Looking for the Champion

Rowden October 2020

When a young player is referred to you for the first time and others seem to think he or she is a future champion, just what do you want to see from this promising prospect?

Are you expecting the youngster to:
• Show the signs of real athletic ability from the start?
• Demonstrate the basis of some special table tennis skills?
• Manifest the desire and attitude of a winner?

Some athleticism is good of course, but much of the physical side of our game is sports specific and is not just a matter of fine tuning. It's a question of learning the correct ways to move for your style of play and often a matter too of unlearning certain aspects you bring from other sports or activities. Equally table tennis skills are rarely if ever totally natural and need to be tailored to the personal attributes and individual style of the player.

Over many decades of coaching in many countries I have come to the conclusion that attitude is the prime characteristic and provides the motivational force for real and lasting success. I have also found that in fact many players who have the abilities and weapons to be champions never get there, because they don't really want it. Because the desire is not really there, such players are easily side-tracked or give up when the going gets hard or when they encounter difficulties. On the other hand the real champion believes, never gives up and fights for every point.

One or two other aspects are also of crucial importance. There is a saying in Africa: 'If you want to go fast go alone, if you want to go far take someone with you'. To reach the top young people need help, not only the right advice, but to be in the right group, in the best National set-up for them. Not only is it important to listen, but to be aware of what is right for you individually.

Equally it is also important to play seniors as early as possible. Too many players in the West focus too much on winning at mini-cadet and junior levels. Instead they need to learn the Senior game as this is the final level. You can get away with things at younger age levels and hide weaknesses, you can't do this against older, experienced performers. You have to see and experience the Senior game for yourself and also learn how to lose and to cope with this. It is noticeable in Asian countries, especially China and Japan, that many very good young players hardly ever play cadet or junior events but progress very rapidly to the senior events. This is especially apparent in the women's game.

Finally training and training in the right way is of paramount importance. Too many players in the West don't train with enough intensity and train too routinely and predictably. We see nice, flowing rallies, but often without the desire to really win the point. Modern play with the plastic shouldn't flow, it should be totally unpredictable. Another aspect which is crucial in our sport is that we meet different styles of play all the time. We should not be looking to play in one all-overpowering way, which will be successful against any opponent. Rather we should be using training and practise increasingly to expand our alternatives, so that whatever we meet in our sport we have the weapons to cope and to prevail. We should desire to be the one to initiate change first.

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