‘How do we deal with different individuals?
Many years ago I went running at my local park when a 9 year old popped out of nowhere saying "I can beat you in a race" I thought who is this little 'Muppet'? But I felt sympathetic and the 'foot race' began! I won using my fast walking pace and the young kid was disappointed in himself but quickly bounced back by saying "I'll beat you at table tennis" I tried not to laugh as he had no idea I was one of England's best players at the time!!
So I invite little Zak to my TT club and showed him that not only was I slightly better than him but I was also able to beat him using my brick Nokia phone!
I was fascinated seeing a 9 year old whom had only played once on holiday (yes once and he thought he could beat me), able to coordinate his hand effortlessly in making contact with the ball.
I know some may say there's no such thing as 'talent' but he had a gift and I was certain of it! I was so sure that told his mum if you let me coach him he will be no.1 in England.
A bold prediction I know but he's ability to adapt and absorb information was second to none.
A month later two new students entered my club one extremely confident 'externally' but clearly had some issues (anger management), his name was Guy. The third was a son of a former England player and a legend in my eyes when I was an aspiring young TT player. Reece, was trained by his dad but their relationship on the table broke down and his dad wanted me to take over.
So I had three players: Zak a so called natural, Reece an all-round ability and Guy poor hand eye coordination.
Zak - Was able to do what I told him at an instant but rarely trained and when he did he was lazy, or messed about at least that's what it felt like! (Although you could say it was his way of learning by experimenting)
He was strong minded and had a great fighting attitude...
Reece - Was relatively hard working and also possessed great ability but he needed to hone his skills and lacked self-belief. Possibly due to expectation put on him by his dad and matching his dad's past achievements.
Guy - Was the hardest working kid I'd ever seen! Unfortunately his coordination was of a two year old. For example, I had to tie his legs with a piece of string at a certain length to keep them at shoulder width, rather than almost a ballet split position!, this was alongside his dad holding his waist and free arm to possess the correct body balance needed for certain shots. Furthermore I put barriers behind Guy so he wouldn't drift backwards and I would give him visual, vocal, and technical instructions. Fortunately he was willing to do whatever it took in order become a top player! He would train for hours on end before and after group sessions.
All three reached an incredible level nationally, the following positions were achieved no.1, 2 and 5. Given this information I ask you to predict who reached what ranking in their respective age group?!
Specific training I used:
Mr talent - I had to always think outside the box to engage and mentally stimulate him. This meant that I would stay up some nights without sleep preparing something different and special just so I could keep him happy and 9 times out of 10 he would find a reason for it to be a waste of his time!!! But I would challenge him by saying something like I've got over 50 different type of serves, I'm sure you could do all of my 50 serves, the question is can you do one extra, one that I have not seen before or one that I am incapable of doing and it's unique to you?! (He did just that, and had one extremely special serve)
I would challenge his physical and mental skills alongside one another, for example; if I told him to do a normal drill he would get bored after two minutes so I would take a piece of paper and have Zak train while attempting to hit the paper and if he achieved it then he would have to fold it in half continuously. Then the challenge would be, giving Zak the option of placing the folded paper anywhere he wished, on their side of the table and attempt to hit it. This would become harder and harder as the paper got smaller and the location would be moved continuously. After 10 minutes of doing the exercises Zak found a location which was virtually impossible to hit but legal and it just highlighted his maverick kind of behaviour.
Zak was always challenged to think outside the box and when it came to the crunch moment he would produce some sort of magic that nor I or anyone could have taught him under those circumstances.
Mr all-round: He enjoyed every training session and he would do his best to learn and do as he was told. The problem came when pressure was introduced, so I would constantly find scenarios that would put Reece under pressure such as "your dad won this tournament" that would instantly get him worked up and his face would turn red in anxiety to either achieve that target or he would go into a shell and crumble under that pressure.
This meant I would need to find the balance of when to pile the pressure and when to take it off to get the best out of Reece. I would always find a way of putting pressure on him via drills or matches. For example his dad often watched him train, so I would say here's an exercises, then go to his dad and say are you willing to pay out if your son fails? In general he would agree. So I made the odds 10-1! I said Reece you have 10 chances to open up if you get 80% on or above I will buy you and your dad a drink. But if it's less your dad will be buying me 10 drinks. As he got nearer the target I would increase the pressure by using verbal pressure words such as "in a tournament you know you would miss this shot" and any other verbal triggers I could think of. If Reece passed the test I would remind him of his success at tournaments by saying "remember when I bet you that you'll get over 80% well show me that it was not a one off.
Reece, learnt how to use the pressure of training and often said to me can you give me a trigger moment which he would put into a real match situations.
Mr hard work: Guy was willing to do anything to win but his skill were restricted by his limited coordination and often his desire to win was unmatched by his technical inability. So I had to find ways in which to give him the opportunity of winning even though he may not have had the skill required compared to his opposition. I found two aspects; 1) his natural speed and 2) his awesome power. This meant I needed to constantly work on increasing his speed and hone his power to be used when the time was right. For example I would say after the third shot go for it (boom, show them the power), eat lighting and crap thunder (Mickey from Rocky).
I would do special drills such as multi ball using two tables on Guy's side giving him the ability to increase his speed while generating power. I went one step further, I would initially allow Guy to play backhands but as his speed increase I limited him to forehands only. Guy had become so fast that no matter how hard his opponents hit the ball and no matter where they placed it Guy could get there and had possessed incredible retrieval ability.
Can one person overcome bigger opposition?
There was a local club rival and they had players of the same level and age as us (Barnet TTC at the time.
I was the only coach at my club and they had, a head coach alongside 4/5 Chinese coaches and sparring partners. On paper we should stand no chance of competing, right? Wrong!!!
We often played each other in leagues and tournaments but more often than not we won.
How could one coach beat 5 coaches?
I believe this was mainly due to my coaching style versus there's.
I catered for my player’s individual needs while they were coaching their players in a particular style like robots. Everyone would do the same drills and no one would be given the freedom to express themselves. It was a set regime that had to be followed or you were out! I quickly worked out their style and was able to guide and give my players a winning formula against their systematic match play.
3 keys to my coaching success which you can use:
1. Truly work out your players individual needs and ability and hone in on it. This may include their body shape, height, speed, strength, mentality, background mind-set etc.
2. Understand that some will have more natural ability then others but that does not mean they cannot achieve high level as seen from the above players
3. Challenge yourself as a coach by thinking outside the box rather than doing the normal training exercises. Patterns are everywhere but if you are willing to continuously develop and innovate then there is no pattern and your opposition/rivals will struggle to beat you. I have never met a top coach who has done it exactly by the rule book.
A quick story on point no. 3 the Chinese have dominated my sport for most of its existence but in the 80's and 90's they met their match, with a small country called Sweden.
