By Alesha Capone
Teenage table tennis player Aanchal Sharma says she wants to encourage more girls, women and gender-diverse people to take up sport.
Aanchal, 16, is from Tarneit and qualified to play represent Victoria in table tennis, as part of the under-17’s President State Team earlier this year.
Aanchal said she and the other young players were set to travel to a national table tennis competition in Brisbane last month, however the event was postponed due to COVID-19 border restrictions.
Aanchal, who has been playing table tennis for six years, said she faced discrimination in primary school, with some people telling her she would not be “good enough to play” simply due to her gender.
“When I first started to play table tennis at my school, there were three girls including me out of 30 students,” she said.
“But this made me try harder and show everyone what I’m capable of.”
Aanchal said she started practicing more often.
“With more training, I improved quickly and the results were promising,” she said.
“You can’t judge someone on their first shot, if you lost once, get up and try again because you won’t get better unless you practice.”
Aanchal remains a dedicated player, training at the Loops Table Tennis club in Sunshine for three to four hours a day, five days a week, and for up to eight hours per day during the school holidays.
“I also compete in several competitions every month held around the state,” Aanchal said.
“I’ve played at my school and in competitions with other schools, winning many trophies, medals and awards.”
Aanchal said she believes that everyone should be able to play the sport of their choice, regardless of their gender.
She also plays basketball and volleyball, and has qualified to represent Suzanne Cory High School in regional cross country.
“I want to end gender disparity, by encouraging and motivating young girls to play sports like table tennis, cricket, AFL, where more boys play than girls,” Aanchal said.
“If you are passionate about the sport or even have the slightest interest, don’t hesitate because there’s nothing better than giving it a go.
“Just give it a go and believe in yourself because you never know what you are capable of until you have tried.
“And you don’t have to be good at the start.”
Aanchal said she especially wants to get more women and gender-diverse people into table tennis.
“Table tennis is more than just playing, it’s socially interacting with peers and learning their unique style, and equipping yourself with a broad suite of skills,” she said.
“I absolutely love to meet like-minded people who share the same passion and similar ambitions for table tennis, who are determined to challenge themselves every time they step onto the court.
“It is a sport for everyone, and age is not a barrier.”
Aanchal said aspired to be like her favourite table tennis player Melissa Tapper.
“She made history in 2016 when she became the first Australian athlete to qualify for both the Summer Olympics and Summer Paralympics,” Aanchal said.