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Ashley-Facey Thompson, alumnus, Sports Coaching and Analysis Bc

Table tennis player Ashley Facey-Thompson made his Paralympic debut at Rio in 2016 and is now looking ahead to the Tokyo Games in 2020

I got into table tennis by sheer chance

I was always sporty, but football was my thing. Then one day we went in for a PE lesson and there was a table tennis table set up. We were invited to have a go and it turned out I was pretty good. The teacher suggested I went along to a coaching session and that was it, really. Pretty soon I gave up football and focused on table tennis 100%.

My disability doesn't hold me back

For the first two years I was playing, my coach didn’t realise I had a disability. I have a condition called Erb’s Palsy, which affects my balance and movement. When my coach found out, he immediately suggested I try for the Paralympic GB Team. I said OK, I’ll give it a go. I made the cut and played my first major tournament, the Romanian Para Open, that same year, 2009.

Table tennis is a full-time job

Playing table tennis at this level is a full-time job. I’m based at the English Institute of Sport in Sheffield, and we train every day from 9-11am and then again from 3-5pm. We do movement exercises, practice serving and receiving and do exercises designed to target specific weaknesses in our individual games. Three times a week I’m at the gym, doing conditioning work.

You need power, strength and a lot of flexibility to be a good table tennis player.

- Ashley Facey-Thompson

Controlling your nerves

I used to get really stressed out before a match or tournament. It didn’t matter how much I’d prepared or how well I’d been playing in training – I’d still get really anxious. The mental side of the game is just as important as the physical. I spoke to a sports psychologist and that made a big difference.  They helped me to get things more in proportion – yes, it matters, but it is just a table tennis match. And the more experienced I’ve got, the easier it’s become too. You just get used to operating in those high-pressure situations.

Learning to handle stress has definitely had a positive impact on my performance. I enjoy playing more too - I’m not focusing on trying not to lose, I’m focusing on performing at my best. The rest follows naturally from that.

A Valuable Lesson

Missing out on selection for London 2012 was a valuable lesson in finding the positives in every situation. Of course it was a shame not to be able to play at my home Games, but I was very young – only 17 – and I knew there would be more chances for me in the future. Even though I didn’t make the team, I was selected to join the British Paralympic Association’s Inspiration Programme, which meant I could go into the Olympic Village and hang out with the squad members. It was an amazing opportunity to find out what it’s like to be at a Games. I really felt like part of the team and it made me even more determined to make it to Rio.

2017 European Championships

Winning silver at the European Championships in 2017 with my partner, Kim Daybell, is my proudest achievement so far. This year, I’ve reached two singles finals too, at events in Slovenia and Slovakia. That’s pretty good going. I’m currently ranked eighth in the world, but I want to go further – top five, or even higher. Why not?

Looking ahead

The next big target is the World Championships in October – then beyond that, Tokyo 2020. Table tennis players typically peak at around 27 and I’m 23 now, so that should be an amazing opportunity for me.

Right now I’m trying to get fitter and faster. I want to feel like I’m getting stronger, physically and mentally, every day.

- Ashley Facey-Thompson

The team is really like family

We’re so close. The bonds are very tight. It’s good to see, and it makes us stronger. I know it’s something that other countries admire and maybe even fear a little. The brilliant thing is that everyone has different qualities and different strengths. I’m learning from them all the time.