There is, as always , no shortage of opinions concerning the state of affairs in European Table Tennis. The debate runs high in the press center, in the stands and among coaches. The level of talents, playing skills in general and individual players are discussed and debated.
Personally I have not been present at the European Youth Championships since my coaching days ended in Denmark back in July 1995. If I remember correctly my final match on the bench was Martin Monrad’s last sixteen loss in the singles vs. Radek Mrcvicka from the Czech Republic.
Now my old friend from the time in Denmark – currently running the show as the Performance manager in English Table Tennis – Mr. Steen Kyst Hansen told me in Prague
“Don’t worry about the fourteen years – not much have happened in terms of organization of this event “
Could be true of course. But reality is that the European Youth Championships never has been deeper – maybe not in terms of talent – but more related to participation. Over six hundred young players are making this event what it is – a gigantic gathering of youth involved in our sport. Yes- the floor is a mess – the time schedule tough – coaches overworked – and players drained from energy in the final days. But I just wonder if it can be any other way…
Anyway… Here is just a few freewheeling takes on the state of affairs in European Table Tennis. No particular order.. And for the fun of it.
1. Make the European Youth Championships an important stop in the calendar – But NOT the FINAL destination…
Truth is that some national associations, many of them with great young talents and development potential are burning most of their cash just to manage full participation at this event year from year. Imagine spending 85 % of your budget in the first six month of the year. Not much is left over to participate internationally in the important second part of the season.. A focus shift to the World Junior Championships and a more rounded calendar is needed for young players.
2. Coaching Drive and Motivation in General will be important factors in the rebuilding process
Many familiar faces bring experience and knowledge to the benches at the European Youth. But I wonder if not one of the missing pieces is young ambitious coaches growing with the players instead of older coaches going down and starting all over…We need to find a way to reinforce coaching as a carrier of its own.
3. Only a few things can be solved on the continental level..
It is a popular thought that countries in Europe needs to work together with common stops at training camps and in exchange in order to raise the level of play. True in a sense – but to be honest this thought will fail if planned activities replaces strong national incentives and programs rather than adding a fine tuning opportunity…
4. Vive la France..
Seems like the French association, at least on the boys side finally are getting things right. Sever years of proper talent scouting and opportunities offered for crucial young age groups – minis or Hopes are starting to pay off.. Strong juniors – different styles and individually very strong talents on the way.I also like the fact that we are seeing general improvements in terms of physical conditioning with the French players. Much needed qualities added there.
5. Few talents – Get ready for domination.
The development of female table tennis in Europe must be a great concern. The real talents are relatively few and we can be in for years of domination when young players like Petrissa Solja from Germany enter the junior category. Yes – there a few others worth mentioning of course – but many of them will fail in if not coaching is drastically improved and carrier paths on the international scene lit up. Bet you that really none of these girls are falling asleep at night dreaming about a world title in Table Tennis. That is a big part of the problem.
6. No Country for Old Men?
Ever seen a movie made by the brilliant Cohen Brothers? If not, you have to. Discovered recently John Malkovich, George Clooney and a brilliant Brad Pitt in the comedy/thriller “Burn after reading” from 2008. A brilliant piece of moviemaking, just like the Oscar awarded “No Country for Old Men”.
Now… the latest coaches signing of worth in European Table Tennis has the Amizic Brothers – well known Mario and lesser know Leo Amizic, contracted to lift the Russian Table Tennis Association out of mediocrity. Will be interesting to follow that story unfold and you really have to wonder where Mario Amizic, 54 gets the energy from to control all his different obligations in the TT world. Having said that, I like the coaching comeback from Leo Amizic, who will add a calm and supportive style of coaching to help the Russian juniors.
7. P.. like in Planning and T.. like in Toughness
Way too many soft players looking good in Europe for the moment. Take the junior boys category as a good example. Maybe two or three of the top juniors are developed to play power TT – which is a necessity if you want to make you way through to a reasonable level as a senior player on the world stage. Go to the www.ittfranking.com page and search for most active players in international play. Few European top juniors.. Planning must improve and also the knowledge among coaches concerning global opportunities.
8. Money, money and money..
Important decision making process when you are 18 years old and a by European standards promising junior ; Go for the short term gain in Euro by signing with a reasonable club – or free up time to pursue international play or spend long and grueling days in training camp perhaps in China or Korea. The money offered by clubs to young players is not small in Europe for the moment. All driven by a lack of interesting prospects if you ask me. Club Table Tennis – and league matches are the main problem – not the opportunities offered internationally.
9. Basic Technique is lacking
I have to quote Anders Johansson – coach in Liebherr Ochsenhausen. “In Europe we are working with the basic set up in terms of movement and technique very deep into the players’ carrier. In fact I have European top players that still are in the process of learning despite being in the upper twenties. Look at the young Asian players who are ready made for fine-tuning when they are 17 or 18… That’s a big difference”
10. Role Models – do they really exist in Europe?
The rule of Good life seems to be the real benchmark in European Table Tennis for the moment. I mean we are in for a carrier shifting stage for many, many good “aging” European players. I can understand that reduction in international play – contracts that will have them make only a few appearances for their desperate clubs are important factors for the likes of Primorac, Korbel, Persson, Keen and others. Then we have Michael Maze, Samsonov and Timo Boll finding more values in European Champions League success than in an ambitious challenge of the Chinese dominance. One of the rising stars in European Table Tennis ; Dimitrij Ovtcharov , recently signed a three year + 100,000 Euro net salary contract with the Charleroi club in Belgium , to play maybe twelve league matches per year . Will be interesting to see where and how he will spend his increased time for practice. This is still a young player with plenty of empty wholes in his playing arsenal to cover. Female role models?! Send me one and I will be happy to discuss. Either they are fighting with their national association or having a good time in the Italian League!
11. Top Ten Prospect list – Europe 2009. No strings attached
1. Simon Gauzy FRA – Could be the biggest talent in many, many years. Perfect mentality and wonderful energy. Stay tuned for much more to come.
2. Camellia POSTOACA ROU – Very late bloomer with an interesting style. If she could learn a proper defensive technique to combine with blistering forehand good things can happen – pretty quickly.
3. Patrick Franziska GER – On his way. Will have to compete hard on a daily basis in training and competition, only to MAKE the German senior team – which is a good thing. Plenty to like concerning style and mental makeup.
4. Jonathan Groth DEN – Walks, stands and plays like Michael Maze. Promising young man that must learn to compete at the junior level on a weekly basis if he wants to improve as a player. Pretty much a no show in these championships.
5. Dora Madarasz HUN – Brought an excellent level of competiveness to Prague, and was a standout in the team event for Hungary. Good modern technique makes her more interesting than other European girls.
6. Petrissa Solja GER – Might very well dominate female European Junior Table Tennis the next three years. Imagine if she could learn to be more energetic and aggressive in the court!
7. Hampus Soderlund SWE – Will-power personified. Improved backhand side and better returning of service are positive signs. Heavy handed under pressure still somewhat of a problem.
8. Bernadette Szocs ROU – Young Fireball with wonderful spirit. Must add important element to her game in order to make the next step.
9. Pavel Sirucek Cze Rep – Rookie of the year on the ITTF Junior stage. Stable overall game – but I wonder of an open, true Petr Korbel 1990 style of table tennis, will be good enough outside Europe.
10. Any male junior or cadet player dressed in the colors of the “tricolore”; all mentioned, no one forgotten. France could easily win the Cadet and Junior Boys team event for five straight years.
Have a nice weekend