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Thinking big – A Table Tennis journey

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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 suburbs 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 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 professional 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 of 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. Desire: Having coached thousands of players over the years, I noticed one key aspect which set good TT players apart from the not so good ones. The ones 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. Good Facilities and Coaching: You will need regular access to an equipped facility with a coaching staff.

3. Continuity: Unfortunately 80/90% of players quit/stop playing at 17/18 years old because of: money, studies, work, companionship, and lack of vision. I read somewhere that “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 above 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!

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