I have been fortunate to have table tennis as my profession for 43 years and counting. It is a long time, but for me it doesn’t seem long. I love my work. I stopped playing in 1985 and immediately began coaching in the German Bundes League. I have been playing and coaching all over the world. My students have been some of the best players in the world.
Five and a half years ago I moved to the US and these are my observations.
Table tennis coaching in the U.S. doesn’t look like anything else in the world. In all the other countries I have worked in, the National teams practice together and help each other improve. This isn’t the case in America. The National coaches have very little hands-on time to train the players directly. The teams rarely have joint training sessions where the players can challenge each other and work together. In my opinion, this must change if the U.S. wants to be a factor on the world stage. There are places and clubs that have a great program but that isn’t enough to prepare the players for international competition.
The National team coaches don’t spend enough time with the players in the training hall, so it is hard for them to coach their players effectively in a match. Confidence must be built for there to be 100 percent trust between the coach and player during the important stages of a match.
These flaws are apparent in every US National team, from the Disabled/Men’s/Women’s all the way down to Junior and Cadet teams.
America has a lot of talent all over the country, but unfortunately generation after generation is wasted. I know that school is important and that parents want their children to have a good education. The rest of the world has customized sports-and-education programs that accommodate students to get good grades and yet still stay competitive in table tennis. A high school/college that provides both excellent education and coaching should be a realistic goal.
As it stands, it is the passion and love of the sport of individual people who help players’ progress. A structural foundation must be established for American players to operate from, where they can form strong united teams with the ability to succeed internationally. Healthy domestic competition is essential to prepare the player for the hard environment that is the international stage.
My suggestion is that national coaches come together with the players’ personal coaches for joint practice camps. In the US there are a lot of good sparring partners to use for these camps. This will also help with the team building that is so important for the players to perform at their peak when it really counts.
I can tell that during my last season in the Swedish National team we spent more than 150 days in intense training camps. That year was the start for the fantastic generation of great players such as J.O. Waldner, Jörgen Persson, Mikael Appelgren, Peter Karlsson, Erik Lind, Ulf Carlsson etc.
I hope this article can be used to discuss a beginning for something new in US table tennis.