I give a penny for your thoughts young man! What were you thinking right in that moment standing on the shore of Kattegat on a wonderful bright and sunny day? Did you dream about a professional future in Table Tennis? I know you touched on that in our many discussions the past month. Did you think about the next few hours and the much anticipated opportunity to meet one of your role models; Michael Maze for a training session? Or… what it is just simple touch of the same sea that basically connects the dots in this world.
But I do know one thing. Whatever it was, it was something valuable, something with deeper meaning that eventually can lead to greatness in some shape or form. Fear nothing. Be brave. Believe in yourself. Because one great thing with this sport is that we have always taken care of our own.
International solidarity has always been present in Table Tennis. Great leaders over the years have done great things for those chosen few making a strong commitment to excellence. I have seen it myself growing up with Stellan Bengtsson in the early seventies propelled to world class by going to Japan for training or The great Swedes, Jan Ove Waldner and Jorgen Persson finding out what it takes early in their careers by surviving long, draining training camps in China.
I have always been a believer in the simple thought that the drive to become something eventually will come up victorious. More than anything I am also fascinated by that special moment when one young talent ( there are many – many out there of course ) finally dare to take the next step and start dreaming, let it be big or small . Some may take it as it comes, step by step kind of thing, but I have always had the feeling that the special athletes, the one-s that eventually will enthuse the hungry crowds, win then podiums at big events, somehow can be caught early. It is something in their eyes – that special gleam indicating a deep down hunger for success and the willingness to make the necessary sacrifices that will pave the way for a champion to emerge.
Throughout my pro career in table tennis – from coach, to manager to executive to consultant, do you notice the sliding slope? , I have seen it a few times – caught the gleam and believed that – yes here we have something a little more interesting. The last three weeks I have no doubt looked into the eyes of one of these players born to be something. Following a series of events and discussions, mainly about the importance to understand preparation – the thirteen year old Kanak JHA from Milpitas, USA ended up in Sweden to prepare for the upcoming World Junior Championships in Morocco.
Kanak JHA , very much a product of the World Class Table Tennis Academy and the coaches Stefan Feth and Li Zhenshi doing their wonder tricks at the San Jose based Top Spin Club , and also the poster boy for the much debated ITTF Hopes programme , spent three weeks training with the very best of available players in the Swedish hot beds for elite table tennis Halmstad and Falkenberg . Not only did this young “US Table Tennis tiger” impress top coaches like Ulf “Tickan” Carlsson and Peter Karlsson with his skill-set and physical status , but even more by showing the deepest respect and interest for our sport. He knows every single world class player – he checks results from all tournaments – watches YouTube and ITTV – he speculates – he breaths – sleeps and eats Table Tennis.
The highlight moment for” Mr. California Sunshine” – Oh yes young Kanak was looking for that sun – was a full training day ( Table Tennis and Physical prep ) with Michael Maze in Denmark. How rewarding it was to follow these two guys make an instant connection with each other. Soul-mates no doubt clearly showing the same kind of spirit, eagerness to be the best you can be.
Six hours of training with Maze and his private coaching staff just outside Copenhagen was a special experience for the young American who much like everywhere he goes left an impression.
Great player for his age. I liked his ability to adjust to quick tempo changes and for sure he was able to give me a good workout said Maze who, together with his physical conditioning coach also was almost astonished by the physical status shown during the intense workout. I have to say that I have never seen such a strong thirteen year old in this building commented the coach.
It has been such a privilege to stay close to the action again. To follow a young promising player take his first real steps towards something. It is true what Dennis Davis – the ITTF Junior Commission chair said about Kanak; “Most young players in this age will drain the coach for energy just by how they are and how they train, with Kanak it is different, just being around and you will get energy instead – it is quite fascinating.”
Now, listen to this – Kanak’s own theory about how good he eventually might be.
“Well, right now it looks like I could be top ten in the world sometime in the future. I am ranked nr two of all players born in the year 2000 – but then again no male players from the USA have been even close to a top hundred ranking in the last ten to fifteen years – so it will be difficult Kanak said.
And right there in that comment lays the sleeper, the drawback that eventually might slow down the process and perhaps even catch the dream before it gets off the ground so to say. Table Tennis in the USA – the ultimate enigma to solve. By whom though? That is the nr one question. At what point can we say to ourselves – yes we are underway. Change is coming – let’s make it happen for the many young talents out there.
Over the last few years I have been hammering my keyboard several times to provoke a bit – ask for actions and to try stir the debate.
Several things should have happen by now. I am talking about making the necessary system changes to accommodate a much higher level of commitment to excellence. Not only from Kanak of course, but also for other young players, and there are many, many more excellent young players dreaming in the land of the free for the moment. I am thinking about some movement from coaches and training centers in the Bay area to pool together resources – to lift the ambition level to new international heights.
I have been calling for firm action from us, The International Table Tennis Federation to invest time, effort and resources into a very appealing, interesting market. Please make the move from discussion to strategically wise actions – all in sync of course with the governing body of the sport – USA Table Tennis.
Here comes my last point. Young players see things different. Their passion – their desire to be something good in this sport should guide us (the officials) as much as anything else. It is time to start the re-shaping of Table Tennis in North America. I am a believer – what about you?