From The Great Wall to a Great Hall

hu

I know I have already written about the upcoming visit of Hu Wei Xin but I can’t stop thinking about it! I first met him in Malmö over 10 years ago and never imagined we would get him to come to our little corner of the world. As a fan I am obviously impressed by the big names in our sport Waldner, Persson, Wang Hao etc. coaches behind these great players often get very little recognition, however as a coach these have to be the role models for me and when you have a former European Champion in the guise of Michael Maze saying

“Hu is one of the best coaches out there. He knows everything about table tennis and was one of the best players in China. He has also successfully worked there as a coach. Another advantage is that he has lived a long time in Europe and our mentality knows well. “

Then you have to sit up and listen.

Hu became the Danish National Coach in 2007 and is it only a coincidence that Michael Maze surprised many when he became European Champion in 2009 and the Danish Team took a Silver medal in the same Championships? At the next event Denmark were on the podium again with a Silver in the men’s doubles.

Hu Wei Xin’s history goes back to his time in China, he comes from Xianjin and he was among the top ten in China and was one of the players who in the 1970s, visited the White House in Washington in the years of the ping-pong diplomacy.

For those of you who do not know about “Ping Pong Diplomacy” it was during the time of the “Chinese Communist Threat” and the “Bamboo Curtain.” China had had a revolution and Chairman Moa Zedong was the head of state. China was a secretive country cut off from a large part of the World. There was the Vietnam War and the US and China were on very different sides of the conflict. The “Red Threat” was a major part of the US psyche and China had virtually no involvement in international sport.

A group of American Table Tennis players were invited to come to China after meeting the Chinese Team when American player Glenn Cowan “accidentally” missed his bus and got a lift with them. As they crossed the bridge into China, the first official visit by a group of Americans since 1949, no one had any idea what would happen but the first tentative steps of “ping pong diplomacy” had begun.
7 months later President Nixon arrived on Chinese soil and it became one of the most important events in U.S. post-war history. “Never before in history has a sport been used so effectively as a tool of international diplomacy,” said Chinese Premier Chou En-lai. For Nixon, it was “the week that changed the world,” and for a brief moment table tennis became the most important sport in the world.

The Chinese Delegation
The Chinese Delegation

Two months later in April a Pan Am 707 landed in Detroit, Michigan, carrying the People’s Republic of China’s world champion table tennis team for a series of matches and tours in ten cities around the United States. Hu Wei Xin stepped off that plane and went on to shake President Richard Nixon’s hand in the Rose Garden at the Whitehouse.

Chinese Team with President Nixon
Chinese Team with President Nixon

After his playing career, he went first as a coach to Nigeria before he returned to his homeland and from 1984 to 1989 was the National Coach in China with some of the greats of that era. China dominated the world of table tennis winning all but a couple of medals at the World Team and Individual Championships and players included the likes of Jiang Jialiang &Wang Hao.

Persson, Lindh, and Waldner
Persson, Lindh, and Waldner

In 1989 Hu Wei Xin left China and arrived in Sweden, the same year that the table tennis World saw the dawning of a new era as it was Sweden who the World Team title for the first time and with Waldner taking Gold and Persson Silver in the individuals.

Persson describes Hu Wei Xin as one of his major influences and he went onto make a major impact in Sweden leading the Malmö club to seven Swedish championships. He has worked with both Swedish and Danish players and in 2007 became the Danish National Coach. He is described by Peter Sartz another of the world’s best coaches as

Peter Sartz
Peter Sartz

“one of the best coaches in the market Hu has a tremendous competence on all facets of table tennis.”

I have no idea if a two day session will make a major improvement to our players but I personally hope to gleam as much information as I possibly can. As Ireland sits at No.72 in the Men’s world rankings and No.107 in the Women’s I think we need to take a long hard look at ourselves. Countries like Scotland are over 20 places above in the men’s event and 33 places in the women’s while we sit dead last.

Doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results is the definition of insanity. Table Tennis is a sport that is forever evolving. If you look at the history of the sport you can plainly see that innovation works, that requires new thinking and new ideas. We need to assess where we are and come up with a co-ordinated plan; a plan that everyone is aware of and with clear goals and timescale. Then if we do not reach those targets we review and re-plan. Many say it is just a funding issue but we can’t just say to the government “give us more money,” when they can see no real return for their investment. If our sport was more in the public eye as in soccer or rugby, we would have to change things because of public pressure; people would know what was going on and demand that things be improved. Being a minority sport does not mean that we should accept poor governance and accept second best. We need imagination, innovation, ambition and a clear understanding that if something isn’t working we change it for something that does, we should not settle for mediocrity.

Coach education is a fundamental aspect of our sport. We can continue to invest in our players but when there is minimal return we need to look at the structure that is developing these players. No coach wants to hear they are not good enough to produce players of high quality but simply we are not and in order to do so we have to learn the reasons why. I have heard that Irish players lack the work ethic and ambition, however a few years ago when I asked the then Irish Coaching Director to give me some input on the idea of creating a pathway towards representing Ireland at the Olympics I was greeted with laughter then scorn and told that I was being “unrealistic.” Maybe as unrealistic as a small club at the furthest edge of this island producing an Irish National Champion?

Irish Primary Schools win Gold
Irish Primary Schools win Gold

So how are we going to improve our coaching in this country? Well I think the first step in dealing with denial is for us to accept that we have a problem, the second is to come up with a solution. Investment in coach education reaps short and long term benefits and every player under the tutelage of that coach benefits, investment in a player simply does not go so far. We should be providing our coaches with more coaching experience, more education and more opportunities to learn from the best. Some might say we have a coaching ladder and there have been coach education opportunities but the coaching ladder is ineffective without following up and providing support for the coaches on the ground and in regards to the education opportunities there are simply not enough and of high enough quality. If it helps people get over it I will concede attempts have been made and in the same way my players get credit for trying but we know trying isn’t really enough if you want to be the best, hard work, planning and discipline are the key factors along with ability and talent.

We have no national academy or training centre, no real national league, we host no international events, if we can’t afford to go to events then let us invite players over to Ireland and I don’t mean just the Munster Open maybe our own international youth cup. I believe investing in the development of one player is a dead end, let’s invest in the future, let’s invest in the coaches, those that go out every day or every week into the clubs and schools and pass on their knowledge and experience and let’s improve that knowledge and experience.

Goleen TTC
Goleen TTC

Hu Wei Xin is coming to Ireland for the first time, invited by a small club in the south west of Ireland, when he steps off that plane 44 years after stepping off a plane at Detroit Airport he will be greeted by a club started 25 years ago and now with a modern facility with 14 tables, 3 robots, electronic score boards and all the equipment you could want from a club or national centre along with catering facilities and meeting rooms. All built up without funding from the NGB and based in the most south westerly point of Europe in a village with a population of approximately 400, the club is also the furthest club from the Irish capital Dublin. Club players recently traveled to Belgium for the IYC and players have regularly attended training camps and other competitions abroad to gain valuable experience. I maybe blowing our trumpet a little too hard but I think I am rightly proud of what we have achieved here with the support of our local community.

Our pride and independence is a source of our strength.

24 players will take part in the two day camp, two ITTA level 3 Coaches and Tutors assisting and a number of other club coaches will also be attending to observe. Each of the active clubs in Munster were invited to send players and coaches as West Cork’s contribution towards the province’s 2015/2016 participation & performance development programmes. Players will travel from as far apart as Tralee (141km), Cloughjordan (275km) & Cork (100km) and even outside of Munster from Mountrath (290km). I hope they find the weekend worthwhile and go away with new ideas and improved skill. I hope the coaches leave with an even better understanding of what it takes to be the best at our sport. Now that’s a lot of expectation!

Sources:

  • Smithsonian
  • Dankst Bord Tennis Union
  • Deutscher Tischtennis Bund
  • jpersson.se
  • ITTF Team Rankings
  • Wikipedia

One thought on “From The Great Wall to a Great Hall

  1. Great blog Owen, completely agree with what you said. Let’s spend our funding on all not just two or three players who at the age of 17 will quit due to burn out and lack of opportunity.

    You are right to be proud of what Goleen has achieved, it’s a great achievement.

    Keep the blog going, I enjoy reading from across the pond

    Like

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