It happens that you once in while kind of loose faith in the competitive balance of our sport. The overwhelming superiority of China, or let’s take a slightly wider stance, like the whole of Asia, is a problem for International Table Tennis. Predictable world championships (on any level) or even regular international competitions are nothing to wish for. It will eventually, if not destroy, at least drastically reduce the interest from spectators , media partners and finally from the sponsors.
My fear is that despite years of active development work , the strong are getting stronger and the weaker countries are still struggling to find the formula for developing young players. The bitter truth is that many traditionally strong Table Tennis countries (especially in Europe) also are struggling to keep up with the growing number of opportunities for young players. For the good and the bad , that opens up for a different development model with outside support and financing becoming more and more important. To me the good part is the increased business opportunities for private coaches and private training centers. The bad, is that we have surprisingly many national associations struggling to change and adjust to the interesting new, not recognizing the dynamics behind and still riding on authority and protocol first hand.
Change needed – The Role of the National Associations
I think strongly that we have to realize that national associations in Table Tennis once were built for another world ; to function , serve national purposes and compete ( and no very frequent either ) with each other . Today we have a very different situation with the ITTF pushing out an increasing number of events – almost exclusively catering to the individual player and here is my point – without properly analyzing the dynamics involved. Take the ITTF Junior Programme as a good example. It started out as well designed driver of excellence – but is nowadays when it comes to the actual programme part running out of the glue – some of the spirit and passion. Just like that we may have..? created “an animal” hungry for competition only, which in fact , instead of leveling the playing field and supporting development may end up just widening the gap.
It all depends on National associations priorities and their ability to cope with the situation and sort out the priorities – where to invest and what to cover. More money out there from national bodies to support young players and their coaches these days …? following ten years of ITTF Global Junior programme efforts??? I doubt it very much! In fact I know that the situation in all other continents except Asia, are if not completely bad, at least not better than ten years ago.
Must be better – Must improve – Must be stimulated
I often wonder if not the way to do it and in fact push the national associations to be better, more creative and stronger, is to start making participation cuts for many of our established top events. Take the World championships – Take the professional tours and start slicing up the participation pie in smaller pieces. To stand outside the big parties , if and when your long lasting national team fails to qualify, will open the doors for rebuild projects such as quality investments in younger players.
It is also important to establish clearly defined professional levels setting up for more of a “make it or break it mentality” around our Pro Level events. Such a system , in combination with more flexibility when its comes to the individual players right and duties would drive motivation and development as athletes ( and their closest supporters) then easy can add their own motivation – financial backing and make progress – become a touring professional.
The Drive for success
My main point here is that we as an international federation (maker and caretaker of our sport – Table Tennis) should.. – NO !, MUST discuss the importance of EXCELLENCE as a major driving force for all other areas – development – marketing – education. To build on success is after all so much easier to do.
Momentum – upswing – optimism – give it any name you want are the keys to sustainable change and progress , eventually leading to the opening of new markets ( did someone say North America ?) . If we then also can learn quickly to unleash innovations and progressive ideas from “the believers” good things will happen for International Table Tennis. The scene is then set ready for our competent marketing guys to do what they do best; find the financial backing.
But lets turn the page to something else . It is after all December again, one year removed from the Bahrain World Junior Championships we gather again where the future begins – this time in Hyderabad, India.
The Volkswagen World Juniors is an event that seemingly is growing in importance with our members. Some 170 players travelling to Hyderabad is a good number – it shows that national associations are ready and they are fired up. Another good thing is that we are booked solid with organizers all the way up to 2016. For those young players and coaches looking for a fun motivation driver to plaster on their very own wall of dreams, the 2015 WJTTC in Shanghai should get some consideration.
Now, let me as the old General I am, offer you a look at the most interesting prospects competing in Hyderabad this week. Here they are; “The Healer’s” . Those girls and boys , who will make the future a bit more interesting. Who, should they deem it worthy to stand up for a professional career, will open many doors and serve our sport well.
The never resting, furiously truth-seeking Eleven point Blog ; Top Ten “Healer’s” competing in the 2012 VW World Juniors – Boys;
- Yuto MURAMATSU – JAPAN – Born 1996 ; Least we forget that this young defender is only on his very first year as a junior. Sure he has played all over the place the last year or so – which is admirable beyond belief giving that his style should be subject for considerable studies by opposing coaches. Yet – seems like he keeps going and how wonderful is that not – especially for us – The True Table Tennis Nerds.
- Hugo CALDERANO – Brazil – Born 1996 ; Let’s see what happens now with the talented swing man from Rio de Janeiro .By now he has been decorated back home – achieved success in European junior events – managed to put fear into some older players at the Pro Tour level. That’s the upsides. But most important of all is now to overcome a few of my worries that so often tend to determine how bright the future actually will be; Pressure and expectations – Adversity in terms of reported injured shoulder and completely new training environment set up at Insep in Paris and the burning question – Is his game versatile enough to win against top Asian Juniors ?
- FAN Zhendong – China – Born 1997 ; Worth mentioning that this young kid – by the age of fifteen cleaned up the Asian Junior Championships junior singles earlier this year and on top of that he has already shown some sharp teeth in the Chinese Super League against top names from the national team.
- Tristan FLORE – France – Born 1995; clearly the best junior player in Europe for the moment. Has made very few international appearances the last four month due to a shoulder injury. This will for sure set him back this time. Technically brilliant player who seems to have the consistency enough to quickly advance on the ITTF ranking.