When the Chinese faced the Swedes they would tell their players to play against player 1 this way, player 2 that way but against player three who is regarded as the greatest of all time, it was a different story. He changed, moulded and adapted his game constantly and was so innovative, creating new shots that it was virtually impossible to predict his game pattern or style. So against player 3 the Chinese coach said "do your best!"
I read a book by Napoleon Hill, he interviewed the likes of Thomas Edson and Henry Ford. After interviewing Henry, Napolean said, "how is this guy ever going to be a success" and after interviewing Edson, he said this guy can only be a success, after all, he was willing to fail over 10,000 times to finally create a light bulb! My point on this continues later..
I went up to an England selection coach at a tournament and said look at these three young players I'm working with. Zak was instantly picked to train with the England squad (U15), as for Reece, I was told he needs a little more work especially mind-set and Guy, I was told he would never be any good and he's a waste of time!
I was determined to prove this coach (a Muppet in my eyes for judging so quickly) wrong. He judged these three youngsters at such an instant which I didn't agree with so I worked extra hard to make sure all three improved and within a year all three were training inside the England squad. Furthermore I was given a job within the England youth development squad! You can imagine what I said to that England coach after all three were selected.
Admittedly my thoughts which were spoken out loud didn't go down too well and I found myself out of a job, Lol, oh well!
Napolean, judged both Henry and Edson according to what he saw and heard in the complete opposite! But his judgement was only 50% correct as both achieved greatness as we all know! The England coach judged all three differently but all three achieved England stature! The moral, never judge your players at an instant and provide them your best regardless of your personal opinion.
Zak reached no.1, Reece no.2 and Guy no.5...
we can all achieve greatness if we're willing to step into the uncomfortable situation and work through it to develop regardless of our circumstances
Fail to plan, plan to fail
There are three types of sports people in life: a loser, a participant and a winner.
More often than not we choose our destiny (consciously or subconsciously).
Most have the same aspirations and dreams "to be a Winner" but most don't have the PLAN and true WILL to be a WINNER!
As a child I generally played on the streets, rarely seeing my mother or father, I was able to explore and do what I wanted. This gave me the belief that anything is possible and I developed the hunger, heart and determination needed to become a champion but I lacked one key factor a PLAN.
I had dreams of becoming world champion and I was willing to do whatever it takes in order to achieve that dream. Unfortunately I did not have a guide/coach so I took it upon myself to do what I thought was right (watching the best players play and practice).
I practiced very hard like a professional and I emulated the technical aspects which I saw. I progressed very fast and throughout my junior career I genuinely believed I would become world champion one day!. At 17-18 years of age reality hit me and I realised that I was nowhere near the level I needed to be to achieve my ultimate ambition. So I stopped playing table tennis at 19 only to come back a year later.
I had a dream and the desire but I didn't have guidance and nor did I have a specific plan, this ultimately lead me into the losers category.
You must have someone who has either experienced your chosen journey or the knowledge needed to guide and direct you towards your destination. I was ignorant and didn't know that it was virtually impossible to become a table tennis world champion starting at the age of 14 being based in England (a relatively weak table tennis nation).
If your under the age of ten you have a chance but you must have a guide/coach to porvide the knowledge needed and set a plan...
Your guide or coach
They need to be:
1. Be realistic- this means the ultimate goal must be recognised early doors. So if the child says he wants to be world champion but does not have the mind and attribute needed then you need to find the pathway and plan for their vision.
2. Have experience or a vision which co-insides with the pupils vision and belief
3. MOST IMPORTANTLY the coach must have a PLAN. It's easy to quit, it's difficult to stay in the game and it's virtually impossible to become world champion. So to become special you must have a plan in place to drive you and make you hit targets on your way towards success. Often we are caught in a system and become either a follower (participant) or we leave (loser). If you have a vision and know what you wish to achieve then creating a plan is easy because you know where you are going.
We see something we like and decide to go into that field but more often than not we are sucked into a system. A set way of training, a set tournament schedule and a set belief system.
You are an individual which means if you follow or copy others it's highly unlikely that you will be a champion.
You must have a plan in place that suits you specifically.
Things which need to be taken into account:
Your body shape and height
Your mind set
Your work rate
Your sacrifice (level)
And so on
Once all of this has been taken into account a plan can be placed with a specific training schedule; mental training, nutritional plan, physical training and optional target hitting chart.
Please note a plan can be altered or changed depending on the situation but a plan must always be in place if you truly want to be in that small group of Winners.
Over time no matter who you are, you will face tough times and you will make mistakes.
I have no shame in owning up to my miss fortunes but unlike most, every-time I face a stumbling block or get a hit I force myself to find away around or get up and move forward.
When I first started playing table tennis which was after watching 'Forrest Gump' I entered my local table tennis club believing I can beat anyone and become World Champion like 'Forrest'. I challenged everyone and the few that accept my challenge wiped the floor with me. I left the club with my tail in between my legs but told each and everyone that I will be back next week. I came the following week and received the same treatment!! but I kept coming back for more and after about 4 weeks I had my first win :-) shortly after I started beating most of the players at the club and in a year I was no.1 at the club. I moved onto bigger and better clubs with the same mentality and today I am proud of my level and achievements due to my stubbornness and perseverance. I achieved so much success in a short lived career due to one factor perseverance.
If you truly want to be a good table tennis player you need this quality far more than any other quality. Remember if you get hit get up and move forward because no matter where or who you are you will face tough times.
The picture shows two former world champions and two former students of mine. Both students hardly play anymore due to many factors and reasons but ultimately due to lack of perseverance. Unlike both Wang Hao and Wang Liqin who endured blows and hits that most wont face in their lives to achieve special things.
Never give up, keep fighting and if you cant win don't stop just change direction and find away to win elsewhere!
Many athletes fail because of one simple factor 'FEAR', we all face that restricted feeling to perform under pressurised situations.
I constantly hear players saying I did not perform or I beat him/her always in practice, but lost or lose in a tournaments?!
I took my son out on his bicycle, he has been riding for about 3 weeks now but today he fell off (properly) for the first time cutting his hand slightly. To be fair to him he did not cry, got back up and started riding again, but fear kicked in and I could sense he lost his confidence! He was much more cautious and his stability and speed dramatically decreased and he fell again and again. I believe the other falls were due to the fear after the first fall and on the last occasion he cried out of fear, pain and frustration. I encouraged him by explaining that falling was a good thing and the more you fall the better you will be. Today he wont fully understand me but in time as long as he continues he will ride his bike effortlessly as most of us do.
When we first start playing table tennis (beginner stage) we are fearless; learning by watching others and experimenting with our shots. Nine times out of ten we progress quickly and once we reach a certain level we are told we have the potential to compete and once again we learn by playing, watching and unleashing shots without fear. We progress rapidly and our level and rankings increase alongside some local and possibly national titles. We enjoy our development up until, boom FEAR kicks in!
