Say whatever you like. The ITTF Hopes week and challenge is ultimately about the love for this game. To be here – one week – one day – one session or even one hour makes you believe in the power of sport. I am convinced that weeks of pouring rain here in Austria (everybody is talking about it) have somehow been pushed away by the positive energy generated from the eight training sessions (finishing today Thursday) and the many excellent educational lessons on offer in the magnificent Werner Schlager Academy.
In reality we have been taught (literally from morning to evening) by the very best speakers and coaches involved in this sport. Li XIADONG from China, for many years now the nr one educator of coaches in the Chinese system has shared his knowledge in lessons and by active coaching. The top dogs working at the Werner Schlager Academy; Richard Prause, Dirk Wagner and Werner Schlager provided interesting input. Long-time Butterfly Sport Director Mario AMIZIC entertained the crowd of coaches yesterday with his words of wisdom.
If you then. like we are able to do in Vienna this week , can watch the future of our sport unfold in front of your eyes I the practice hall , where sixty young Hopes players from +30 countries are jumping for joy you got to for a moment at least believe in the actual strength of the ITTF Hopes Programme.
We started to push the boundaries for what can be done in terms of global talent detection in 1997. This means that the first cut of Hopes (born 1997) now is arriving at the true checkpoint for professional engagement in our sport. The results are indeed interesting. I am sure that some of the players involved would have been knocking on the doors to stardom regardless of the ITTF getting involved or not. However the other side of the coin; New markets opening up in countries that never or better say rarely had quality top players (I am talking truly competitive level) is extremely encouraging.
True is that we have lost some of the Hopes – just like any National association would do – but those who stuck with it , invested time and effort have emerged and are now clearly top class juniors ready to compete with anyone in the world .
Another very interesting point is that some National Associations out there are indeed taking the Hopes programme to heart and implementing the ideas, using the logos and preparing their players for much improved action. Brazil has been in the forefront for some years. The coach from Iran told me yesterday that they indeed are doing many things connected to this age group. Good stuff and not hard to imagine when you see one of the very best of the 2013 Hopes week players ; eleven year old Amin AHMADIAN go to work. Fantastic skill set – unbelievable drive and fighting spirit.
Best of all the Hopes in the venue – in relation to relative skill – at least in training, is the (also) 11 year old Crystal WANG from the deep gold mines of the Maryland Table Tennis Center in the USA. With her – the sky is the limit. “I am training seven times a week said Crystal when I caught her in the hotel lobby early in the week. “Three of the sessions are with private coaches/ sparring partners. One is left –handed, one is defensive player and one is a pen-holder. The remaining times I join some group sessions and practice / play with the other players in the center”
No wonder – the perfect technique – the touch and the calm composure that this young USA shooting star is showing us in training. I beg you Crystal; Save us from predictability . Spread your wings and fly as far as you can!
Other positive effects must be highlighted; We have INSPIRED young talents; We are EDUCATING coaches, parents, National Associations and in fact ourselves (be it top WSA coaches or ITTF officers) on the reality factors of our sport. I also love the way this program is driving, raising the level of AMBITION-S out there in the wonderful world of table tennis.
In 2013 – the ITTF is investing close to 200, 000 US dollars in the Hopes programme. We have truly expanded the operations by tying together programs and budget allocations in the ITTF development and education sector. This is a strong commitment also in relation to other projects included in the ITTF Global Junior Programme.
Worth it or not? Too young age? – What will happen when they go back home? Can overloaded National Associations with limited or some cases no budget follow up properly? Are National Associations grasping this opportunity? Is the fifth P, as in Promotion shining in clear daylight..?
Many questions – No answers just yet. But if something happens – something really interesting down the road, like the many US talents breaking the cycle of non-commitment to world level table tennis after the age of 16 or when we have a world champion from Brazil, USA. Iran, Egypt or why not Finland emerging. Give me a call will you, and I will be there watching it dressed in my Hopes shirt. That’s a promise.