High aims - paddler Koen hopes to win sea games and Asian games medals

Football had a high risk of injury, badminton was "tiring", and gymnastics was "boring".

So Koen Pang decided on table tennis as a Co-Curricular Activity when he joined Ngee Ann Primary School, partly also because his elder brother, who is three years older, switched from badminton to ping pong.

While the school was not known for its table tennis programme, Koen (above) initially ranked behind "a few" teammates, but still made it to the Singapore Table Tennis Association's (STTA) Youth Development Squad (YDS) in Primary 3.

"It was quite tough in the first few months, but I started improving after that," said the Singapore Sports School Secondary 1 student, who trained with the YDS up to seven sessions a week on his own accord because he liked the training. The result showed, as Koen started beating his older schoolmates during training.

Last year, he won the Boys' Under-12 categories in the Safra-STTA championships, the Singapore National Games and the Char Yong National Youth Top 10 Tournament.

He also competed in the International Table Tennis Federation World Hopes Week and Challenge in Slovenia last June, when he clinched bronze medals in the Boys' singles and mixed team events.

The pint-sized boy picked up table tennis from his mother Christina, a former school player, at age six at their condominium clubhouse.

"I started out holding the bat in my right hand, but it felt awkward and painful and I switched to my left hand, which I have been using since," said Koen, who writes with his right hand.

He had wanted to join the Woodlands-based school since he was in Primary 4, according to his mother.

"He had to be good if he wanted to go to the Sports School, so my husband and I challenged him to be among the top three players in the YDS. He achieved it after just one month, and stayed there thereafter," said Christina, a freelance interior decorator in her 40s.

When Koen met national paddler Clarence Chew, an SSP alumnus and his hero, at an event last year, he asked the 19-year-old about life on campus.

That also helped him decide on joining the SSP this year.

Christina said: "Both my husband and I believe that if our kids show passion and talent in something, we should support them towards achieving their dreams. It is a blessing for us to know what gift Koen has early."

While he trains with the school's main team now, Koen and his family have been told that he will be training with the STTA-SSP School Within School programme in about three months' time.

Paddlers in this programme train with their respective national teams during the day and attend lessons in the evening, with the longer training sessions aimed at narrowing the paddlers' gaps with international playing standards.

It is a level that Koen eventually aims to be at in the future.

He said: "I hope to join the national team and win medals at the SEA (South-east Asia) and Asian Games."