Masaaki Tajima, Coach for U.S. Junior Boys Team
I started coaching about 30 years ago as a necessity to recruit and retain new players for the club. I got more serious about coaching when demands increased and new responsibilities came up. I gradually changed from a career in the hospitality industry to full time coaching and currently operate the Sunset Table Tennis Club in San Francisco I founded in 1988.
Here are my answers and opinions to the three questions:
What, in your opinion, is needed for the USA team to someday compete with the best teams in the world?
Given USATT’s limited resources, what do you think the priorities should be at this time so that the USA team can someday become among the best in the world?
I’ll combine the first two questions since they are related.
These questions been asked many times, even before my time and the answer have been pretty much the same; grassroots, clubs, schools, leagues, marketing, get it on TV, good management, leadership, run it like a business, etc. But I believe it is more complex and difficult for us to get there because of the nature of our sport.
The format here is too short for me to fully explain the nature of our sport, our “product”, but briefly, I don’t believe, now or in my lifetime, we will be able to compete with the best in the world until we have one mind so we can focus on the details of how best to implement these priorities. And our priorities should be to set the conditions for exciting environment that is attractive to talented kids because without talent pool to work with, no amount of clubs, leagues, training centers and good coaching is going to get us there.
The immediate priority at this time is for us to have a stable organization so that important long-term programs that are going to set the foundation for our infrastructure will not be disrupted. We need to have one mind, one goal and be on the same path. Our meager resources and energies are wasted on legal battles, in fighting and self-interest agendas when we should be directing our energies to developing our athletes. We need to get our house in order before we can go out to conquer the world.
While we are trying to get our house in order, because I don’t think, like death and taxes, politics is a reality that’s not going to disappear, our priorities should be to increase the number of players and membership in this country. We are still in the grassroots building stage; with only about 300 clubs, no real professional leagues, no high level training centers, just a hand full of professional coaches, not in primary and secondary schools where we can tap into talented kids before they commit to other activities, just starting to get into colleges and we have unacceptable attrition rate. For us to some day compete with the best in the world, we need to improve all of the above.
Broadly, the answer should be simple. Run it like a business. If you have a good idea, then plan it, organize it, staff it, implement it and follow-up on it to make it better. But in the real world, its lot more complex to succeed in any business venture. The failure rate for new business is 90% by the first two years and the rest is mostly in survival mode. Our sport is just as complex as any other venture trying to succeed, but also, our “product” is a hard sell.
For USA players, how would you compare overseas training in Asia (generally more intense training) versus Europe (generally more competitions such as leagues)?
I see fundamental philosophical difference between Asia and Europe. Asia seems to train to win while Europe train to play. I don’t think it’s a question of is one better than the other, but of circumstance and goals. China, the dominating country that leads Asian training methods, historically needs to win because of what table tennis represents to them. Europe on the other hand, doesn’t have this need because they are more socially individualistic. As an example, if you ask an Asian worker what he does, he’ll say he works for this or that company whereas you ask a Westerner, he’ll state his position within the company.
For us, we are “Western” or European culturally, but in our sport, half the players are Asian bringing with them their culture. I see this, as a positive balance because we are big enough geographically and demographically to employ both methods and ideology, to develop different styles, that to me is more interesting. We are located between Asia and Europe, able to go in both directions, influenced by both and eventually, able to compete with the best in the world.