Here in Hyderabad, India we are accommodated in a part of the city called Mindspace. Great place – very different from the rest of the city. Everything is of course business oriented and outside my window I have a number of new built tower complexes filled with I am guessing hard working software engineers?
The occasion is of course the eleventh World Junior Championships – where the future begins. Right now, the official meeting schedule is, if not furious, at least pretty intense starting from tomorrow. So, let’s use both a very early morning at the Westin Hotel in Hyderabad and some of that Mindspace provided to think long and hard about the future of table tennis from a global perspective.
Perhaps this post is mainly for us the dreamers, the romantics still hovering around in the world of table tennis. It is also directed to those few that still believe in a different Table Tennis world – in the Global Reach philosophy honoring the simplest of ideas; that one coach working with one talented athlete anywhere in the world should understand how to make it to the top of the world. The level playing field thought is also part of the model – top coaches working for the global development of table tennis providing good training alternatives for those in need.
Since 2009 we (ITTF Development and Education department) have been actively offering a mixed bag of initiatives to our members – National associations; International Hot Spot Training centers connected in a network setting. Individually based scholarship support in close cooperation with the IOC Olympic Solidarity. We have also launched a world-wide talent identification program with outstanding possibilities to grow. Last year alone 79 countries signed up for the symbol of Hope. We believe in development – in the structured approach of the award winning ITTF development program. ITTF Education and Training is definitely part of that Global reach movement.
Almost all of our resources – the financial input are put in play to grow our sport. We believe in the future – in the colours of the world. The Global Junior Programme is our bread and butter. The model – the events and the competitions connected does in our world work. The dynamics involved should support young players – their coaches and their supporters. We have the future in mind.
The staff of the ITTF Education and Development Department is in it for all the right reasons. We have in depth knowledge to offer based on coaching careers – successful playing careers – continental administration work –national Olympic committees experience – you name it. We believe in competence – strategy – vision and effort. Passion counts in our books – as one of the main drivers for development.
That’s the background. Now let’s put the true development hat on and dip into ten years of active professional work in the world of table tennis to create a list of countries where good things can happen. Timeframe offered, before judgement can be passed? What about five years!
So – Here it is the furiously truth-seeking Eleven Points Blog top ten emerging countries in Table Tennis.
- United States of America – “ Become a believer “
The blog will not sing the star spangled banner right off the bat. On the other hand we believe in the USA, mainly because the market itself is in many ways totally underdeveloped from an elite point of view (if you compare to other countries). USA Women’s team – Ariel Hsing, Lily Zhang and Erica Wu plus a few others have proven that they can do something in the right settings, but will now come to the critical career defining junction where school and table tennis need to coexist. In the US you also have rapidly growing interest among some very young prospects that absolutely are well coached and eager to conquer the world. Kanak JHA and Kunal Chodri – two of the recent ITTF World Hopes Team members are of course on thin ice from a pure system point of view. Nr one change – very doable is to allow those guys and anyone else eager enough to make a push internationally by adjusting and changing the US National team policy to be more transparent and to support development instead of just being used to cut players out.
To believe that the understaffed USATT can do the job is not the right approach. Having said that the USATT needs to take control over their national teams and run a much tighter ship when it comes to key events like the World Junior championships. This should be the nr one event for the association and absolutely mandatory for the top players and also include preparation time. Long term and game changing improvements will have to come from the top and with the ITTF involved. The idea of starting a Professional league in North America is interesting, appealing and possible.
Key issues to solve; Innovative and creative approach to the national team. The USATT could apply a very different model for their national teams. Allow training center or club private interests to take over for more international exposure. Ride on the waves of momentum – but it has to be done now, or the race could be over. We are walking on thin ice and we need all the ITTF presence possible in order to facilitate and support fundamental change.
The game breaker; ITTF North American Pro league concept in combination with a strategic ITTF Top event plan for immediate implementation. Dare to dream about a World championship in North America
2. Brazil “ Now there is Hope again”
After years of poor funding and complete lack of focus and planning for youth development the wind has changed direction. The Brazilians are now more actively involved and has gone outside the country to find the expertise to help them. Michel Gadal consulting and new coach Ricardo Faria are two good signings. Hugo Calderano is the nr one prospect – but there are others coming as well. Winning counts in this country which means that success at the Youth Olympic Games in 2014 actually is crucial for Senor Alaor and his troops. The big party in Rio 2016 will of course help the association to stay honest and focused and let’s hope that we can see a young Brazilian team rather than some of the older guys in then court by then. The Brazilian Hopes programme is also a hit – again well-crafted built after the French Baby Ping model. Economy picking up and sport will be in the focus all the way up to Rio 2016 will also help.
