(By Barbara Wei)
2018 Butterfly Canada Cup Finals: Setting Up for Future Success
Young talents are center stage at the 2018 Butterfly Canada Cup Finals – where the average age is less than 20 years old for the final round robin qualifiers in both the Men’s and Women’s Singles events. With growing interest in the sport from both a grassroots and professional level, Tony Kiesenhofer, CEO of Table Tennis Canada, has his organization focusing its energy on developing the next generation of table tennis professionals from its current pool of talented juniors. The Canadian organization has taken a three step approach to ensuring the accomplishments of its juniors translates to success on the global stage.
The first step is to reward players who are committed to the sport long-term in addition to those who have the most exceptional results. Canadian players earn points throughout the year based on their international ranking and Canadian national competition finishes. Two spots on each major international event (e.g. Commonwealth, World Championships, etc.) are decided directly based on points with the final 2-3 positions chosen by the national team coaches who not only evaluate points but also the player’s training activity and recent improvements. In this way, the most committed players in the sport are motivated to improve and aim to reach the highest levels.
In addition to the selection procedures, high-level juniors participate frequently in group training sessions sponsored by the national training centers either in Toronto or Vancouver. The goal of these frequent camps is to shift players away from private coaching towards group training – the format long-used by the most successful table tennis programs in the world (European clubs, Asian training centers). Group training provides many benefits: more variation in training shots, mental toughness in practice matches, and most importantly a sense of community over competition. Group training makes every participant stronger – as proven again and again – not only by successful table tennis countries but in other sports as well.
Finally, at the grassroots level, “Aerobic Table Tennis” has taken off in Canada. Imagine a fitness program designed to teach table tennis footwork and shadow stroke basics to people of all ages for exercise purposes only – the “Zumba” of table tennis one could say. This wide reaching and easily accessible program has not only driven some casual participants to train more professionally, but also increased the interest in professional table tennis.
TT Canada’s commitment towards junior development, group training and grassroots efforts set the stage for the growth of the sport for years to come. Plans are already in place to create paid professional league positions (similar to Europe & Asia) for North America’s best competitors. With the framework in place, Kiesenhofer and the rest of Table Tennis Canada can look forward to high level success in the future.