Nicola Deaton, 25, from Chesterfield, is the English women's table tennis No 1. Four times national champion, she has won a total of 13 senior titles as well as Commonwealth bronze and silver medals, and a silver medal in the European Championships. Her father, Colin, also represented England at table tennis. At 13, Nicola became the youngest-ever senior English international. Nicola is currently training for next month's National Championships and is also studying for a BSc in Psychology at Nottingham University.
What are the key elements of your routine?
A lot of it is about the fundamental stuff on the table, but the psychological part is also important. I meet regularly with a psychologist at the national centre and work on things like visualisation. Speed is my main asset, because I'm quite short and not necessarily as strong as some of my opponents, so I work on building that up. At the moment I'm trying to add more strength to my legs, so I'm doing two or three 30-minute runs a week, and two lots of circuits. I'm also doing exercises to build up my explosive speed. Generally, I try to spend a minimum of two hours a day on the table. At weekends I'm either playing in France or in a domestic tournament here.
Which parts of the body do you concentrate on?
Legs and wrists are obviously very important, but so is the upper body. It needs to be strong but also very flexible in order to react quickly. Skipping is excellent for all these things, and for overall fitness in general.
As the English No 1, do you find it difficult to find training opponents who will really push you?
A lot of the time I play against men, but it is good to mix the standard of your opponents. If you play people who are stronger or the same standard, you are often on the defensive, so playing slower opponents is a good opportunity to practice your technique. I also multi-ball a lot.
It's a training technique from China. There are a lot of balls in a bucket and the coach sends them across at you as quickly as possible. Because they are coming at a much faster rate than normal play, there is less time to recover – you never win the point, so you never mentally switch off. Basically, if you try to make everything harder in a training situation, when you come to play at normal speed it seems easy.
When did you first start playing table tennis?
My dad used to teach table tennis on the QE2; one day, when we were on a trip to China, I asked if I could have a go. I was about five or six.
How do you divide your time between playing and studying for your degree?
My course is very demanding, but I'm quite determined. When I'm not studying I'm playing table tennis and when I'm not playing table tennis I'm studying. The two tend to monopolise my life. It is challenging, but I think it's a good mix.
Why do you play in France?
I'm forced to go abroad to generate any decent matchplay or income. I'm in my third season for Metz now, I fly there almost every weekend, and sometimes during the week.
Do you play any other racket sports?
No. About three months ago I played tennis for the first time. My serve was about two millimetres long and the ball just wasn't going anywhere! My dad always told me to stay away from other sports, in order to avoid injury or interference with my technique.
What do you think of the game's recent changes?
I'm a traditionalist, but I do recognise that the changes are good for interest, especially from TV. Making the game 11 points [rather than 21] does cause more spontaneity and excitement, but the fact that the balls are slightly bigger doesn't make a great deal of difference.
Who has been the biggest influence on your career?
My father. All my inner motivation and my inner drive have come from him. Every time I have been disillusioned, my dad has always been there.
The English National Championships take place at Ponds Forge International Sports Centre, Sheffield, on 2-3 March