Nothing Beats Excellence

The Talk of the Town ; Quadi ARUNA from NIgeria connecting with fans at the ISS Dome

The Talk of the Town ; Quadi ARUNA from NIgeria connecting with fans at the ISS Dome

Black dress and shiny shoes. It’s party time in Dusseldorf with one of the finest events we have on the international calendar – the Men’s World Cup providing the entertainment.  We are by now into day three of an event that over the last few years changed the format countless times.  Competing this year we have twenty players; six continental cup champions and then a mixture of players basically picked up from the world ranking with the green light selection related to having participated in the continental cups.

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Playing system can always be discussed and from the feel and talk of it – the blogger himself is getting old and clearly carrying the stamp on the forehead; it was better in the past!  My argument to expose the top players over three days with the traditional sixteen players’ four groups’ format was quickly dismissed by the ITTF Marketing guru Matt Pound as not very interesting. He wanted drama – knock out system and didn’t care for a minute having basically one day of qualification in a world event of this nature.

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All credit to him for holding fort and perhaps he is right. People of today seem to want a quick fix with high drama and immediate results. Anyhow – this doesn’t really matter. The world cup is still a presentation event taken seriously by the players. The best want to be here and they want to win .This is a rare situation in our sport. Often we have too many participation based events on the calendar – hard – or I would say impossible to digest for the few hard core fans we have.

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Can we review – rethink and perhaps launch some kind of new professional system?   Well, let’s ask those in charge and by all means put pressure on them to actually do it. The Pro Tour – World Tour or whatever you name it has been the same open to all concepts since it all started in the late nineties. National Association knowing or not knowing their own DNA? – enters players into a system, a concept   providing very little payback to the development of our sport    .Because – as I always said the future pulls the other way towards an individually based performance oriented system – driven by the passion for excellence.

Here in Dusseldorf we have seen good – entertaining table tennis. Ma LONG looks incredible good – strong –more technically innovative than I have seen him before – Timo BOLL is the hungry German this time and Jun MIZUTANI just dominated his quarterfinal match against Chuan CHI YUAN winning in five games. Last but not least we have the champion of all champions Zhang JIKE entering the Sunday action following a four to two win against the crowd favorite  ; The Nigerian twenty six years old fighter Quadi ARUNA.

And what a show he put on ARUNA. Not only did he win his qualification group – he also took out – like a sign from the Table Tennis God, Tang PENG from Hong Kong in the last sixteen stage early Saturday.

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It’s funny how good we all felt that something new was happening in front of our very eyes. The playing style is from the past – but the temper and personality belonged to something called the future. He showed fight and passion – two forgotten attributes that never fails because it brings out the best of you – the very true ideals – the honest you.

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Fourteen year old Kanak JHA fighting face.

Fourteen year old Kanak JHA fighting face.

What we watched this weekend, starting with a positive appearance from the fourteen year old blue blooded American Kanak JHA finishing with the ARUNA show was true development and nothing else. Players entering a field of world class players – not only to be there –to participate but instead to try their very best – to pursue excellence is more important than we may believe. These two guys separated by much – but still connected by passion and dreams each became not only noticed, but also celebrated by a knowledgeable – passionate group of German fans. It was nice to watch – we enjoyed it and so did others I am sure, following the action on some of the media platforms that we offer. After all we are talking two countries or markets as the ITTF Marketing Director Steve DAINTON says home to a considerable number of people. Last time I check the USA had more than 250 million people living in the country and for all what it matter – Nigeria is not too bad either entering the top ten most populated countries in the world with ease.

Lesson to be learned from the reasoning you may ask?  Well, my point is this.. We need to stay on track and have programs and for a sure an improved competition system driving excellence. Money invested into development can easy cover the basic needs of education – but there must be room for talented players to grow as well. Over the last few years I have the feeling that we somehow  lost track and drove right into the ever dangerous sport political mine-field.

Good, functional programs or key events on the junior side are therefore at risk. They may be slaughtered tomorrow for reasons that nobody really understand.  Just stop that. Rise up – stand up against pull-backs that limits the opportunities for young players in our sport. Instead it is time to invest – to review and to restart.

