Story/Interview November 3, 2022
“Reliably great lessons,” says Team GB table tennis player
After joining Team GB and placing 2nd in a world table tennis competition, Sophie Earley is off to South Korea for more intense training. After joining her doubles partner and close friend Anna Hursey at King’s InterHigh, she’s noticed herself adapting well to online school and no longer compromising on school work.
Sophie tells us of her dreams to land spots on the Olympic and Commonwealth Games medals podiums, and why her academic future may involve penguins.
Sophie started playing table tennis when she was six, after being inspired by her older brothers. She joined a youth club, which gave her space to practise. At the time she was also practicing gymnastics, and had to choose which activity to pursue competitively. Table tennis was the easy choice. Why? She puts it down to seeing other players in the youth club hall, and thinking “They’re cool. I want to be like them!”
Flash forward several years, and Sophie’s part of Team GB’s table tennis squad. She was living in Belfast last year when she got invited to a training camp in England. Then they asked her to be a part of the youth team, prompting her family to move to Nottingham so she could spend more time with her coach.
This achievement recently took her to Montenegro, to compete in the world under-19 doubles tournament. Her and her table tennis partner (and fellow King’s InterHigh student), Anna Hursey, were runners-up. “I’m really pleased for us,” Sophie explains. “It’s a big achievement, and me and Anna have improved a lot as players.”
Next up is a trip to South Korea for training. Sophie thinks this experience will be vigorous and intense, but she’s excited to visit that part of the world. And training isn’t the only thing on her mind. “I’d like to go shopping at some of the malls. They look really cool,” she tells us. “And the street food looks great. I saw some pictures and now I really want to check it out.”
“The teachers at King’s InterHigh are great. They always know what they’re doing, and you can always rely on having a good lesson.”
Great Lessons Guaranteed
Sophie and Anna aren’t just teammates – they’re close friends, too. They’ve known each other since 2016, when they met during a schools competition. Soon afterwards, they started going to European training camps, and their friendship has gotten stronger since then.
Does this friendship affect their relationships as teammates? Sophie doesn’t think so. “I think we’re as stupid as friends as we are as teammates,” she jokes. “We can be a bit silly sometimes, and that annoys our coach. But I think he finds it a bit funny, too.”
Anna was part of Sophie’s reason for joining King’s InterHigh. While she’s always been an enthusiastic learner who enjoys school, her rigorous training schedule meant she couldn’t always attend physical lessons. Knowing Anna was an online student, Sophie thought joining her would be a good choice.
Since joining, Sophie’s been impressed with the quality of teaching. “The teachers are great. They always know what they’re doing, and you can always rely on having a good lesson,” she tells us.
She’s particularly interested in Biology and Psychology, and says she enjoys these subjects equally. Although she didn’t think she’d be as academically capable as an online student, Sophie has surprised herself. “I think I’m actually doing quite well, and picking up stuff really easily.”
Balancing lessons and table tennis practice has also become simpler. Sophie will normally train between 10am and 4pm, but she can catch up with lesson recordings later. “It’s really handy,” she says. “I don’t feel like I have a disadvantage because I can’t always attend live lessons.”
“Getting to re-watch lessons is really handy. I don't feel like I have a disadvantage because I can’t always attend live lessons.”
A Fuzzy Future?
For Sophie, the future may involve animals. She’s interested in pursuing a degree in Zoology. “I think I’ve always been obsessed with animals,” she tells us. “Going to the zoo is a normal day out for some people, but I find it really exciting.” What’s her favourite animal? “Penguins are pretty cool! Anyone who knows me will say I’m obsessed with cats.”
Psychology might be another option. Her mother is a psychologist, and that’s where she thinks that inspiration comes from. Right now, she’s testing the waters with her Biology and Psychology A Levels to see what she prefers.
And what of her table tennis ambitions? One day, Sophie hopes to compete in the Olympics and Commonwealth Games, and make the medals podium. But her dreams don’t stop there. “I want to be the best player I can be. I want to give it everything I’ve got, so I can look back and say that I’ve done everything I could have,” she says. “I want to make a list of top 20 players in the world.”
“With the Team GB programme, me and Anna have a chance to go far in our careers.” We’ll see you on the podium, Sophie.
“I want to be the best table tennis player I can be. I want to give it everything I've got, so I can look back and say that I've done everything I could have.”