Fear kicks in, generally when we rich a higher level and obtain a club or personal coach alongside a supporting family. The coach tells us how we should play instead of guiding and nurturing our natural ability and our family have expectations.
Initially, we played because we enjoyed the game and saw progress due to fearlessness but now we think ahead! Once a player has been told not to do something or that's wrong and his/her family expect them to achieve certain things, that player develops internal fear. The fear is caused because the player thinks, "if I make a mistake or don't fulfill my internal and externals expectation I have failed".
A small amount of players know how to handle fear and thrive under pressure for example (Michael Jordan, Tiger Woods, Rodger Federer, Mohamed Ali, to name but a few). I have worked with many players ranked top 5 and a few no.1's. I found those who where top five were in general the ones who struggled the most under pressure and ultimately did not pursue their careers to its fullest potential . Working with no.1's I found that they possessed the same fear but faced it differently.
Mr No.1, loved the challenge and was fearless, he did not have family support but I was considered as family and coach. I spoke to my former student a few weeks back about how he handled fear and he said, I was fearless because you supported me regardless whether I won or lost. He felt that no matter the result I would be proud of him and this gave my player the confidence to perform under pressure, as long as he gave it 100%. When he suffered unexpected losses it was not due to fear, it was lack of preparation, tiredness, or in a process of transition but never due to fear!
How to handle fear
1. Remember why you play TT for the love and joy! you and your surroundings have developed those fears mainly due external factors and self success. Make sure your coach works with you and not against you, meaning he guides you and supports you regardless. Guiding means showing you how to improve and never saying a shot is wrong and "you must do it like this". There is no wrong shot! 'I often say to my players why did you not open up that half long ball? They reply what does it matter I won the point!! I explain yes you did and well done! but try to look at the bigger picture you may have won it on this occasion but if you faced world no.1 you most likely would have lost that point using that shot. That does not mean your shot was wrong I just want you to think about the shot selection you made. If you chose to push that's fine just think about the consequences and who your facing (That's guiding a player.) So try to guide yourself into executing the right shot and producing a positive shot rather than thinking or being told something is wrong and it must be done in a certain way!!!
2. Fear is in general thinking ahead, "if I play a wrong shot, or if I lose this point or match" those thoughts create automatic fear and we often produce those negative thoughts in realty. Try to stay tuned in the 'NOW' meaning what is currently happening and forget about the future because it has not happened yet!
3. Face your fear: I like to put money or a drink when I play in the practice hall not because I'm a betting man (I don't know what a betting shop looks like) but I like to bet on myself because I want to face my fears and learn to perform under pressure. When I competed I would challenge myself to open up on my backhand (my weaker wing at the time) at pressurised situations. Today I have no fear, opening up on my backhand side at any point of a match. I have created reassurance within myself and you can do the same if your willing. I challenge you to open up with your weaker wing under a pressurised situation, e.g your coach says ten pound right now 1 chance, you serve I push to your backhand, if you miss you pay me £10 if you get it on I give you £1.
I will never forget coaching at the national championship, one of my players (in the final) I called a time out 9-10 down in the fifth. I said, he is serving half long backspin to your backhand, your pushing and he opens up and in general wins the point. I said, its your choice push and risk losing the match or open up and risk winning the match (pay attention to the words I used) both are risk but one is positive the other negative. My player (Mr fearless, mentioned above) opened up and won the point, he won the next point on his serve and the next point again by opening up with the backhand. He became national champion U12 and U13 that year. I provided fear by asking him to do something he felt uncomfortable but I gave him the choice to face the fear or not.
He went on to become England no.1 after that event for his age and the year above and maintained that position for 3 years ultimately retiring at 15 years of age. I believe due to FEAR!!! at 15 he went to France to pursue his table tennis career, constantly told his shot selection was wrong and attitude is wrong by the club coach. Furthermore he lost to various players in and around his age group which he had not experienced in England and he lost me as his guide and support. All these factors produced internal fear which lead him to believing he could not achieve what he initially believed was possible.
Jan-Ove Waldner was the best table tennis player I have ever seen under pressure producing shots that 99% of people would say "is he mad doing that at this point!!" he learnt to block out all the negatives and play fearlessly when others froze due to the magnitude of an occasion or situation
*If you learn to face your fear you will realise that it can be conquered and controlled but if you keep hiding from it you will never be able to control it
It's an inevitable part of the game "losing" is something which is unavoidable!
I went to the Greater London Championships a week ago and witnessed hundreds of players competing, all aiming/trying to win. I spoke to many players and it was clear that most who lost blamed themselves for not having played well. Occasionally this is true we all have poor days but in most cases we are not truthful to ourselves by either admitting we let the occasion get to us or the player was better/outplayed us.
I also witnessed players super confident who told me they will win the tournament or get to the final. Is this a good attitude? It depends, on this occasion neither player got past the quarter final but that does not mean it was incorrect. If they truly believed the event was theirs, then its a good thing to have a positive mind set. I believe we are all different so we should find what suits us best and don't let others tell you otherwise. This means you must learn what makes you preform and utilise it to the best of your ability.
Unlike some sports table tennis has two outcomes a loser and a winner, its about how we perceive the loss or win that builds our table tennis character. The aim of this blog is to make you think about why you lost and what are the effects of losing.
On most occasions when we lose we blame everything but ourselves and on the odd occasion when we lose we come off saying" I played really well".
So what should we do to gain optimum benefit from a lose:
1. I was always taught that the real magic happens when you lose, if your willing to learn from it. What does that mean? When we lose we often reflect on why we lost, assess the issues and try to implement an action plan against our poor performance. So when you lose try to think why you lost, please don't blame an edge or a net, that went against you (that is an uncontrollable. When we win we are happy and often forget to reflect, hampering our progress, so the tip here is try to reflect on the match rather than just a lose or win.
2. We are too harsh on ourselves, losing is a part of the game (hate losing) but accept that it will happen.
3. Are you a true winner? I often test my players for example I may provide extra physicals for the 'winners' yes the winners!! This shows me who really wants to win and who doesn't mind losing. The players who fight to win regardless of the physicals have the right attitude, they are willing to sacrifice to gain a win. That's the key, you must sacrifice and be willing to take many hits and many loses on your pathway to becoming a true winner.
"Winners never quit and quitters never win"
As a coach I often ask myself this question, simply because I want to better myself and raise, British table tennis as a whole. I have been privileged in achieving many great things in my coaching career but does that classify me as a "Top Coach"?
Firstly what is classified as a top coach?
