Owen Kelly hosted a two-day training camp in Goleen over the weekend 13-14th July with guest coach Hu Wei Xin. Here is his report...
What a weekend down in West Cork! While matters of importance surrounding the I.T.T.A. were being discussed at the AGM by the powers that be up in Dublin there was not stopping the West Cork training camp. Hu Wei Xin was in town (village) and you could feel the anticipation in the air as the players arrived good and early on the first day. What was this table tennis legend going to be like? Scare stories over just how physically hard were the two days going to be appeared to haunt a few of the players but instead of a fierce Chinese dragon spitting fire and flames Hu Wei Xin smiled, outlined and demonstrated what he considered to be the three most important elements to the sport and away we went.
Hu outlined the weekend’s program to me on the Friday before as he took in the hall and had a quick look at some of the players who were staying down and who arrived on Friday evening. He said that the main difference between coaching in China and coaching in Europe was:
“In China we have 4 or 5 drills and we do all the time, again, again, again. In Europe you have 100 different and you change all the time. I live in Sweden for 26 years I have increased I now have 7 or 8 drills.”
His formula for the camp was a basic two hours work, two hours rest throughout the day. I had at first thought that the players would get bored by the long breaks but there was no evidence of that as they chatted and got to know each other on a walk down to the village for ice cream or by kicking a ball around on the pitch outside. The level of intensity in the hall on the first session was impressive and with simple instruction the players worked on body position (lower), table position (away) and timing (slightly in front) with Hu, Conn and myself circulating round the hall trying to help players adjust, move their feet into position and encourage their work rate.
Hu chose some of the players for multi-ball drills in one corner while Conn worked multi-ball with another group. Having two such experienced coaches working together in tandem like that was exhilarating. There was so little time wasted with short explanations, reinforcement of the coaching points, demonstration and on to the next drill. The intensity of the second session was just as high with players refreshed and raring to go for the second session, all the players were in the hall ahead of time and ready. More of the same, an example of Hu’s limited number of drills but with the players focused and working hard which at the end of the day as a coach that is what you want to see.
After dinner the evening session began and this was dedicated to service and return. With the serve it was emphasising the use of wrist, forearm, shoulder and core together and just four types of return, short touch, flick, long dig and half long. The drills were simple with serve and return and later on just serve. With three coaches in the hall we were able to work with every player and the players had plenty of time to practice. The session finished at 8 o’clock and all I heard was excited chatter and the expectation of more for the following day. As the day had progressed Hu became more relaxed and a number of the players engaged him in conversation, Hu chatted to James and Dylan about one of his players Michael Maze and the problems he was having with injury.
For Day Two, the vast majority of the players were again in the hall early before Hu arrived, warmed-up and eager to get going. Hu asked me to outline the program for the day and in his words, “We do more the same, but different.” After talking to Hu the previous evening I urged the players to ask Hu if they had anything they wanted to work on or if they didn’t understand something, not to just nod and say nothing and it was great to see some of the players begin to open up and engage with all the coaches more especially the older ones.
A former player of mine who is helping Tony Higgins out while he is Tralee studying sports management Brian Crowley came for the morning session and was a great help keeping the younger ones focused but I don’t think it was a hard job as once again the intensity of training in the hall rose a notch. Movement, getting lower, correct table position, timing in front of the body, the same points repeated but with more emphasis on weight moving forward driving the ball. A few of the “choppers” started swinging the bat and once again Hu was there to encourage, to motivate and to adjust. Never a negative comment, never a put down, up beat and keep the players happy, we revisited the service and it was brought into the drills and later on we had a “half high” drive session.
The last session of the day was given over to tactical work and gave Hu a chance to address some of the implementation of the skills and to see if players were willing to put what they learnt into action. The end of the day saw an impromptu doubles session asked for by the kids themselves, siblings, club mates and new friends took on the challenge for fun but the competition was still intense on many of the tables. I was sad to see such a great group of players depart but very pleased to be able to sit back and relax a bit. Tony Higgins took photos for each of the players with a very patient Hu Wei Xin and with a minimal cost we raised €185 for the new Munster Participation Program to spread the word and introduce the sport to even more kids around Munster.
Later that evening Hu, Conn and I reviewed the weekend and we were all agreed that the players had worked very hard and we hoped they would be well rewarded for their efforts. Personally I think there was a great atmosphere in the hall not just from the players but it included the parents and coaches and even a couple of curious local spectators! I asked Hu what was his impression of Goleen and he asked me how much it would cost to hire the hall as he felt it would be a great place to bring either the Swedish or Danish National Team for training! I asked him if he was serious “Of course, the facility is very good, you have clean air, good food and a beautiful view, we went to Monaco and it was ok, I think here would be better.” Now just imagine that ;)
Thanks to all the clubs, parents coaches and players from Munster and beyond for your help and support, see you all again soon.
Click any image to enlarge
Hu Wei Xin is a former Chinese International player and National Coach, and now coaches the Danish National Team including Michael Maze.
In China we have 4 or 5 drills and we do all the time, again, again, again.
Google "Ping-pong Diplomacy"! An interesting story in the history of table tennis and Hu Wei Xing was one of the Chinese players who shook President Nixon's hand on the White House Lawn!