The Cadet Challenge team event is coming to an end here in Japan
Pretty good table tennis i have to say, and it is always satisfying to see that at least some of the teams have managed to come together in support for each other. The model of having continental teams competing is a unique concept that ITTF should be proud of . First of all it gives the continental associations a yearly goal or target for their athlete’s development, secondly it adds an element of education for the young players as they have to communicate with , adopt to and learn from their team mates.
For all of us involved in athletes development connected to the continents it is also , in a very special way examination time. We need as professional staff to look ourselves in the mirror in regards to selections made and support offered. Looking at the active rosters in play here in Tokyo we have this year initiated financial ITTF/Olympic solidarity support for not fewer than fifteen athletes , most of them from the Latin American and African continent. Truth is that only two athletes – Bernadette Szocs from Romania and Sutasini Sawettabut from Thailand are from other parts of the world. One of the main targets for this side/section of the ITTF With the Future in Mind project is to secure participation in the Youth Olympic Games 2010. When push comes to shove most of these athletes will make it to the YOG on way or the other. The ITTF is setting up a smart qualification system with multi opportunities lined up from now until the process comes to an end in April 2010. The one athlete per national olympic committee philosophy, will also open up for some lesser developed countries to qualify players.
It will for sure be interesting to follow the road to Singapore for these youngsters. Any kind of clear cut qualification adds en element of expectation and pressure. In fact we never had as many parents travelling to the ITTF Cadet Challenge in what i hope is in support for their children. Coaches is another group that easily can , with their behaviour, add more pressure than they deflect. Personally i believe that coaches must learn more about the mental aspects of our game.. But again thats a story in itself that could fill more than one blog post.
Now and again we have to , despite the high playing skills displayed by these youngsters , remember that they only are fifteen years old. Most fo them have already learned to play and perform under pressure – otherwise they would no appear on competitions like this . Confidence however comes and goes – often related to the opponent standing on the other side of the table. More than anything this relates to the players competing for Africa and Latin America.. With them a certain softness comes into play much earlier than for others should they face more higher ranked players.. They key here is for the coaches to build confidence from good performances and correct attitude rather than only the results. Another factor is also the ability to make quality evaluations of both losses and wins. I have seen young Adem Hmam wonder around in the courts here in Tokyo , in fact both in training and competition without concentration or confidence.. But that was until around 1630 this afternoon when he suddenly started to activate his talented shot making for real.. Could it be that the expectations now had settled down and freedom at the table suddenly appeared or could it be other thing ??… The long serving team manager for Africa – Mr Khaled El Sahly had a much simpler theory ; “I think Adem liked the way this match developed. The rallies were open and entertaining… “
Now that could very well be the truth. And maybe in this age confidence starts with the simple feeling of joy and having FUN..?