It’s one thing to make it as a professional in sport; another thing entirely to emulate the achievements of your parents. But that’s exactly what Galia Dvorak, the daughter of two international-level table tennis players, has done by competing for Spain. Here, the three-time Olympian, who is a member of the ITTF Athletes’ Commission and an Athlete Role Model for the Youth Olympic Games 2018, discusses what it’s been like to follow in the footsteps of her sporting parents…

As a child, I never got the chance to play for fun. It felt like a job. I remember seeing the rest of the girls in the school enjoying their free time and doing whatever they wanted, while I always had to go to practice.

But nowadays, I’m so thankful for what my parents did, because they taught me to love the sport. They taught me a lifestyle that means if I had a choice today, I would definitely choose to be an athlete.

Finding the right balance

I started to play table tennis because my parents asked me if I wanted to. They drove me to the hall and we started to practise. But when I realised that I wouldn’t just be playing table tennis today or next week – I would be playing every day – I felt the pressure. I realised it was something I should be doing all the time, even when I’d rather be doing something else.

But they weren’t like those strict parents you see, forcing me to play. I’m naturally very competitive, and when I started to play I really wanted to keep trying and keep improving.

Getting a head start

Back then, I didn’t realise I had an advantage. I just thought I was cleverer and better, and that I practised more often than the others. But nowadays, I realise how big an advantage it was.

I was more prepared and more professional, because my parents had already taught me all of the essentials: going to sleep early, maintaining focus during matches, being tactically disciplined, analysing my opponents. All of these things that you usually learn later in your career, I had known them since I was a kid. That definitely gave me an advantage against many of my opponents.

The value of creativity

I didn’t really have the chance to truly enjoy table tennis. Since the beginning, everything was oriented towards being good, improving and doing the correct things. That limited my creativity when I was playing. I know many kids just have fun when they play or practise, and try to do things that are perhaps not tactically or technically correct. I never had the chance to do that, so I think in some way my game is a little limited as a consequence.

A helping hand

My mum still coaches me when I’m home. I play for a club in France despite living in Barcelona, so I travel a lot. But when I’m at home practising, she still helps me a little bit, and we talk about the sport.

My dad isn’t into table tennis as much nowadays, but occasionally I practise with him on Sundays. I’m very thankful for that, and he’s also happy because fifteen years ago it would have been unthinkable for me to ask them to play with me. It was always a case of them saying, “Galia, you have to go to practice.” That’s quite funny for us!

Parents know best

It’s very important to remember that your parents always want the best for you. If they push you too hard sometimes or are a bit too tough, it’s only because they want you to be as good as possible. In many cases they’ve already been there, and they know the difficulties you have to face. It’s very important to listen to them, but always remember that you should enjoy it too.