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About Matthew Syed

Matthew Syed is married and a father to two young children (Evie and Teddy), and a trustee of Greenhouse Sports, a charity that empowers young people from disadvantaged communities through sport. He is also a columnist for The Times, the author of two acclaimed books – Bounce and Black Box Thinking – and a former international table tennis champion.

Born in 1970 to a Pakistani father and Welsh mother, Matthew Syed attended a state school in Reading, UK, leaving at the age of sixteen to focus on table tennis. He taught himself A Levels in the downtime after training, working his way through various text books, before applying to the University of London Examination Board to sit his papers in a small room near King’s Cross along with students doing their re-sits.

Having passed his A Levels, he was accepted by Balliol College, Oxford University to study for a degree in philosophy, politics and economics. He played in the Olympic Games in Barcelona towards the end of his first year at Balliol, and gained a prize-winning First Class degree four months after becoming the British table tennis number one in 1995.

He is, perhaps unsurprisingly, a strong believer that sporting and academic excellence are not mutually exclusive. Indeed, he argues that developing the body and mind provides a powerful synergy – a point well understood by the Ancient Greeks.

Matthew was a co-founder and is a trustee of Greenhouse, a charity that empowers youngsters through sport. Greenhouse currently supports more than 10,000 young people on 31 full-time school programmes. He is also a member of the FA’s High Performance Committee alongside Sir Dave Brailsford and Baroness Campbell, and an ambassador for the PiXL educational foundation.

Matthew is a columnist and feature writer for The Times. He writes regularly on football and other sports, as well as on culture, media and politics.

He has won numerous awards for his writing including Sports Journalist of the Year at The British Press Awards on 2 occasions, as well as Sports Feature Writer and Sports Columnist of the Year at the Sports Journalist Association Awards 6 times. He also won Sports Commentator of the Year at the Editorial Intelligence Comment Awards and Best New Writer for his book, Bounce, at the British Sports Book Awards.

A regular contributor to radio and television, Matthew provides analysis for Sky News, Newsnight and CNN. His film for the BBC, China and Table Tennis, won the bronze medal at the Olympic Golden Rings ceremony in Lausanne. He is currently working on a three part series on Black Box Thinking for BBC Radio 4 to be broadcast in January 2017.

Flintoff, Savage and the Ping Pong Guy

Andrew Flintoff, Robbie Savage and Matthew Syed discuss topical sports talking points in this weekly BBC podcast. Listen to the latest episodes.

Matthew was the British table tennis number one for almost a decade, won the men’s singles at the Commonwealth Championships three times, and competed for Great Britain in the Olympic Games in Barcelona in 1992 and Sydney in 2000. His style was unusually defensive, playing what a colleague described as “spectacular roof threatening parabolas” from the back of the court.

He was not always successful. He admitted to choking at the 2000 Olympics in Sydney, falling apart under the pressure of the biggest competition on the planet. The experience provided the impetus for trying to understand how the mind responds under conditions of stress – and to develop techniques to perform without inhibition. In 2015, he made a programme on the subject for Radio 4 called The Choke.

Read some of Matthew’s articles