(By Sally Moyland)
If you’ve been reading my articles, you would know that I just finished the Pan American Youth Championships in September, 2021 at Santo Domingo. Since the USA team made it, I had a chance to go to Portugal and play the World Youth Championships. At around a month to go, all the players got notice that there would be a training camp held in Houston right before the World Youth tournament. Why? Well, for three simple reasons. 1. The Houston World Championships took place just before the World Youth tournament. 2. Our head coach and a few players of our youth team were participating in the World Championships tournament. 3. It was the easier way of gathering all players from across the country so that we could all leave for Portugal together.
The first flight of this two week trip was on Tuesday, November the 23rd. Take-off was at around 11am. Houston was our destination, about four hours away from SFO. So, plus the two hour time difference, we landed at about 4pm Houston local time. One of the parents helped to come and get us from the airport. “Us” was only three kids, including myself. The girls’ youth team had seven people. Three participated in the World Championships, and one decided not to join the camp but to compete in a tournament held on the east coast. So, three of us in transit. The parent that was coming to get us seemed to have hit traffic on the way. We ended up leaving the airport one and a half hours after arrival. For the next 40 minutes, we sang and slept on the way to dinner.
Dinner was at a fellow player’s house. We were quite astonished at the moment of arrival. The first thing I’m sure everyone noticed was that not just their house, but every house in the neighborhood was huge. They probably weren’t mansions, but they sure weren’t California sized.
Making our way in, we got quite the welcome. Coming right at us, the largest dog I’ve seen in my life. He was really big. Having fur of light yellow, Ray (the big dog) was super cute. Fun story, he managed to steal a muffin from my bag while I was at dinner.
Dinner was mostly Chinese food, except for a small pizza in the middle. The parents explained that it was a back-up in case any of us didn’t like Chinese food. After the quick meal, we all went to chill upstairs. There was an unfinished puzzle that caught my eye, so for the next hour or two I sat there working on it. Others were having a good time on various things, such as soap operas, crocheting, and playing the guitar. With two more added to the kid count (one the owner’s daughter and one a guest), the five of us spent almost three hours together there.
We headed off to our hotel at 9pm to meet up with our head coach. She helped us get checked in, escorted us up to our room, then headed back to the competition hotel. It was three of us in one room, but there were only two beds. The third was a sofa bed. We made a mini-draw to see who would have to get the sofa bed. I ended up losing the draw, so the sofa bed was mine.
It was around 7:40 AM in the morning on our first day of training camp. Training started at 9 AM, but the car to pick us up would be at the door 8:30 AM. So, no time to waste. After packing, we went straight down for breakfast and then off to practice. Our training camp took place at a local table tennis club. As I recall, the floor was carpeted with professional blue matting. There were two full rows of tables that were spaced out nicely. My first impression of the place was very positive…..until I needed to use the restroom. It was as if there were a glitch in the blueprint for the bathroom door. Never could it close smoothly. A hard slam was the best way we had. On the third day or so, one of our teammates shared her trick – pulling the handle toward the hinges instead of straight back. Props to her cause that trick made life so much easier. Overall, the place was still really nice.
Since the rest of the youth team still had matches to play at the World Championships, we had a substitute coach. She was a former Olympian, and had represented USA table tennis in the latest 2020 Tokyo Olympics.
The first day had both morning and afternoon practice sessions. Afternoon practice ran to 4pm. By the time we left, it was already quite far into the evening, so we only managed to take a small peek at the competition hall. Table 1 had its own stadium, separated from the other eight. Tables 2-9 were located in a large hall, and right beside it was the training hall/warm-up section. All tables were professionally laid out with matting and large space. Also, each competition table was recorded. Table 2, as the only exception out of the eight, had a live stream and cameramen working to record the players from different angles.
Table 1 had the spotlight as the stands were all around it, but the stands didn’t have any lights. It was a dark audience. Players would walk in onto a stage while the host would be giving a brief background of them. I thought that to be pretty cool, maybe even a little fancy. But mostly cool. Also, further up the walls on each side of the stage was a large TV screen. It would show the match, as well as give instant replays of most points. We did get to check out the entire facility, but we didn’t get to stay for many matches. We left at a good time and managed to get to bed by 10pm.
Unlike the first day of practice, on the second day we didn’t have any afternoon practice. After morning practice, we all headed to the World Championships arena in downtown Houston. We sat down in the main hallway to wait for other teammates. During this time, we bumped into the USA adults team as well as a few players Puerto Rico and Brazil. We took some pictures and had a brief chat.
Once all youth team members were gathered, we headed in. This time, we watched bunches of matches. I also started to take pictures and get signatures from the world class players. We went home late that night, since everyone wanted to watch the later matches. Even with the late hour, I still tried to give myself some relaxation time before stepping into dreamland.
Only for the first two days did we have a substitute coach. From the third day on, either our head coach or our team captain would be there. The rest of the training camp was practice, then heading off to watch the tournament where I would take pictures and get more pro-player signatures.
For myself, I wasn’t in the best shape ever. My strokes were stiff and I didn’t have any good feeling, especially for serves. Maybe because of the flight and the lack of practice time during the training camp. Yes, the quality wasn’t bad, but the quantity just wasn’t there. On average, we only practiced one group session a day, not to mention the days that there wasn’t any training. I started to become quite worried. It was fun to watch the World Championships and everything, but I did have a competition coming up, too. I thought about the situation. Then concluded that I couldn’t do more than focus on the time I had and go with whatever was to come. Accepting that I might not have played well and that I quite definitely could’ve lost all my matches…
During the last few days in Houston, a few things did come up. Firstly, our youth team got a chance to do a morning practice in the World Championships training hall. To have a practice session next world class players was quite the fascinating experience. Quite nerve wracking as well. After that, as you might’ve guessed, we went off to watch more matches.
Due to the playing more than practicing situation, I started getting spacey. Usually, and especially on trips with the team, I don’t lose stuff. But, with a wandering mind, I managed to misplace my shoes and a part of my signature ball collection. Turns out I did lose the signatures, but I was lucky enough to get most of them again on the very last day. As for my shoes, I gave up on them. I’d searched everywhere. When the time came to check out, I closed my luggage and to my very great surprise, found my shoes underneath the lid. It was definitely a very big SERIOUSLY?! Moment for all that worry, but definitely better to have them than not.
Packing and checkout was definitely the very most hectic time of the week. Because time wasn’t budgeted well, a lot of my stuff was shoved in. I had socks that weren’t dry…Ugh, they were destined to be super stinky in Portugal. Anyhow, after racing with time, we were finally on our way to the airport.
The next flight coming was the one to Frankfurt. We would then transfer to Portugal and get ready for World Youth. In total, this trip was two weeks, one training camp and one competition. That’s all for now. I will catch up with what happened in Portugal in my next article. Till then, see you!
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