For me a top coach is someone who is able to bring the best out of their students: providing the tools and the ability to execute shots with the correct decision making. This is a long and complex subject but ultimately a top coach must possess; good knowledge of the "correct technical methods", good communication skills, open minded, willing to learn, must not possess a big ego 'think he/she are the best coach (as I believe there is no such thing as 'best coach'), I will explain this below. Furthermore the coach must be able to adapt his/her coaching style to suit various conditions, facilities and personalities. This list can go on forever but these are the fundamentals needed to be considered as a top coach.
No such thing as best coach:
I have worked with some of "the so called" best coach's in the world and learnt a little from everyone and put my personal touch on everything making it my own. Furthermore no matter how good I believe I am or others perceive me to be, I continuously search to better my coaching ability
Here is a debate I often face, many TT player ask me if I would like to be a National coach or do you think Lui Guliang is the best coach in the world? In short 1. Currently I do not want to be a national coach and No Lui Guiliang is not the best coach in the world! There is no ranking system for coach's (Yes.. I hear you say, but Lui, coach's the best TT nation in the world) that is correct! but if I told you that around 100 million TT players play in your country and they see TT as a great opportunity, out of poverty and you get to pick the best 30 to coach, what would you think?
I would think I have the easiest job in the world I get the best of the best with an amazing coaching team behind me. In fact its the same for every national coaching job you get the best in your country to work with. When Lui retired as a player he worked with the national team for a few years as a sparing partner and assistant coach, before being handed over the role as head coach. Please don't get me wrong I have no doubt he is a very good coach but I also know he could not or would struggle immensely if he had to do what someone like myself do. Coach from total beginner to national/international level by yourself while coaching 20/30 other kids at the same time and all possessing different level's not to mention the endless hours needed to mentor these young disobedient kids.
I don't want to be negative but often we don't know the ins and outs, the background, the true picture because we are only exposed to the front end of the picture therefore we assume and think what we see is the truth and that's where it all goes wrong. Most top coach's are not the national coach's they are the local, personal and regional coach's, hidden/unseen by the prestigious title of national coaches. In fact one of my former players represented England and reached the semi final of a major international event. I had worked with the player around 5 years at the time approximately 20 hours per week. I stumbled upon a press release mentioning my players achievement which I was not mentioned but the England coach got praise for what a wonderful job he was doing with that player.
I also see the game being coached in a certain way which is basically the same/similar, methods and styles throughout the world. No matter where you go in the word you will see drills such as back to backhand forehand to forehand, Falkenberg, etc. So how can a coach be considered better than another if most coaches work in an almost an identical manor? Simple its an individual's perception if I play for a club in Germany I will automatically think I have a better coach than a English coach because I'm playing in a far better TT nation. When in fact I could be coached by someone whom is far worse and I am failing to realise that its not necessarily the coach its the system in place that makes German TT, far superior to English TT. As mentioned above coaches are split in level only by how they deliver their knowledge and the ability to get the best out of an individual. For example Tiger Woods, the William sisters and others where coached by their parents whom were not professional coaches in that field, you do the maths.
Three things that make a top coach:
1. You have to be in love with the sport because 9 times out of 10 you will not be given the credit you deserve for your dedication, work and love put into your coaching.
2. Coach players as individuals, for example I often see players with a certain forehand technique I automatically know who their coach is. The coach has not provided what certain individuals specifically need, for example one player may be very slow and the other very fast or one short the other tall. This would mean a fast player can develop his game around his forehand if he or she wishes. On the other hand the slower player would require two strong wings otherwise they would be pinned to the weaker side (most cases backhand) and would not have the capability to turn the corner due to lack of speed/mobility. A short player in most cases should look to stay close to the table covering the angles where a taller player can afford to step back and use his/her wing span.
3. Always be willing to learn most coach's have big ego's including myself but if we are willing to learn we will continue to improve and adapt with the game ultimately providing our players a greater chance to improve with us.
A top coach will provide the tools, teach you how to use them plus guide you on your path but only you the individual can make your desires a reality.
When I first started playing table tennis (1996) at the age of 14, after watching 'Forrest Gump' I wanted to be World Champion!
I was naive like 'Forrest' but truly believed I would become 'World Champion' one day.
I played as much as I possibly could and to my credit I improved faster than anyone around my age group. I became a top 10 England Juniors right at the end of my Junior year and unfortunately I possessed an unlucky birthday (back then it was July cut off date). If I was born 20 days later I would have had another year in the juniors and I believe that I would have reached a top 4 ranking.
Nevertheless, I was still determined to reach my goal and chose to go to the second best (at the time) TT nation in the world 'France'. They had 4 players in the top 20, world ranking and a former World Champion (1993) 'Jean Philip Gatien'. China was also on my mind but I was only 17, so off I went to France in pursuit of my Dream. I did not speak a word of French, nor did I know anyone and randomly chose a club in the suburb's of Paris.
As I entered I will never forget the overwhelming feeling when I saw the huge purpose built table tennis hall that had 30 tables 15 each side and ample space between each table. It felt like I died and gone to 'table tennis heaven'. I was brought back down to earth very soon though, when I realised this was not heaven but a reality check. I was ranked about 100 England men at the time and I entered the French ranking at around 1500. I was not too bothered at the time because I felt I could get to the top in no time. After a year at 18 I was ranked about 800 in France and unfortunately it was time for me to grow up and put my dream to bed. I went back to England and started to studying while coaching TT at a private school (Kings College) which was offered to me by my 'then' coach Gideon Ashison.
So why am I telling a story about something I did not achieve?
If it wasn't for my inner desire to become 'World Champion' I would never have reached the heights I have. I know in my heart if I pursued my training in France I would have been a full time proffessional player and a possible top 300 and more, world ranked player. I have beaten many players around the 500 marker and that's with limited structured TT training.
What is structured TT training? Well its at least 3-4 training sessions per week with a coach at hand giving specific, structured practice/training. In fact specific training I only ever had for 1 year which was in France. Most of us don't put in what is required to reach top levels TT due to: Lack of time, lack of accessibility, lack of coaching expertise and we don't have the inner desire.
Due to my inner desire I reached my level and unfortunately most of the other aspects mentioned, I lacked as most of us do in England.
So how do we get what we want?
1. You need desire: Having coached thousands of players over the years, I noticed one key aspect which set good TT players apart from not so good. The one's who had what I call the 'EYE OF THE TIGER', basically pure passion. They will be at every training session, listen, ask questions and work harder than the rest. The amazing thing I found, whether they possessed natural ability or not they would continuously progress due to that one simple thing 'DESIRE'.
2. Facilities: that accommodate, meaning accessible regularly and provide the coaching staff plus expertise
3. Continuity: unfortunately 80/90% of players quit/stop playing at 17/18 because of: money, studies, work, companionship, and lack of vision. I read somewhere "80% of success is showing up"!