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One of the finest creations, an event that always been the centerpiece in the ITTF Global Junior Program is underway in Barbados. Of course I am talking about the World Cadet Challenge – designed for learning excellence more than anything else.  I will have to dig out the original vision for this event ;why it was put there and why we overtime came to connect around this event.

In a moment like this – I would say that nothing really changed. We are what we are – passionate workers – living of the gracious sport called  Table Tennis.  Somehow the ITTF  lost a positive identity –kind of the  the understanding of how things  will happen in our sport. I believe in excellence as one of the main drivers of development – this night 100 million Nigerians talking table tennis again or Table Tennis companies running hard to sign a young talented American understands what we all once collectively understood;  Nothing beats excellence !

Its Sunday night turning Monday morning in Dusseldorf . Life goes on .

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To Good to be Hidden in the Dark

Pretty Good read ; The article about Mr Big Power and the Good Persson

Pretty Good read ; The article about Mr Big Power and the Good Persson

With the ITTF Presidential countdown coming to an end ( very impressive work done by Sheri !)  - maybe it is time to start the ElevenPoint Blog countdown next. In fact as a kind of voice of the ever lively  inner dialogue within the ITTF,   we have less than four month to go before we need to shut up or somehow cut the blog  loose and set sail for the open sea.

Plenty to write about – much talk going around . The wonderful world of International Table Tennis is full of pretty much everything . It will of course be extra interesting to see the new ITTF President Mr Tomas Weikert laze up his skates and take a few strides on the more than often thin ice of sport politics..

But -More about that later. In fact just went here to post my tribute article to two great players of my time ; Wang Liqin and Jorgen Persson .  Two great guys that helped the blogger with Youth Olympic Games work throughout the summer..

So…Here it is the article about Mr Big Power and the Good Persson  ; WLJP

 

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Korean Training Camp “completes” Busy summer for “The Futures” of USA Table Tennis

uncle-sam-new1Could it be that we in the year 2014 are seeing the Table Tennis version of the “Summer of Sam ” developing right under our noses?

Believers in a better future for USA Table Tennis are at least lining up in appreciation of a true , hard-nosed , excellence driven table tennis summer set up for the leading US juniors, fuelled by a combination of individual desire and investments to top up the USATT financial input made available for the junior national teams and the YOG candidates specifically.

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If you happen to have the finger on the pulse of USA Table Tennis , you know that it is beating with increased intensity and eagerness these days. Lots of young promising players are on the rise and sustainable success might very well be around the corner, especially could the USATT somehow  shift gears, build on the collective interest for the sport and drive forward in a more organized fashion the coming years. Frequent readers of this blog also know my opinion that the ITTF or for that matter the TMS also should add some fuel to the fire by getting involved – but that is perhaps more wishful thinking..? Or – perhaps not Mr. Weikert?

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Anyway, leading individual efforts and huge private investments set aside for a moment, the more interesting part in this story  actually involves the increasing interest from many of the US top prospects to compete and train internationally during the school break – JUNE to AUGUST.

So far we have strong US juniors and leading cadet players performing  sensationally well in the CTTA/ ITTF Road to Nanjing training camp held in Shanghai in the month of June ,   had organized training activities set up in cooperation with Tamasu/Butterfly for selected athletes at the JTTA national training center in Tokyo , observed strong US presence (and success ..) in  the Korean Junior Open, followed this week by a much appreciated training camp  together with a fine KJTTA selection of athletes in Daejeon Korea.

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Korean and USA players lining up for instruction in Daejon.

Initiated reports from the now ongoing  camp, planned for eight days, are at least so far extremely positive with full praise going to the always friendly and supportive Korean Junior Table Tennis Associations for logistics and sparring.

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For the best and most ambitious athletes, those brave enough to spell out some kind of professional future in Table Tennis , with access to all the planned activities , US Open and North American events included , we are talking roughly two full month of international training and competition – in ASIA , mind you ! . Hard to beat as such and the potential outcome can be HUGE, should the mental and the physical side of the athlete-s hold fort.

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In fact the rising interest from US hopefuls and some of the more active training centers in the country , to explore the wonderful world of international TT,  has in itself caused some havoc in and around the much regulated NIKON Hong Kong Junior Open , coming up in one weeks’ time. No less than thirteen young US players are currently among the 160 athletes granted access to the prestigious event and from the rumor mill we can pick up that more US players indeed are eager to compete – but for the moment put on the waiting list by the organizers.

