Ottawa, Canada ,Aug 2 – 2009
From the ITTF Executive Director of Education & Training to Kenta Matsudaira – world class talent in Table Tennis
Wherever you are – wherever you live! Most likely you will never read this posting – but maybe a good soldier in your close circle of advisors will ?
I have been a great admirer of your play all the way through your junior years in Table Tennis. To me your performance at the ITTF World Junior Championships in Cairo 2006 was outstanding. To win the junior title at such a young age was one of the bravest things I have seen in our sport for a long time.
To come back the way you did last year following a longer injury break was also very impressive. Your performance at the Yokohama World Championships and especially in the match with MA Lin was also of something to remember. Your rookie year in the German Bundesliga was another achievement – well done! Good luck with your second year starting in a few weeks…
It will be harder now as many players are putting you high on the list of players that they would like to beat. In fact few players in the German Bundesliga are able to post good scores from year to year. Instead the opposite is often the case. Winning drives expectations and with that rising pressure, especially in Germany where managers and coaches always paint things in the colors of excellence or uselessness. But that’s their problem. Do not get caught up in that.. Play your game – develop your game and understand that Bundesliga play in general is only one small stop on your way to world class excellence. Grab all the learning while it’s there – but don’t get caught up in the sometimes overblown Bundesliga world class attitude.
You can however learn to win matches. Timo Boll for example , masters this like no other player. His ability to just win matches – with the minimum effort required and in such a relaxed mood is unique. Learn from that.
Yes, I can promise you that things will tighten up and become tougher this year. . First year in Germany is always on adrenaline and strong motivation. In the second year it’s easy to develop the ever so dangerous feeling of having to defend your achievements … Just look at other Japanese players – your national team mates Jun Mizutani, Taku Takakiwa, Seya Kishikawa… They quickly went from excellent rookies to pretty bleak performers… Whatever they did – whatever they thought – you have to do the opposite… Think differently.
But again – the intent with this letter is not to dwell on about your daily routines in Germany. Instead I have some thoughts about your international carrier. Don’t know if you realize it just yet.. But to me , and too many other followers of international table tennis, you are the one player that could break years of Chinese dominance. You could create a buzz – show others that the Chinese male players are beatable. You could – if successful, plow the way for a new generation of young players for the moment running around seeking a way to the top .
On the other hand I have some worries too. I have been following Jun Mizutani, Taku Takakiwa, your brother Kenji and almost every single Japanese junior player he last few year with great interest. As you well know – or soon will be aware of , there is no middle ground in our sport.
I did read the comments from Mario Amizic , who has been involved in coaching most of the players I mentioned.. He said among many other things in Yokohama; “Everybody must be aware that Japan is back now” I say; Back to what?..To winning bronze medals? To challenge the top players in the world? Don’t get me wrong – it has been for the most part a healthy and good development in Japanese Table Tennis the last few years. More action in Europe and on the international scene has brought the level of Japanese young male players up a fair bit..
However you could also say that a place among the top twenty on the ITTF world ranking, is what you have to expect from talented players like yourself and Jun Mizutani. This might be tough talk. But at the same time it is important to put the bar high. To seek excellence and open the path to winning championships. Not to rest at a comfortable position as the top twenty in the world.
In fact I am worried when I see the energy of Jun Mizutani go down – I am worried when Seya Kishikawa looks more tired than ever and continues to post losing records in Germany as well as on the international scene.. The poor season of Taku Takakiwa also worries me. Is he losing his confidence – his game and his energy at the same time…? I for one would actually call this part of reality not very encouraging. The Japanese national men’s team has a lot to prove.. Bronze medals set aside.. The talent level calls for GOLD of some sort.
To give you a good start of the European season and a splendid year I have composed a few well meant notes.. Take them to hart – think about some of them or throw them in the garbage. It’s all your call.
Here they are;
- Always obey to the TIGER within. I often get a feeling that young Japanese players play and perform for others – not for themselves. You are a winner – you have to always desire and cherish winning. Not play to avoid loosing. Enjoy and seek pressure – always. Take a look at Tiger Woods in golf. He is the best conditioned athlete. At the same time he is the one player who craves for winning the most. On top of that he is a great thinker of the game. Use him as a role model.
- Hire the best possible physical conditioning coach available. I have been told that Japanese young players do not like to run. Get on with it. Fight through.. Run – jump – work out. That will make such a difference. Table Tennis is getting increasingly physical and a power game is needed to beat the Chinese players.
- Get proper Nutritional advice and follow them. There were some real horror stories told to me about the Japanese male players eating habits at the Beijing Games… Mostly McDonalds and junk food someone said. I hope this is not true.. But I fear it might be.
- Learn to relate to Coaching. Good coaching will make a huge difference for you – especially in important championship matches. You must work with a general understanding that quality coaching is a huge benefit . It is your responsibility to discuss coaching with your national association and make sure that you feel comfortable with your coach. Take a look at the Chinese players who are great in using the coaches. They always listen, think, act and evaluate. The Swedish generation of top players like Waldner, Persson and Karlsson did the same. They also respected coaching as a part of the game. In fact I have to tell you that the relation between coaches and players in Europe seems to be worsening by the minute. Many young talented players spend energy on arguing with their coach between games instead of retooling and finding ways to win.
- Delete the word TIRED from your dictionary. Countless times over the last years I have been hearing that Japanese players are tired. Coaches by into that – officials do to. They have complained about the schedule at events and suddenly it becomes a reality. You can in my opinion argue that a tired athlete – is an athlete not conditioned well enough.. Can you not. A good knowledgeable friend in Beijing told me the evening before Jun Mizutanis match with Li Ching in the singles – that he was tired.. So what? That is the one day in your carrier when you can or should be able to fight fatigue – is it not?
- Plan ahead and manage, pace your career. Don’t know who is helping you – who are managing your schedule. Athlete’s management in general is an important key to success moving forward. Put a brave and tough schedule in play.. But make decisions and learn to say NO – Even if there is money on the table. Enjoy your ride. You are a winner – you have that unique winning mentality. Very few if any Japanese players on the international scene are showing the same qualities as you are . Be brave – the rewards are out there. I hope you get them all!
Good luck with everything !