The only way to get what you want out of TT is to have all three tools mentioned and they need to be combined. Then and only then will you have a real chance in getting what you want out of table tennis. That means if you have true desire then go and find the three mentioned and utilise the opportunity.
Remember there's only 1 World Champion every 2 years out of millions who compete, so having that dream is great and don't let anyone tell you any different. But do not be disappointed if you do not get that dream, instead look at all the other achievements you've made while heading towards that goal/dream.
If you want something go and get it don't wait for it to come to you because it will never come!
How to make a come back after injury or illness
For 30 years I never had an injury, heck I've never even had a headache and I sure did not know what a hospital looked like but at thirty... my luck ran out!!
I was playing some of my best table tennis after my come back 4 years earlier and my personal goal was to get into the top 15 'England Men's ranking'.
Feb 2013 I felt unwell while coaching my Junior British League Team, I was taken to Hospital (in the mean time the boys managed to win the title). I was very unlucky being misdiagnosed, told I had "food poisoning" and was sent home with some pain killers. When In fact it was my appendix which ultimately burst a few days later and this was followed up by Septicemia (blood poisoning). A large number of people don't survive but I was lucky to live and tell the tale 'as they say'. I lost 2 stone in weight (within 3 weeks), I had two operations, while going in and out of hospital for over 3 Months.
I'm not looking for sympathy I'm merely point out, that no matter how bad your injury or illness was or is a 'come back' is on the cards.
Within 4 months of my last operation I held a bat in my hand again! I was so proud considering what I went through and off I went to have a knock with a good friend of mine Ivan Lewis.
# On a personal note we where competing against each other the season before: Ivan is a top Veteran, while I was ranked as a top senior. After one year we would look at the rankings and see who is ranked higher, at our respective age group. I was 26 (senior) and Ivan ended up 25 (veteran) 2011/12 season, so yes he beat me :-( on that occasion :-).
I never lost to Ivan in practice or in any event but on this occasion, I had to hold my hands up and take a beating. My level naturally dropped and I soon fell off the ranking list. As you can imagine I was devastated, my great 'come back' was taken away from me in a blink of an eyelid and the joy I once had 'playing', disappeared for about 7 months. We all go through phases of not enjoying TT or anything we do for that matter. You must possess the right mind set in order for you to get the good times back.
I decided I would practice no more than once a week and see what happens, my 'feeling' (ball to bat, bat to hand) come back quickly but the physical side was very poor. I lacked mobility and stamina which made it very difficult for me to play at the level I once possessed. I remember playing against my TT students and other TT players, to my amazement they were proud to beat me, despite what I had just been through! This is another story of 'how to cope with defeat regardless of your situation'.
I took it all on the chin and I am back playing competitively (division 1, British league at no.1 with around 70% winning ratio, representing Batts TTC). Admittedly I'm not the standard I was a few years back but I'm around top 50 now and very proud.
I may never reach the standard I was but there is good reason for it:
1. I don't possess the time, I did
2. My club was closed, due to me being ill and I was offered a National coaching job which I did not take in the end.
3. I don't have the aspirations I did and my views and thoughts have changed
I want to compete but not as I did, I just want to do it for the love of the sport and the journey :-).
BUT.. I honestly believe and know if I still had my TT club (B-batt) and the time plus the aspiration. I would certainly get back to the level I was pre-illness and possibly even higher!
I beat two players top 30 in England, this season (post-opp) that was an achievement in itself considering less than a year ago, I could not stand on my own two feet. So the fact I'm trying to point out here is if you still have the same admiration and passion you can make a full TT recovery.
3 key points in making a come back, after serious injury or illness.
1. Belief: I've faced and experienced some of life's worst hits but I have always believed and still do that I will come out on top. Instill that mind set, within yourself...
2. Physicals: Take care of your body, both physically and nutritionally. All this information can be found on the internet but I follow people that are living a healthy lifestyle. A very good friend of mine Costas Papentoniou, you may know him from the TT circuit, he is a health freak! At 52 years of age he is healthy plus as fit as any 20 year old. I took note, by buying products from his health shop and still take continues advice from Costas.
I have been going to the gym for the past five years and always knew what I wanted my body to look and preform like 'as a supreme athlete'. So in this instance I looked around my gym saw someone with my kind of built and approached them (most people like to help, you just have to be willing to ask). This gentleman gave me his training routine and I started my physical conditioning straight away sticking to a routine, that's the key routine and consistency. Today I'm a fully qualified personal trainer and know how to create my own routines that suit me (remember what I always say, "we are individuals" no one is exactly the same, so find out what suits you by doing your homework.
3. Time: This is something we all forget including myself, we don't have patience!! It may seem as if someone has amazing ability at a given skill but no one has ever earned a special skill over night. It has been acquired through time and work, and only then can it be shown to the world with pride.
So be patient your level will come back possibly even better depending on your requirements meaning if you wish to make a full come back or not.
In fact I'm in hospital right now! writing this article after my Hernia operation hence this article. I was so focused in writing this article that I did not notice the pool of blood leaking out of my scar. Don't worry the nurse came and cleaned me up then patched me back up (sorry if your squeamish). As you can see I've taken another hit in less than a year, 3 operations a near death experience but you'll see me back in action shortly, no doubt :-)
In conclusion, you will have knocks that will halt your progression and even take you back a few steps. If you focus on the uncontrollable's you'll never be able to get back up and work on the controllable's.
If you get hit, get up and keep moving forward, no matter how many times you get hit! Don't be one of those people that, when they fall off their bike they never get back on it again. You'll never know where the journey was meant to go...
When I tell people 'I play Table Tennis' I often get two reply's: 1. "I used to play when I was younger" while 'waving their hand in the air' ("basically your a ping pong player"). I reply, "Yes, but I play competitively" and their second reply "but its easy you don't have to move much!"
This is where I get frustrated and bombard them with visual proof, that TT requires immense athleticism.
In my younger days I idolised Jan-Ove Waldner and modeled my game around Jean-Philip Gatien (being a lefty myself), both were ahead of their time. Jan-Ove moved so elegantly like Roger Federer (Tennis), making it seem as if he did not move much! Don't be fooled, Waldner possess wonderful anticipation giving him time to move into position, using good footwork which allowed him to execute his magical shots.
Jean-Philip, mainly had one weapon his 'forehand' but due to his lighting footwork he could execute his weapon from almost anywhere giving him an Olympic sliver medal and a World Championship Singles title (1993).
The Chinese took note from both Waldner and Gatien and today the Chinese National Team possess the shot repertoire of Waldner and the footwork of Gatien making them almost unbeatable. The Chinese are table tennis players and athletes and the rest of the world are mainly table tennis players only!