Key issues to solve; Consistency in planning and good results for key individuals. Open mind – to listen and think before acting is also important. Funding from the Olympic pool must remain strong.
The Game Breaker; Hugo Calderano to secure a medal at the Nanjing 2014 Youth Olympic Games,
3. India – “Understand that change is needed”
Flexibility and system change will always be the ultimate challenge in Indian Sports. The national team model in Table Tennis needs to be adjusted and changed to the new world realities. The current system of identifying and more important how to accelerate talents is not working as well as it should. Heavy demands on foreign players to play national ranking tournaments to get the chance on the national team is questionable from a perfromane4 point of view as it makes the athletes focus on the wrong things – in this case beating each other rather than developing skills that elevates the international performance . If there is a serious interest to reach world class coaching needs to improve and become more consistent. The overall dependence on foreign coaches might have to gradually be reduced and go hand in hand with better education of coaches in India. The best players need to play with the best players in a training center setting from early age. India is the perfect place for a professional league to emerge. How to do it – what about an ITTF World Pro League with two conferences, one in India and one in the USA played intensively over a shorter period of time Playoff cross reference – best of five matches played in series . All Athletes contracted by the league.
Key issues to solve; Open the doors for change and make sure that foreign expertise (read coaches) are used to their maximum potential more as consultants rather than only on the floor. Make some gradual changes to the selection system to secure transparency. Improve coaching for the key talents and reinforce the ONE training center model for the youngest players. Educate the coaches and allow the talented ones to grow.
The game breaker; Time for a professional league with international feel in India. Event planning for the future. Understand that the Commonwealth Games is NOT the most important sporting event in the world.
4. Nigeria “ Re-start the engines”
Work – Think – Understand – Work – Believe … Let’s try to find the clue to how to bring back the Nigerians to some sort of life. For years now the youth development work and coaching education have been neglected. The national training center in Lagos not working and most players seeking to go abroad as soon as possible. Nigeria could end up being the Armageddon for anyone who tries to change. But it’s still worth to send in the ITTF troops. African Table Tennis needs those battles between Egypt and Nigeria in order to lift the level.
Key issues to solve; Youth revolution to start NOW. Retool – make investments and get organized. ITTF knowledge and plans to be followed.
The Game Breaker; Simple and direct. Make sure to participate in the African championships always and on all levels; Hopes – Cadets – Juniors and Seniors ..
5. Poland “Tradition counts”
Maybe it’s a bit of stretch to call Poland an emerging market. However with the French and the Germans dominating European Table Tennis the Poles comes to mind as one of the few countries at least trying to find their own model. Good coaches at hand – a new interesting league that actually is well presented many times. Reasonable money available for the better players which set up for some kind of momentum. Did a smart thing by promoting an all Polish women’s team at the most recent world championships in Dortmund – that’s the spirit. The young players on the men’s side are almost all promising – but have the last years or so slowed down when the hit 17 or 18 years old. That has to change.
Key issues to solve; Just hang in there. The European landscape is changing – force the worse with many national associations drifting.
The Game Breaker; We need to have one top player – doesn’t matter whom from Poland. The last step is always hard to climb but for some reasons talented and fairly solid players have gone backwards when the question was asked in the last few years.
6. Argentina ” Seeing is one thing – believing is the next”
Last time I checked this was a country of 40 million people. Slightly better funding model for sport has eased some of financial pressure and allowed the Argentinians to at least feel secure when it comes to participation in key continental events. Time to raise the bar now with fifteen year old Fermin TENTI leading the way ( commitment needed.. !) and the new Latin American champion for the under 13 category Francisco SANCHI following up. All you need here is a star of some sort and things can really take off. Active organizer of events with the recent South American club championships as a good example. Knows how to promote their events on Facebook and the basic coaching is relatively OK. Let’s serve up some Argentinean meat to TENTI and his new brother SANCHI at some of the European training centers in 2013 and see if we can get the ball rolling.