- Kanak JHA – USA – Born 2000; This young kid from the Bay Area , California is only twelve years old but clearly; Small in stature – Big in Heart. Dominant performances earlier this year in the European Mini Cadet Championships and ITTF Hopes Challenge will not exactly put fear into the eyes of his six year elder opponents in Hyderabad. But I will tell you one thing – his will to win against each and every one will. Could be the “Tiger Woods of Table Tennis” – that is if we start believing in it – wanting it and desire success in North America. Up to us – that’s what I think.
- HUNG Tzu- Hsiang – Chinese Taipei – Born 1994; One of the few young players among the world’s top that actually uses the penholder grip. Has toured all over the world this year and bagged many junior events – often however against weak to average fields and that will not be the case in Hyderabad. Can surprise however , and judging from his performance in the Youth Olympic Games in Singapore 2010, he can also perform in the championships setting?
- Fermin TENTI – Argentina – Born 1997; Very athletically gifted young player who not yet has committed 100 % to be the best he can be in Table Tennis. Too bad I say , and given that the age now is fifteen plus , it’s about time to go for it. Rio 2016 is after all not far away.
- Simon Gauzy – France – Born 1994; So here we are. Hard to believe that we have come to end of the junior career for one of the more promising players in Europe. May have hit a roadblock lately with injury problems and a slow comeback after that. Those are the things that in the end define the top players in the world. Facing adversity should bring out the best of you – especially if you have the more prominent championship podiums out there in mind ?!
- HUNG Ka Tak – Hong Kong Born 1998; Is showing an almost unprecedented commitment to our sport by playing all over the world. The good thing is that he is gaining experience – which showed in the ITTF Cadet Challenge in Guam where he finished on the podium in his first appearance. The bad thing – intense and tiring travel is reducing quality training time at home. It is after all in the training hall that you can learn to master new skills.
- Abishek YADAV – India Born 1996; His wonderful , almost brilliant touch on the ball will unfortunately not qualify for any awards in this event. The best Indian junior he is – but at the same time very far away from being able to fill any of the empty pair of shoes left standing by the bronze winning 2011 Indian Junior Team.
Eleven Points Blog – Top Ten Healer-s competing in India 2012– Junior Girls
1. MIMA Ito – Japan – Born 2000 ; First look , in Guam at the World Cadet Challenge, a short month ago gave me the “wow” feeling. Very strong for her age , powerful attacks and relentless style of play. The only question marks in my books so far – Why the pimples out on the backhand side..?
2. DOO Hoi Kem – Hong Kong – Born 1996; Very nice young player that has the ultimate style for fast progress. That is if she can learn to think quality in spin and placement first hand. Smooth playing and clearly one of the best prospects out of Hong Kong these days.
3. Lily ZHANG – USA Born 1996; Let’s see if Lily is able and ready to bring it this time. Is slowly learning to compete and it is of course a very good thing that she is ready to play here in Hyderabad. Will miss a couple of very sharp team-mates in Ariel HSING and Erica WU who apparently found something else to do this week. Well prepared and playing together the three of them could have won a medal here in Hyderabad – imagine giving up on that ?.
4. GU Yuting – China – Born 1995; Interesting young player who for obvious reasons are trying to climb up the ladder in the Chinese national team. Won the Youth Olympic Gold in Singapore back in 2010 in dramatic fashion when she survived a nail-biting seventh gamer in the quarterfinal before she moved on crushing the rest of her opponents.
5. Dina MESHREF – Egypt – Born 1994; Steady left-hander that for years now has been the “go to girl” in Egyptian Table Tennis. She has played numerous junior and cadet events over the last five years and is now perhaps the best female player out of Africa. One thing is for sure – she played well in the London Olympics and that experience should help her here in India.
6. Marie MIGOT – France – Born 1998; There is a lot to like about this young girls out of France. We learned to know her in the ITTF World Hopes team 2010. Good spirit and a very sharp backhand opening have worked wonders for her so far in a very young career. The tough thing is that the exam period comes early for potential champions. Should be able to challenge many players in Hyderabad and do it “in free spirit” to show that she is on the way. Anything else would be a disappointment.
7. Bernadette SZOCS – Romania – Born 1995 ; Hard to believe that “the fireball of all fireballs” still have one year to go in the junior category . This will be her fifth World Junior Championships. Made a fantastic debut in Cartagena de Indies back in 2008 where she took everybody by storm. I do not see the same “wind in the sails” these days , but she can still roll out that intimidating winning attitude in the court.
8 . Caroline KUMAHARA – Brazil – Born 1995; By now she is a seasoned performer on this level and the best junior player by far out of Latin America. Nice style and plenty of potential . Must add toughness to her game to be factor a couple of years from now. Interesting start here in Hyderabad with the Brazilians enjoying considerable momentum nowadays.
9. Charlotte CAREY – Wales – Born 1996; Interesting, feisty and offensive girl who spends the better days of the year practicing in Hungary. Should be in the loop to make a move upwards on the ITTF ranking list and clearly stands a chance to play in the Youth Olympic Games in Nanjing 2014.
10. Spoorthy KARNAM- India – Born 1997; Talented young girl from the Andra Pradesh state that for years to come could be the go to girl in Indian Table Tennis. Will be up against tough opponents this time – but can on a good day please the home crowd by upsetting higher ranked players.
So – Just Get Healed – At least for a Good Week in Hyderabad !