How to improve your footwork:
1. Multi ball: There is no better way to improve your footwork around the table, start slowly and gradually build the speed of balls coming at you. This over time, will naturally increase your speed and explosive power.
2. Irregular training: Getting your opponent to block anywhere on the FH side and you play forehands only. Try to continuously move using the balls of your feet and try not to stretch or lean. There is an endless number of footwork exercises so ask your coach or search it on the net. Note: table tennis footwork includes: Both - in and out movement as well as side to side, so bear that in mind when doing footwork training and not just focusing on side to side movement.
3. Physicals: You need a training regime which includes: Weight Training, for power and strength such as squats. Plyometric Training, such as, jumping on and off a box or bench, try to use cones, self made lines or an exercise ladder for various footwork routines and lastly Isometric Training, using an exercise band to increase fast twitch muscle fibers.
I will never forget when I watched Waldner (past his best) at the Olympic (2004) semi final's stage against Ryu-Seaung Min. Ryu (Penholder Grip) possessed a rocket forehand and probably the fastest footwork I have ever witnessed in table tennis. Ryu was so fast, no matter where Waldner put the ball he could not keep Ryu from playing his forehand and the lack of containment cost Waldner the match.
Ryu, went on to win the Olympic's that year and I quickly realised that if you possess exceptional footwork (you may be limited in your shot repertoire) but you can still compete at the top level. I also predicted that Ryu would never win another major, I was right! This I believe, is because you can not maintain such a high level of fitness and speed for a long period of time. Nevertheless, Ryu has the most prestigious title in table tennis and no one can take it away from him, mainly due to FOOTWORK!. So if you want to be an Olympic Champion start working on your legs :-)
Remember if your blessed with legs, use them...
No matter who you are, you will or have experienced the ‘butterfly effect’ in your stomach before, during or both at an official TT event.
As a junior I hardly felt nervous during a match but I did get pre-competition adrenalin rush which cost me a few hours sleep the night before.
Entering the senior circuit, I naturally developed a 'thought process' using tactical know how to win matches as opposed to playing on auto pilot as a junior. This changed my whole nervous system, I could sleep the night before but during the match I found myself extremely nervous. This included sweaty hands, my heart beating furiously and my hand shaking affecting my no.1 weapon, my serve.
I was affected so badly that I ended up semi quitting competitions and resorted to club and local league play only. Every couple of years I would attempt a competition ‘come back’ but the nerves failed to go away!
At 27 years of age, a world class coaches/players crossed my path and began working with me at my table tennis club/academy. We trained one or two hours per week and after 3 months my level went up, managing to win a few games/matches against him. FYI, his standard at the time was top 4 England men and he said, "Eli it's time to make a real comeback".
I did just that... Beating top 10 England players and jumping up the rankings from around 100 to 20 England Men. So what did I do different on this occasion?
How to handle your pre-competition nerves
1. Work on your strengths, preferably a day or two before any competition and this will naturally increase your inner confidence.
2. Avoid match play that involves keeping count (one or two days prior to any competition. Why? Because in a match there is a winner and loser and if you’re the loser... Well, we all know how we feel after losing! So instead, play as if it’s a match 2 serves each but do not keep score.
3. Routine: effectively competition is just another game but one that has been given a ‘Name and Value’ e.g. Local league finals, London open, National Championships, Olympics etc. have and name a value.
So routine is vital depending on your level and standard and you need to prepare accordingly;
local level - In general your competing for the sheer enjoyment and social factor. You may be playing to keeping fit and get out of the house?! therefore routine is not necessary.
National level: You are committed to the sport so you need to find what preparation works best for you and stick to it. A mistake many national level players make, is changing their routines for different events e.g. National championships they will put in more hours in the training hall (when in fact they should prepare physically more rather than table time), hence the lack of consistency in performance.
International: Depending on your level you will train for personal and specific targets. The higher ranked you are the more focused you are on specific competition targets e.g. World championships, Europeans, Olympics etc. Again the same principal applies find a specific preparation that suits you (remember we are all individuals) so don't copy another top players preparation methods. Once you have a preparation that you feel suits you stick to your methods religiously even at times of poor confidence.
How to avoid match nerves:
1. Play under pressurised situations: I use betting ('personal method' and not recommended), I also ask my friends or students to watch me play. I may add a video recording and this automatically puts me into a state of 'competition mode and the match has "value". I would add pressure by either telling myself or the crowed how important this match is (whether it is or not), just to add increased tension.
When playing under these circumstances I would subconsciously analyse and be aware of my minds 'state' at certain stages/situations focusing on the (scary nervous, pressurised moments) and then I would use various methods to calm myself. After a while I found certain actions which I would employ that worked in calming my nervous state. For example, I would tell myself “relax and enjoy”, or I would wiggle my body to loosen up the tight tension. There is an infinite amount of things you can do to reduce your personal anxiety but you must find what helps you most and use it.
2. Positive body language: hold your body upright, use only positive feedback such as "come on" "yes" good serve" "play positive" again use what suits you but it must always be positive! Some players like to release negativity by showing poor body language and expressing their disappointment after losing a point (e.g. Liam Pitchford) that's fine as long as you can switch into a positive mind set.. straight away.
3. Lastly I would 'move' bouncing up and down releasing negative tension and keeping my body in a positive state.
What has changed?
I remember training with a friend most Friday nights for many years and he would beat me 9/10 'in practice' at the club. We had our annual club championship and I faced my sparring partner in the same hall/club. The hall was the same, the tables were the same and obviously I was the same person, just the layout was slightly different but that specific day had a ‘Name and Value’ “ The club closed championship”.
I won 3-1 even though I naturally expected to lose and the same happened with many other players in the club.
Nothing really changed!! accept for the mind set of each player. In reality nothing has ever changed (from club to competition) but everything in your mind has changed once a title and value ha been add. So change your mind set – Its just another table tennis match/game.
Remember no matter where you play or who you play, in reality we are all playing the same game and your opponent "is just another person with a bat in their hand" regardless of their TT achievements.
What is a top player?
Everyone has a different view of 'what a top player is' when I first started playing TT, the local league players was a top player in my eyes! Today I'm seen as a top player (locally, nationally and occasionally internationally). I personally don't consider my self as a top player because (as a teen I dreamed of becoming "A World Champion") I did not achieve this dream for many reason but I personally consider a top player someone who is ranked inside the worlds top 100 or that standard.
You may view a top player as; top 10 in your county or no.1 in your local club or possibly top 10 in the world. No matter what your view is of a top player you can become a top player yourself (depending on many factors of course) but it can be achieved by...