Key issues to solve; Make sure that young junior boys team here in Hyderabad gets the proper opportunities to excel. Fermin TENTI is the key player for Nanjing 2014. He needs to pull the train forward and be strong and committed. The scary part?. The development of women’s table tennis in the country? Forgotten ?
The Game Breaker; Time to step it up. Why not look at World Junior Championships or other major TT events as well. ? Buenos Aires is bidding for Youth Olympic Games in 2018 and maybe that will become the rallying point.
7. Thailand ” Strong National team model needed”
Strange national team model that really until now does not include any true world class international ambitions at all. The young players and some very innovative coaches are pushing for a change. The next challenge – and that’s a bigger one is to have the young players emerge and grow as individuals on the international scene. Let’s hope that the Thailand NOC can repeat their outstanding work from Singapore 2010 and get their athletes and coaches organized for Nanjing 2014. Great interest in the ITTF Hopes programme participating with great talents and on top of that they are one of the newest organizers of ITTF Junior Circuit events. Padasak TANVIRIYAVECHAKUL is the best junior right now and potentially a player that can do something in Nanjing 2014 .He is having some success this season in Sweden with Peter Karlsson as the coach.
Key issues to solve; National team model that works on all fronts. Look to hire an outside consultant if necessary to control and educate the coaches.
The Game Breaker; could and should organize one of the ITTF GJP major events in the near future.
8. Puerto Rico ” Read the bible – each and every day “
Tremendous development the last five or six years alone. It all started with Ivan SANTOS taking the ITTF Deputy CEO and Director of Development Glenn Tepper on a tour of the island a few years back. Good young players coming through the system and a new national style league competition will begin in January 2013. Twelve year old Adriana DIAZ can, if she decides to, become the biggest star ever in Latin American Table Tennis.
The Key issues to solve; The tough part here is to understand that the international calendar of events is your new bible. And.. You need to read it often enough to understand the message.
The Game Breaker; Mark the day when Adriana DIAZ steps into the courts in Rio 2016. By that time she will be sixteen year old and on her way to become the nr one rockstar in Table Tennis.
9. Iran ” The role model is born”
Despite a difficult economical/political situation the Iranians are still holding forth. Noshad ALAMIYAN is now ranked 40 in the world following an outstanding year. Sure he trains in international environments most of time and may end up playing in some European league sooner rather than later. People may not realize – but the fact is that the ITTF was actively involved in supporting Noshad through the ITTF With the Future in Mind project for two years. We worked actively to push him and his coaches to participate internationally at an early age. That made all the difference in the world and gave all the young Iranian talents a role model to look up to.
Key issues to solve; anything and everything. Outside sports?
The Game Breaker; Paris World championships 2013 – is too early to ask for another sensational upset from Mr ALAMIYAN ?!
10 . Canada ” Stay on course – strong , north and free”
Table Tennis is experiencing a bit of a boom in Canada for the moment. The number of professional clubs only in the Toronto area has increased from 1 to almost 10 in a matter of two years. With that comes more interest from private coaches who now are logging good hours. There is a willingness among key staff with the CTTA and officials to be more active also when it comes to organizing events. Here we also have strong support for more constructive North American initiatives and a pro league in North America is on the agenda. Almost minimal government funding and consequently trying to run national events in country that is from the landmass larger than Europe is often very hard and draining for the few staff involved. On the athletes development side of things the CTTA has a tendency to make it more complicated for the young athletes than the opposite. Frequent international appearance is the key and also to understand how to go outside the box when it comes to creating a support model for the better talents. ITTF World Hopes Team 2012 selection Jeremy HAZIN is a very interesting prospect that easily with his energy and motivation can make himself known in a heartbeat. Toronto – with a bit of luck and lobbying could be a future candidate for ITTF top events – maybe even the World championships.
Key issues to solve; $$$$$ – but also a slightly different mentality when it comes to athletes development. Speak well – act accordingly. The training center model can be modified and set up with more quality in mind. Quebec is off the rails for the moment and needs to comeback as a producer of talents.
The Game Breaker; “Take Toronto and then we take the world?”