Three Days in Heaven

Yuto Muramatsu - new defensive prospect from Japan

Yuto Muramatsu - new defensive prospect from Japan

The 2009 ITTF Cadet Challenge training camp finished yesterday

. All in all six very good practice sessions led by Leszek Kucharski from Poland hired as the  Expert Coach for this year.  Surroundings and the training environment offered by JTTA at  the Ajinomoto National Training Center was second to none – clearly the best ever  as my colleague Glenn Tepper wrote the other day, or with my words Three Days in heaven for any Table Tennis coach.  In general words are hard to find to clearly describe the multi million euro facility and all its features , ready-made for a handful of the  Olympic Sports. Luckily Table Tennis is one of them – of course that is to be expected in Japan , where our sport has i would say tremendous potential;

  • Great tradition and history – Table Tennis  is one of the core sports in the Japanese sport community
  • Young  and promising prospects – Ai  Fukuhara, Kasumi Ishikawa , Kenta Matsudaira , Jun Mizutani to mention a few  , these days  known by a wider audience.
  • Young fan base , dreaming and idolizing  young stars.
  • Extreme interest  to play table tennis from a large  elderly population driving the manufacturing industry forward. 
  • Great pool of youth talent to draw from , pushed on the national level  by an intense and very competitive school sport system.

Having said that – the road to ultimate success , in this case measured in Gold medals at major ITTF events and Olympic Games is by any means  easy for the Japanese Association . I had a first hand look at the nine athletes initially selected to attend the national training center in  Tokyo.. Mind you also that this center in a way is in a healthy competition with the world famous Aomori High School  – a table tennis talent factory the last ten years.

Had a quick talk with Mr .  Koji Kimura – the JTTA Vice president and ITTF Executive Committee member about this the other day;

” Eventually it is up to the parents to make a choice if it would happen that the athlete is good enough to attract interest  from several schools and our center. The young talents could get  an offer  from us to attend the center full-time – but it could also be that for example  Aomori is looking at the same player Mr Kimura said . ” Currently we have nine athletes living at the NTC  and we will slowly build the group adding two athletes per year moving forward. Of course the center is used for all our national training camps in preparation for major championships Koji  Kimura explained. 

Judging from facts , in this case the JTTA selection of players for the ITTF Cadet Challenge , the Aomori school is still a  dominating factor on the boy’s side .  Super-star for his age Koki Niwa is leading the charge with the powerful Acho Machi and a  rookie on the national scene Masaki Yoshida also spening their daily practice time at Aomori. On the women’s side the situation is balanced in favour of National Training center attendees as three out of the four girls selected  are practicing in the Tokyo center.

It will be interesting moving forward to follow strategic decisions  and almost daily evaluation concerning of the center-activities.  I would say that a three year start up period is needed before  some kind of general evaluation can be made.  At the same time – these three days are extremely important as it will set the tone for many years to come. It seems to me that the coaching staff at the center in Tokyo – Mr Takashi Watanabe and Riki Watanabe   clearly are learning on the job so to say.  It’s a bold move , but i believe the correct one by the JTTA , to go with younger coaches for these important positions.

Having said all this.. The heavenly stay at the Ajinomoto Training Center was a thrill initself..  As if this was not enough to watch the daily actions of  a young boy by the name of Yuto Muramatsu  , born 1996 and only thirteen years old made life even better… Defensive player – backside rubbers on both sides and playing an exiting,   innovative and  creative style  of table tennis mixing smart attacks close to table with a developed mide range stroke arsenal.

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