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Prachi JHA making a move this summer – fresh off a podium finish in the Korean Junior Open

Headache for the USATT and in extended form also for the ITTF system? Yes, perhaps from a pure administration point of view, but the overall dynamics are of course overwhelmingly positive. It is true that all of this might be tied to internal (fierce) competition in the US with in many cases parents being as much involved as the athletes themselves , which comes up as completely natural in a sport system built , first and foremost, on self-made success. .

Yet – the trick for the future and much needed improvements for the sport itself in the United States is to be found exactly by solving and riding these dynamics.

Right now we have an open road to improving the national competition model – and yes some of the old foxes of US Table Tennis are all on the right track claiming sharper and much more competitive series of national events ( USA Pro Tour ?) as one important piece of the puzzle . The dream scenario of course involves an individual tour to be tied up with a North American Pro League open for clubs and training centers. Other improvements should also involve a step by step re-shaping of the current High performance model to rise above mediocrity and short term solution to also incorporate new ideas to drive what very well could be a fine future for Table Tennis in the USA.

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Lily

Lily ZHANG the leading US player bound to compete in Nanjing – Youth Olympics

So far much of the self-drummed USATT media  reports  this summer have   centered around the USA representatives for the YOG 2014 ; Lily ZHANG the nr one US Hope in Nanjing and the still young, but increasingly interesting qualifier Kris AVVARI  and their whereabouts ( stormy coaching conflict included in that statement ..) . Lily, will no doubt be one of the players to watch in Nanjing. Her overall game is probably good enough to challenge for a medal in the singles competition , still hard work needs to prevail for the physical and mental parts also to fit perfectly come games time. To curb and control the rising expectations from back home is probably going to be the key to success for the US leading female player.

For Kris, on the other side,  the goals are of much more modest character. The experience from a long and draining training camp in China – from the hard learning in Korea and Hong Kong should hopefully help this young talent to embark on the road to becoming a more complete athlete, if so happens,  in fact not a bad victory for a player that for sure can play a huge role for the USA Junior Boys team destined for success at the world junior level.. That is if good old “Uncle Sam “ somehow get his wishes right – like he did in the summer of 2014 !

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The Sky is Crying

14028825315_7610634f17_bDid you notice that the sun seems to have lost its light and the sky is not as blue anymore?! . For sure it did not happen overnight; it is just that today you could clearly notice.  Day three of the 2014 World Team Table Tennis Championships in Tokyo and we went from bright spring-like sunshine to a rainy morning.

Could it be that the mighty Table Tennis god himself wanted to send a message to the international body of our sport on what should be its finest time, the day of the 2014  Annual General Meeting ?

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Actually this post comes to you from the meeting itself. I am in the back of the room listening to the only ITTF president I have ever served as a professional staff; Mr. Adham Sharara. This will be the last stop for him on a magnificent Presidential journey that lasted for fifteen years.

Many times I have wondered, like all of my colleagues, where he got the fuel from, the energy and the passion to lead us the way he did.  We have been treated with the best of   what he could offer; flexibility, trust and patience. We all made mistake along the way – but it was never met with the hammer, instead Adham gave you the chance to succeed with other projects.

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Certain things did however slow down the process  lately  . Maybe motivation – maybe political infighting finally took its toll on him?  Silence came into the picture as  a sign that something was not right  . Clearly an indication as good as anything that something would come up eventually. There was a time when everything was responded to, every single email loaded with arguments, explanation and at times new directions .

To meet up one on one with Adham, a very busy person, was always a rare treat. Many times the discussion could take several hours touching on things that really had no importance or relevance for the issues on hand.  Often it took the directions of sport politics and the whereabouts of colleagues and friends – before without you knowing it sliding into more important problem solving. I will miss those talks, the meetings with Adham. We will ,  all of us.  miss his intelligence – stubbornness, and his ability to close down the worrying path of anxiety. Some of us, like him triggered by a good solid disagreement will also miss his long world champion emails (to quote a good friend).

