by Ian Marshall, ITTF Publications Editor
Memorably Werner Schlager won the Men’s Singles title at the Liebherr 2003 World Championships in Paris, one year later Ryu Seungmin was crowned Olympic champion in Athens, whilst in 2005 in Liège, Timo Boll beat Wang Liqin, Ma Lin and Wang Hao one after each other to win the Liebherr Men’s World Cup.
Thus it is possible and one young man who believes it is possible is England’s Eli Baraty.
On Tuesday 15th November Sport Magazine published his views
Can China’s table tennis team be beaten?
One of England’s best young table tennis coaches says so, and believes that he has the recipe for success
Every 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 Jörgen Persson in 1991 and 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 now
Currently 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 trend
Away 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.
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