At only 16 years old, Anson Chan is one of the top-ranked table tennis players in Nova Scotia.
The Grade 11 student at King’s-Edgehill School has been playing the sport since he was eight years old, and has already eclipsed almost everyone in his age category.
Chan came to KES two years ago from his homeland of Hong Kong — but table tennis has remained a constant in his life.
“At first it was just for fun, and in Hong Kong it’s quite a popular sport, compared to here,” Chan said. “My parents were seeing me doing pretty good and having fun with it, so they kept me in it.”
Chan said the sport went from being a fun distraction, to a hobby, to now something much more serious. But he still manages to squeeze some joy out of it.
Now in Windsor — a major difference from the urban jungle of Hong Kong — Chan has leaned into table tennis in a major way.
Not only does he play on the King’s-Edgehill team and Team Nova Scotia, he also travels to the Northeast Kings Education Centre in Canning to participate in the Annapolis Valley Table Tennis Club (AVTTC), usually every week, to better his skills.
He also receives coaching from the Nova Scotia Table Tennis Association.
Chan said he’s developed friendships with fellow table tennis players, swapping tips on how to improve each other’s game.
More than just a game
“Table tennis is a sport that you need to practice — a lot,” he said. “And there’s lots of things to focus on: spin, control, placement.”
Chan said it’s also a mental sport, and how you’re feeling can really impact your performance.
“How you encourage yourself when you’re behind in a game, or lose a point is really important,” he said.
“You might think that table tennis is an independent sport, but on the provincial team, my teammates might be outside of the court supporting me,” he said. “(Table tennis) really helped me to meet new people and develop friendships in Nova Scotia.”
Chan is fresh off a successful regional tournament, and is now preparing for provincials in May.
Outside of school, he’s heading to the Atlantic championships in Newfoundland with the AVTTC.
He’s also hoping to make it to the Canada Games in 2019 to take on the best in the country.
“Some people think that table tennis isn’t a real sport, or they might say it’s just some extra-curricular activity or it’s just for fun, but this is a sport you can play from an amateur to a professional level,” he said.
Coming from Hong Kong to Windsor has been a major change, but Chan said he’s embracing the peace and quiet that comes with his new community.
“In Hong Kong, you step out of your home and it’s just like a huge urban area. It’s completely different,” he said.
“In Windsor, we might walk down the road and get groceries, but most of the time we just stay at the school or go to Halifax,” Chan said.
“At this school there are lots of different cultures and you can learn a lot from people who are from different countries,” he said.
‘Beats me every time’
DJ DeCoste, a teacher at the school and facilitator of the table tennis program at King’s-Edgehill hesitates to call himself Chan’s coach.
“Am I his coach? No, I just run the club and make sure they’re all on time,” DeCoste said with a laugh. “When I play with Anson, I’ll put a pencil or a pen on the front quarter of the table and say ‘you have to hit on that quarter every time to earn a point,’ and he still beats me every time.”
DeCoste says Chan’s skill is just “incredible.”
DeCoste said that despite Chan’s talents, he remains an incredibly humble, kind student with great character.
“There’s no sense of superiority,” he said.
“Anson’s doing stuff outside of school; club play is becoming really big in Nova Scotia right now for table tennis,” DeCoste said.
“Anson’s rating puts him at Number 1 in the province right now for his age,” he added. “The closest person to him is well behind. He’s far ahead of the closest player. No other 16-year-old is at his level.”
Chan said he feels pressured to keep his high ranking, but it also motivates him to keep pushing harder.