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It is true, in fact very true, that I clashed with Adham in some areas –general philosophy, tournament systems, ranking or what have you. In the end freedom of speech, perhaps my honest way of arguing did cost me in terms of loss of influence and the opportunity to hands on lead some of programmes that many believe are perfectly designed for developing our sport.   Of course 159 Eleven points posts over five years   did not help either – although I have to say that many of my articles in fact very much reflects all the good things initiated and approved by Adham .  I danced with the devil in that sense. It is seldom an advantage to be outspoken – engaged and quality minded in an organization like the ITTF. Sometimes better say nada and to swallow the pride.

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I have taken time to do this blog on my free time, evenings, nights and mornings. It has come from all corners of the world from  hotels, venues, airport and you name it.  The simple reasons for doing it relates back to my professional role driving ITTF Education and Training .  Not too much the formal way – waiving with certificates , approving this and that – but rather by working the minds of people to understand what the true opportunities are and what has to be done to explore them  .  I have taken the time to motivate the fans of the sport by giving them a few inside takes from the ITTF meeting rooms and I have tried hard to push coaches and supporters to take deep interest in ITTF programmes on offer .  That’s pretty much it –just an honest – straight shooting way to communicate that may have ruffled some feathers – but not more than that.  The Elevenpoints blog has been me with all my good and perhaps lesser good sides exposed.

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But, back to the rainy day in Tokyo and the announcement from Adham; “That this will be the last time I will lead this meeting as the president of the ITTF”. Of course  we know that Adham will continue to be present – not only in our memories but also as resource, mentor for the new ITTF President Mr Thomas Weikert once he takes office 1 September this year. This is the timeline presented for the transition – Adham will retire and hand over duties to Thomas , who then will get two +  years under his belt before the 2017 Presidential election. At the very same time, there is no doubt that the new President very quickly must come with a strong strategic plan bearing his signature  for this to work.  The ITTF, like any other organization , should allow for ideas to flow, in depth discussions to happen, for staff to be empowered and for implementation to happen.

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13559818394_9897e70f9e_bGood luck to Thomas – whom I met this morning at 0630, am in the streets of Tokyo. I was taking a slow morning run – Thomas a must faster one, but in the in the end we joined together for the homerun. What I always liked about Thomas is that he is not afraid of embracing the rule of engagement that used to be so present in our sport.   He has always carried the German team shirt with pride and passion. That may not happen anymore – political correctness rule over his new position.. Having said that – please remain the way you are – a true passionate fan of our sport and a competitor by heart.  

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14005708416_dc4a824498_bPerhaps the most emotional moment from today’s AGM action came when Adham formally “placed”  Mr. Koji Kimura – one of the best ITTF officials we ever had in the PAC – Presidents Advisory Council. Koji has always been Koji – fighting hard and honest for the things he believed was right from a development point of view. His presentations, often involving some sort of practical examples, were both funny and right to the point.    The short thank you speech he delivered from the podium today did not have any kind of bitterness either. We could all learn from Koiji’s outlook on life; It has been wonderful – a happy time to serve you all and to work for the development of table tennis he gracefully said

From all of us – Thank You Koji . To reach the 53 years of service that you have given to the sport I need another twenty – which will be difficult. We all owe you another one as well –Thank You  for letting us come to Tokyo and experience the 2014 ZEN-NOH World Table Tennis Championships. Without your passion and Adham’s vision we would never have been here.

Personally – and this is just a wild guess , I have a feeling that the departure of Koji Kimura from the ITTF Executive committee last year is one of the personal reasons that Adham mentioned in a short speech to close the meeting today . There are others of course – but I know that this was one of the many small arrows shot at one great ITTF Presidents heart.

No wonder that the light rain we experienced in the early Tokyo morning, suddenly, right at the very moment that Koji stepped down from the podium turned into more of a downpour than anything else. The sky was crying and so did I.

It is funny how you sometimes hit the same wave-length regardless if you are a fearless,  truth-seeking table tennis blogger or the mighty god of Table Tennis himself.  

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We Are Family

IMG_0813Much of the discussion raging in the political corridors here in Tokyo will this time be about the format of the future world championships. It is a true clash between performance and participation. Marketing –commercial values on one side screaming for better conditions and presentations,  and on the other side  the solidarity development aspects pushing for what perhaps is true spirit of our sport  ; solidarity and participation .