You need to do 3 things:
1. You need to have a vision and there is a huge difference between having goals and a vision. When you have goals your aiming to get somewhere but when it gets tough or you have not achieved certain goals which were set, you quit! Having a vision on the other hand means you see yourself achieving and doing whatever it takes to achieve those desired personal dreams. Having a vision does not mean you will always achieve what you want (due to age, personal capabilities, local/national structure, resources etc.) but having a vision gives you a far greater opportunity of achieving your dreams because you will do your utmost to break through the obstetrical, in making your vision a reality.
2. Sacrifice, no athlete has achieved without sacrificing many things in their lives, to achieve their dreams. This may mean moving to another country (e.g. Andy Murray) or giving up your weekends etc.
3. Plan, as the saying goes "fail to prepare... prepare to fail", that quote says it all.. nothing is produced without some sort of plan, yes you can go and train and improve without a specific plan but by turning up to a training session you have subconsciously planed to turn up to training for e.g. 8pm and practice your FH's and BH's etc. Then you play games and plan how to beat your opponent but the better you plan the chances of achieving and progressing is far greater.
Top players are not born they are made, so what are you waiting for? Go and make yourself a top player...
As coach's and players, we thrive to achieve our potential and communication is often something both parties lack. Coach's in particular portray their thoughts and feelings and player's in general absorb the information. In most cases the coach's provide wonderful information (on some occasion its poor information) either way, the ignorant student takes on board the information and does not have his/her say. Potentially hampering, progression and possibly causing future friction between both player and coach..
What is communication?
1. Its a two way thing.. two parties talk to one another giving and taking information and work together towards greater things.
2. No matter your position you need to express your feelings and thoughts (no one but you) knows what your'e thinking and feeling, so 'EXPRESS IT'.
3. Communication can be delivered using your 5 senses (hearing, listening, seeing, smelling and feeling) try to use what you feel is best to get your point across.
Communication builds trust and when we know how someone is thinking and feeling, we can trust them to take us to our desired destination.
Most if not all table tennis players have used or are using regular training to improve their game. I believe regular training is an extremely important aspect in today's game but over used in most training sessions.
What do we get out of regular training?
You will develop good or bad technique depending on how you are taught and in time your strokes will be second nature, meaning after a stroke has been reproduced over a certain amount of times (approx 5,000 times), it becomes muscle memory.
Systematic training provide you with increased consistency, improved footwork and good or bad technique. Other than those three it has nothing else to offer.
Having worked with some of the best players and coaches in the world I have come to a conclusion which is debatable so feel free to challenge me. I believe regular training should only be done for 2-5 years initial stage (I call it the development stage).
Change your ways!
Once a player has reached a certain technical ability their focus should shift away from systematic training into semi-irregular and irregular training. If a player has developed what I call the foundations (the basic four strokes to a high level) that player is hampering his or her progress dramatically by continuously preforming regular exercises.
We develop by continuously pushing the boundaries and giving our brain challenges which it must fined the answers (by challenging our brain we develop at a much faster rate). We are not challenged by regular training and it does not resemble a real game situation so why do we persist on doing it?
If you are at a level where you have a good forehand and backhand and your progression seems to have slowed down, ask yourself how are you training? As mentioned above you must focus on regular training at your development stage and you will notice huge gains. But once you've developed your shots the progression line will flatten out which means you need to change your training methods. Yes, you need to stop the regular training and focus on everything but regular...
You may have the best serve, backhand and forehand in the world but if you don't know how to use your weapons you will never be the best, to be the best you must train to your personal best...
This is by far the least respected part of the game inside the training hall. Most coaches and people focus on fitness, nutrition, footwork and technical abilities but forget to tackle the most powerful tool any human has (their brain - the way they think.
Often players are blamed for lack of fitness or technical malfunctions etc. When in fact most players have enough tools in their repertoire to win most matches at their respective level!
So... What differentiates players when they are of a similar standard? Without a shadow of a doubt, it's 'MIND SET'. I had the privilege of coaching two players over the weekend, both around top 5, England Junior standard, at 'JUNIOR BRITISH LEAGUE' premier division.
Coaching both players against other top ten players 'similar standard' it was clear to see that the difference was not ability but mental toughness and personal psych.
One of my players was 2-0 down to a player ranked slightly below. At 2-0 my player said, "I'm playing crap" my reply "no you're not playing crap.. your body language is wrong, your mind set is wrong and your attitude is wrong". You need to change your mentality from negative to positive. I gave him a few tips and advice about how to enter into a positive mind set, (this is of course) 'easier said then done!' but we all possess the power to switch our mind set. The young England no.6 found away to tap into a positive mind set and all of a sudden the whole match changed! The end score was 3-2 in favour of my player.
The young man came off the table smiling and happy, I said, "you see, you are not playing badly (or "crap" in his words) but in fact your'e mind set was wrong"
My player went from complaining about everything imaginable including: " it's a bad bounce, my backhand is not working, my opponent is lucky etc.". To a player who could do no wrong and in fact all the complaints switched over to the opposing player.
We all focus on improving our footwork, our serve, backhand and forehands but we forget to train our minds.
How can you train your mind?
3 key points that can help:
1. Look at your behaviour and analyse your thoughts. This can be done by recording yourself and having a diary recording your: before, during and after thoughts in a match/competition situation. This will help you learn more about yourself, body language and what your thought process is like at tournaments.
Once you have studied your holistic character (alongside your coach) you will have the ability and knowledge of how to make necessary changes at certain situations. So the key here is study yourself and then make the changes and amendments need to improve your overall persona.
2. Having a trigger! What is a trigger? A trigger is an individual physical movement that you can personalise which puts you into a positive mind frame. This can include: wiping your hand on the table, a certain word/words, clenching a fist etc. In order for you to tap into this positive mind set you need to be in a negative situation and once you have done a trigger motion, it puts you into an instant 'memorised' feel good factor. For example when you won a tournament, beat a good player or any feel 'good moment that you have felt in the past and want to reproduce.'
Tapping into a positive mind frame gives you an instant feel good factor and can aid in changing a match from a losing situation to a winning situation.
3. Why do we play? Because we love our sport so why do we torture ourselves when we are losing or even winning and someone is coming back?
We must remember we play because we love playing (yes winning is nice and no one likes to lose) but ultimately if we play with a mind set of "I play because I love table tennis" surely that will increase your chances of gaining better results.
Smile and enjoy the sport you love.
I am often asked about my table tennis serve!
How do you serve like that?
There is no magic (I often reply)!
Like everything in life, if you desire something worth while having; YOU MUST WORK FOR IT!, you need to train and be willing to open your mind in order to posses it. I was and still am fascinated by serves, hence why I spent hundreds of hours and thousands of balls perfecting my serve.
When you serve you have full control & power, giving you the opportunity to obtain a weak return or deceive your opponent into making a forced error.
If you want a good serve, you have to be willing to practice over and over and in time you will notice an increase in the amount of spin you impart on the ball and your placement variation.
