play professional table tennis too late (say about at 25-30 years-old)? Or a similar question: Is 30 too late to start training for professional table tennis? Today, I will analyze, and explain to you the real answer.
Table of Contents
Your optimal goal?
There is a question on Quora,
Can a 40-year-old male start “table tennis” from zero to make it as a world champion?
Is it too late? Yes, of course, it’s nearly impossible. Because of the peak performance and the peak age for table tennis players are much sooner. Many amateur players dream to be the next World Champion like Ma Long, and Fan Zhendong. And then if you fail your dream, won’t you be happy?
In my memory, there is only one case in the table tennis history that can become a European Champion. I didn’t find his name but just remember he is a Hungarian player. He started table tennis very late, around 30 years old. And then he became the European Table Tennis Champion, I think. So this is very exceptional!
In general, to become the World Champion, you need to begin very soon. Ma Long started at 4-5 years old.
So please reconsider your optimal goal in this sport. And here is my answer:
Why you should become the world champion? It won’t make you happier. At 40 you have job family kids which make you happy. To become the champion in every domain you sacrifice a lot. It’s not for you this trajectory. Play table tennis to become the champion in your club make you happier. And it’s possible. Practice every day.
So don’t aim to become the Champion of the World, but just aim to the Champion of your club. Is it much easier? And when you gain that goal, you are happier. The next round is to go to the Champion in your city and so on.
Peak age for good players (non-professional)
How old is too old to train to become a pro table tennis player?
What do you mean “a pro table tennis player”?
- If a pro player means “World Champion”, “Top International level”, Around the top 50 World Ranking, then, 10 years old is too late if you start playing.
- If a pro player means ‘National level”, top 50 players, then 20 years old is too late.
- If a pro players mean a normal “Professional level”, a high-skilled player, that can compete at local, or national open tours, then it’s never too late. I’ve seen some players, with serious training for 5 years, go up to this level.
- It depends on the “Quality” not the “Quantity” of training.
I’ve answered that to go to the pro level is very hard. It depends on the quality of training. In my experiences, at the intermediate level (non-pro), players peak their performance after 10 years of training. If you started at 20 years old, so you should peak your ranking at around 30 years old (training 3 times/week). But if you don’t train, and just play for fun, there is actually “no clear peak performance”, but many “up and down performance”.
Is age a barrier to learn table tennis
Schulz and Curnow have published an article about “Peak performance and age among superathletes: track and field, swimming, baseball, tennis, and golf.” They found that:
For most categories of performance in baseball, the peak age of performance is equivalent to that of a long distance runner, about 28 years of age, while top tennis players reach their highest levels of performance at age 24. Golfers, in comparison, peak at about 31 years of age, although recent data suggest movement toward younger ages.
So table tennis is not really any different than other sports. The best players usually accomplish their greatest around age 22-26. Zhang Jike is born in 1988, his highest performance is in 2011 (23 years old). Now, he is over 30 years old, and he has difficulty to come back.
Around 22-26 years old, you are still very young, motivated but have sufficient experience in international competitions. And your physical strength peaks at the age of 25. At around 30 years old the physical ability decline starts to show. It’s harder and harder to fight to the top 10 with the younger players. Now you should rely on your experiences and tactics variations.
So yes, age is important in table tennis.
The peak age for professional table tennis players
The sooner you start table tennis, the more advantages you get in the career. Look at Harimoto Tomokazu’s career. He started at 3 years old with his parents (ex National Chinese player). He gets to the top 10 World Ranking at only 13-14 years old.
There are some exceptions. That’s the peak age depends also on your playing style. If your playing style depends less on the physical, then you can play longer. For example, Timo Boll climbs up again into the world top 5 at 36 years old. And Samsonov at 42 years old, still around the top 15 players in the world.
What’s about the top professional Chinese players?
Here is the nice resume from “rainneverever”:
WLQ and M Lin of course had numerous injuries. M Lin even had stress fracture on the back. No pro player is injury free. But they chose to retire not because they were too injured or old to play. Motivation, career path, severity of the injuries are major factors for CNT players to consider whether to retire. Many former male CNT players (like Hao Shuai, Zhang Chao, Li Ping) continue to play in super league or go abroad and the best ones (like WLQ, M Lin, WH, Chen Qi) switch to coach or administration career path as early as they can. However, as LGL and KLH’s coach career came to a sudden stop, things will change.
Table Tennis in the 3rd “Peak Age group”
LONGO et al. have shown interesting results in their research “Age of peak performance in Olympic sports: A comparative research among disciplines” J. Hum. Sports Exerc., 11(1), 31-41. They selected the data of the ages of the best-ranked athletes at the 2012 Summer Olympics, stratified by gender and sports discipline.
When planning an athlete’s sports life, precise knowledge of the period when peak performance is more likely to occur is critical. The benefits in effectiveness and efficiency when having this information are substantial in training and competition programs. Here are the results:
So the peak age of the top table tennis players is 28.3 years old. Which is rather late. The trending of the peak age is shifted to a younger age nowadays. Because table tennis nowadays requires more and more physical.
Currently, the table tennis peak age is classified in the 3rd group:
- Group 1 (23.2 – 25.0 years old): Diving, Weightlifting, Pool Swimming, Boxing, Gymnastics
- Group 2 (25.3 – 26.7 years old): Sprint Athletics, Taekwondo, Archery, Judo
- Group 3 (26.9 – 29.2): Field Hockey, Fencing, Badminton, Basketball, Table Tennis, Tennis
- Groupe 4 (29.5 – 32.6): Road Cycling, Handball, Beach Volleyball, Sailing, Shooting
So until now, table tennis still requires a lot of technical, tactics, experiences. It’s in group 3. A long-term training plan covers a period of 10-15 years of an athlete’s competitive life. There are multiple factors that have an influence on athletic performance. The physical, technical, tactical and psychological factors are conventionally recognized as core components of sports training.
Peak age is now sooner than ever
In my own experiences, I think that nowadays the peak age in table tennis is much sooner. So I decide to do my own research.
Here are the results. By analyzing the top 1500 players on the ITTF World Ranking, I found some interesting results.
Here is the code:
And here is the amazing results:
By looking at the age distribution of the top 1500 best players in the world, we can clearly see that the average age is between 18 to 25 years old.
The age-vs-ranking point shows that young players (between 12 to 20 years old) have small ranking points. It’s normal because they don’t have many experiences. The mid-range players have great dispersion between 20 to 40 years old.
And finally, the histogram is so interesting. The peak age in table tennis nowadays is much sooner. You can clearly see the peak is 17 years old. So my final answer is,
You should train as soon as possible. And you should go to your highest peak performance before 20 years old. Because the “Golden moment” for your career is around 17 years old to 20 years old.
Share this article to help young players know the peak moment of his/her career.