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It is of course a numbers game.  Free hospitality for more than 1000 people over  eight days is a bit of a toughie and then to add all the other requirements ,  the playing facilities needed , volunteers .stricter ITTF  directives  , we are putting any organizer through a tremendous test of patience and financial sustainability  .

Solutions are not easy to find. The much improved ITTF development work is doing what it is supposed to do – grow the sport from a participation point of view with the true meeting point being the world championships.  Arguments thrown from the marketing / media side are of course related to how to make the elephant dance and how to sell the world championships concept to sponsors and commercial partners.

Let’s see what happens . The latest news is that we will have some sort of cap for the future; Maybe 84 ?! , but more likely 96 teams, allowed to enter the team championships in 2016, with some adjustments of the hospitality rule connected.

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IMG_0814But here we are – action did start this morning and I am right now sitting in the Tokyo Gymnasium trying to overlook things.  In a moment of true passion I did offer to help out with the challenge to make the action in this hall also count for the media and our fans. The truth is that we have many teams here in the second, third division with tremendous potential for future growth.  I am also interested in those associations looking to make a comeback into the big stage – to play once again in the limelight, like India – like England – Italy or you name it.  My North American heritage (14 years of living) also triggers the interest to see what Canada and the USA can do this time.  Expectations are still low –but we need to add some spark for  something to happen on that continent .

The many young players that we have seen pass through some of our athletes development programmes are also a point of huge interest. Many of them still pushing for attention – but we know them well and must allow ourselves to enjoy their progress as a true passionate fan of our sport.  We are after all family – the ITTF family.

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Time for Another Splash in the Pool

ImageWhat a treat to visit Tokyo again.  This will be my fourth time  since 2009 .  The 2014 WTTC will be my eighteenth World championships since my first stumbling steps in the international courts of Table Tennis 1989 in Dortmund, Germany. The only two festivities that I missed since then were in Manchester 1997 and Doha 2004.

As the coach for the Danish National Team I worked the floor between Dortmund and Tianjin 1995 and then made a comeback as a young – but eager ITTF employee in Eindhoven 1998. My first assignment I remember very well. It was not really an easy one – I had to push the new 40 mm ball both internally (hosted a famous dinner with the ITTF Equipment committee  …;-) and externally with National Associations. I even have a vague memory of reaching all the way to the AGM podium with a speech of some sort promoting change and the need of thinking out of the box.

Well folks – here I am attending what very well could be my last World Table Tennis championship as an ITTF professional staff.  The thinking out of the box and the drive and motivation to see change is still with me. Over the years I hope I have stayed true to my qualities and vision to work for the development of our sport. I had my chances and also my moments – it has been a good time – a privileged time to do all this –to experience the wonderful world of international table tennis.   The wheels never stop turning – challenges come and challenges go – everything created from what I call the nature of the beast; The world political will.

Our jobs – as staff is to pump the tires as much as we can, always important to promote your own area of expertise as the most important thing there is – because if you happen to lose your portfolio – your role comes into question. We should also try to add doses of reality to mix of the better half of the politically generated ideas that always will and must appear to move our sport forward.  It is also here at the world championships when we meet our membership that we need to pin our ears to the ground and listen – not always talk.  That’s the trick not to be forgotten actually.  We need to stay in touch with the reality and make sure that our programmes do make sense.

Lately – I have feeling that we somehow have hit the one way road a little bit too often. We say and you do kind of thing.  Lots of good things are happening – don’t get me wrong and we are also lucky to have a group of staff in the ITTF working for the rights reasons.. But then again when the political waters get murky – it is not easy to find the right directions.  It just takes small things and we are swimming in circles , instead of making the healthy laps count .

The truth is that the reality is in front of our eyes – right here at the world championships. This is us – the players the coaches performing doing their very best to showcase the depth of our sport .  As a sport we can only grow stronger and better if players can play and coaches can coach.  So colleagues – friends and foes; Study and Learn . As far as I know  , 1+1 still equals  two .