You must experiment with different hand movements, before, during and after point of contact (with a ball), by using your imagination or watching other world class TT players.
3 key facts to improve your serve:
1. Placement - Three short and three long/half long serves (down the line, mid table and cross court)
2. Spin - Impart spin by whipping your forearm and wrist just before point of contact and at point of contact this creates a fast movement enabling you to gain maximum speed. please remember the contact on the ball must be as thin as possible. The faster your hand movement is and the lighter the contact on the ball the more spin you will create.
3. Deception - Like magic, you must create an illusion to make your opponent think and see something different to what has actually happened. Simply put, when imparting a backspin serve - quickly move your bat in an upward motion, after point of contact (as quickly as possible) this makes the serve look like topspin when in fact it was backspin! There is thousands of variations which can be explored, so experiment and use your imagination.
Watch, learn, experiment...
Table Tennis is not just about backhands, forehands and serves!! There is an infinite amount of shot's and tricks which can be achieved and should be explored. We often focus on systematic training and forget to experiment. If we explore beyond our current capabilities we give ourselves the opportunity to progress.
My TT hero Jan Ove-Waldner (widely regarded as the greatest player of all time) was so innovative and a head of the game that it allowed him to compete with the best, for over 3 decades. Waldner demonstrated shots that people had never seen or thought physically possible, not only in practice but he managed to pull them off at crucial times including the Olympic and World championship final's.
As a player if you wish to progress you must try things and do not fall into the brackets of "don't do that" structure will only limit you.
As humans we break barriers by doing something out of the norm and by doing so we develop and progress.
Limitations are in your mind so don't allow your mind to say its not possible until you have tried it, don't be scared to be different...
We are all unique so why mold yourself like everyone else?
We are all victims! I took a group of players to a tournament today and I received a phone call from an assistant coach and sparring partner. He Said, "Eli, tell the kids not to stress, don't worry and just play their game" I replied NO!!!
Obviously his intentions are/were good, but if I tell you... I don't want you to think about the colour red, what colour pop's into your head? red of course!
Telling your students not to stress and not to worry, subconsciously triggers stress and worry!
Try to only use positive words when mentoring and coaching your students.
CAN CHINA'S TABLE TENNIS TEAM BE BEATEN?
One of England’s best young table tennis coaches says they can, and believes he has the recipe for successEvery time I tell people that I'm a table tennis coach and former top player, their response is invariably this: 'The Chinese are the best. Can you beat the Chinese?'
I started playing table tennis in the 1990s and was fortunate to witness three Europeans win the men’s world singles title (Swedes Jorgen Persson in 1991, Jan-Ove Waldner in 1997 and Frenchman Jean- Philippe Gatien in 1993) as well as an Olympic singles title (Waldner in 1992). I also saw Sweden become the last nation to beat China in the men’s team event at the 2000 World Championships.
I dreamed of becoming a world champion myself but that was too far fetched, having only started playing the game when I was 14 years old. So I turned to coaching. Now, with 16 years of coaching experience behind me, I have produced countless national team, doubles, male and female singles title winners. But my ultimate goal is far greater than national success. My vision is fixed on defeating China.
I previously played in Germany, France and Belgium and saw the best table tennis set-ups in Europe. I believe they all lack the full infrastructure needed to develop Olympic and world champions. There are various full time centres but they are not structured in a way that allows players to develop their game throughout their career, especially beyond the age of 18.
Even in those with a structured system there seems to be lack of innovation, passion and most importantly motivation. They have a defeatist attitude: "China are too good, so what's the point?!"
Where’s the gap?I currently run a table tennis academy in Harefield in the London borough of Hillingdon which caters for students aged 11-19 (it also has on-site boarding allowing players from all over the world to stay there while they study and train). Here they receive regular table tennis training alongside their education. But we also need top-level coaches from the grass roots level who can develop players from the age of five through to 10. They are then technically well developed and can build onwards from these solid foundations.
Only then should they be passed on to a full time set up such as The Harefield Academy, which has a full-time coaching team including myself. Here, they are able to train regularly before, during (in PE lessons and during classes on subjects that they are not taking further) and after school. They get personal attention on either a one-to-one basis or in a small group of up to four players. After school, they can then join a larger group comprising the whole table tennis squad, for a few hours. This is where teamwork, ethics and personal development are encouraged and a variation of styles is integrated into the coaching.
It’s an effective set-up but what happens before kids join the Academy and after they leave? This is where my attentions are now focused. I am collaborating with The Harefield Academy to try and establish a dedicated table tennis centre of excellence within the school grounds. While we are still in the early planning stages, this is an exciting opportunity. The centre would host local, national and international players and cater for national and international training camps and European matches. Such a facility would provide a clear pathway for young aspiring players, fulfill their needs from a young age and crucially allow them to continue their development even after they leave school.
The here and nowCurrently in England we have many exceptionally talented players who dream of pursuing a career in table tennis. Sadly, they either quit before the age of 18 or at the end of their junior years. In some cases they leave home to chase their dreams elsewhere, heading to the likes of Germany, France, Poland etc. Why should this talent have to go abroad? Clearly I believe they shouldn't.
England's table tennis team have actually performed exceptionally well over the past two years, resulting in three men now being ranked inside the world’s top 100. They also finished third at the 2016 World Team Championships and reached the quarter-finals at the 2016 Olympics, losing out to China.
All three players in the England team left the country in their teens, in search of a higher level of training and a more financially rewarding table tennis system. It’s a sad indictment on a country that not only invented table tennis but has also had three World Champions: Fred Perry (1929), Richard Bergmann (1939, 1948, 1950) and Johnny Leach (1949, 1951). Indeed, throughout those years the World Championships were often held at Wembley with tens of thousands spectators flocking to watch.
Back on trendAway from the competitive side of things, the sport is actually thriving in England. With tables popping up in more and more public spaces and bars being themed around the sport, table tennis has become trendy. It is also being celebrated for its long-term health benefits, with the increased blood flow to the brain while playing said to help conditions like Alzheimers.
All we need now is a structured system to not only keep our players on home soil but also help them to compete with the absolute best. My vision is to create a bulletproof infrastructure by raising the funds to build a centre that will provide a complete pathway for the table tennis players of tomorrow.
Despite being a coach with limited resources and access to only a small window of a player’s career, I have been able to produce many of today's top England players. I believe that with a good team and infrastructure in place, China can be beaten and England can be crowned world champions once again. I'm looking for help, not only to make my vision come true, but also to make table tennis great again, inspire our youth and give them the best possible chance of becoming the world’s best.
If you’re interested in helping make table tennis great again, get in touch: @EliBaraty head coach, Harefield Table Tennis Academy @THA_School
ELI BARATY | @elibaraty
I began playing when I saw Forrest Gump and from that day it became a life long journey..