India has the potential to be the world's best in table tennis, says Japanese head coach
- Tasei Kunihito spoke about the rise of Japan in table tennis and how it trains its youngsters to compete at the top level.
What’s the story?
Over the last few days, New Delhi has been witness to some of the world’s best table tennis action with the ongoing Seamaster ITTF World Tour India Open being held at the Thyagraj Stadium.
The Indian challenge has been led by Sharath Achanta Kamal, as has been the case for so many years now, who is the lone Indian left in the main draw and has reached the semi-finals of the men’s singles.
Some of the biggest names in the sport from across the globe are competing, which include a strong Japanese contingent as well. Japan are one of the leading nations in table tennis, having won three medals at last year’s Olympic Games in Rio. Leading the senior team is 35-year-old Tasei Kunihito, who is a former player and is now coaching the senior members as well as youngsters above 15.
In a chat with Sportskeeda, he explained how the Japanese system of identifying and rearing talent functions and how the government is supporting the athletes to fulfil their potential, keeping in mind that Tokyo will be hosting the next Olympics in 2020. He also spoke about the players in India, who he said are at par with the rest of the world in terms of quality.
“If the system is set straight and a keen interest in developed among the people about table tennis, there is no stopping India from becoming the world’s best in the sport. The number of players is huge here and if the authorities can capitalise on it, we can see them reach the top level,” said Kunihito.
He admitted that it is a long and arduous process, but if done correctly, it can put Indian players at par with the rest of the TT superpowers.
In case you didn’t know...
After baseball and football, table tennis is the third most popular sport in Japan, according to Kunihito. It is one of the leading countries in the sport and won three medals at Rio – Jun Mizutani’s bronze in the men’s singles, silver in the men’s team and another bronze in the women’s team event.
At the Seamaster India Open, there are two Japanese semi-finalists in the men’s singles and one team in the final of the men’s doubles. The U-21 singles events were swept by Japanese players as well, as Asuka Sakai and Mori Sakura won the men’s and women’s categories respectively.
The heart of the matter
Prior to London 2012, Japan had never won a single medal at the Olympics since the sport was included at the Games in 1988. But now, it is a real force to reckon with, mostly in thanks to the infrastructure and system provided by the Japanese government in order to identify and train young talent.
Starting at the district level of competition, players with potential are identified and the top ones are sent to the Olympic Center in Tokyo. The centre was set up by the Government in 2002 and is used as an elite academy and has athletes from a variety of sports playing and staying at the same place.
While China has received a lot of flak for the way it trains its juniors for mega-events such as the Olympics, Kunihito stated that in Japan, equal emphasis is placed on studies and all-round development of the young kids. Juniors as young as 10 years old are sent to exposure camps in China and Taiwan every year. They are made to train with senior pros as well, where winning and losing is immaterial, and this provides invaluable experience to the youngsters.
The nation is ranked third and second in the official ITTF men’s and women’s team ranking and is continuing to make rapid strides in the table tennis world. At the India Open, Japanese players have produced great results and with the finals on Sunday, they will be looking to pick up more silverware.
The Japanese model of identifying and training young talent is quite fascinating and effective, with the results there for everyone to see. We should take a long and hard look at the system in India and look to adopt similar practices as well. After all, we have the potential to become the best in the world according to Kunihito and we should look to make the most of it.Published 18 Feb 2017, 21:26 IST