 

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SPINNing it Good

ImageHi – Ho Silver.  Welcome to the Chinese Canadian Table Tennis Association’s home in Markham just east of Toronto.  Canadian Junior Open is upon us with matches from dawn to dusk in a venue that actually is pretty nice.  This time we play on eight competition courts in two connected venues.

By now I have lost track of how many junior events we have connected to the Global (soon to be the world) Junior Circuit. Is it thirty – is it forty?  The only thing I do know from seeing a few of these events lately is that we probably have too many.   The risk is always that we by not having enough international circulation of  players force each national association to organize expensive events for mostly national players.  It is true that we have eight countries here – but still ninety percent of the players are from Canada and the USA…

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Honestly how exciting is it to watch USA A play USA C in one final , just to have USA D compete with USA “whatever” on the court beside ?

This was the case yesterday for the team finals here in Markham.  The only team breaking the cycle of American dominance was the Canadian Cadet Boys, who fought well but , still came up short.

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I watched the junior boys’ action with some talented youngsters in the court. The top American combo of Kunal Chodri and Kanak JHA, both guys well known to the blogger by early appearances in the  ITTF Hopes Programme , finally won the JB team title against Allen WANG and Theodore THRAN three matches to one.  The overall quality of play as well as the lack of true competitive spirit in matches like this worries me – a lot!  In fact it can even be counter-productive for these talents to play too many matches without the  proper intensity – the nerve that makes you go the extra mile ,  that drives you towards winning.

The only player in the final courts yesterday trying a bit harder was not surprisingly thirteen year old Kanak JHA from Milpitas, CA.  With him, both the desire and intensity are present, providing him with the necessary  international compete level which can  support a dream  to do  something, anything outside North America.

On the other side – Kanak must, just like all the other young players in North America, learn to play with much more tactical sense and to find solutions in the service and return game rather than in the open pit.. Too much Hi – Ho – open game – nice shots –point here and point there combined with series of missed shot  will only make the Butterflies come flying .. and then you have risky business stamped on just about any match on the schedule.

Fixable things for sure. But only with hard work; head to hand – not the opposite way which is more along the lines ; Play First and Think second. 

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Team mate Kunal CHODRI on the other hand would need some of Kanak’s desire and intensity in order to make a push for the next level. Most of the time he can showcase good power – very strong opening shots with certain smartness (good service) attached to it.  However slower style of footwork forces inconsistency and all that quickly puts him down mentally.  What at times appears as effective, strong international level table tennis from a fifteen year old,  can in the next game completely disappear.  Having said that – it is way too early to make any calls when it comes to his long term career. There is a certain well hidden drive behind this player that we all should try to understand. Kunal has also gone through a tremendous growth spurt, something that always will cause problems in Table Tennis.  Having said that – it is time to start committing hard – even if the wind blows right in your face. Either you want it – or not ?!

The US Youth Olympic Games qualifier Kris AVVARI is also an interesting player – but still way too much a passenger on the international stage.  Maybe a devoted summer schedule with camps in China – Korea and finally the Youth Olympic games will propel this nice young kid to the next level. That was part of the agreement I made with him this morning at the breakfast table.

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ImageIf we look further down in the ages we can find a bunch of good to extremely good Hopes player. The other day I had the pleasure to enjoy the North American Hopes challenge in Mississauga and you know what maybe there some hope is for the Canadians after all. The final pairing of Alexander BU ( penholder !!) from Toronto and Edvard LY from Montreal are both very strong players.

The level of female youth and junior TT in North America is still strong. As good as Ariel HSING and especially my favorite Lily ZHANG were some six to seven years ago   – you can now find the likes of Crystal WANG and Amy WANG  entering the scene on basically the same level.

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Lots of talk about Table Tennis booming here in the Big Smoke ( Toronto). The newly open SPIN Bar/Club is a cool hit with the Torontonians  and in fact it has made Table Tennis interesting for a much wider audience. http://toronto.spingalactic.com/ The blogger almost fell of the dinner chair yesterday when the hard workers from the MY Table Tennis club in Mississauga relieved their table sales figures from last year ( 2013).. Listen to this – only in the Toronto area alone My Table Tennis sold more than 1000 tables with a full service – all installed in the basement package.

 

 

 

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