2014 ITTF World Hopes Week & Challenge

Jun 2014, Otocec, Slovania

Owen Cathcart from Ormeau Table Tennis recently returned from representing Ireland at the International Table Tennis Federation world hopes camp in Otocec Slovenia. The best players from across the world born in the years 2002/2003 gathered to the Hopes Challenge that involved four days training followed by a three day tournament. 
Day 1 
Opening day of the ITTF Hopes began with a brief talk about the camp hopes and ambitions for the players followed by an introduction to the coaching team led by Eva Jeler and Dejan Papic both well-known and highly regarded coaches. First exercise for the day was some physical training with current Slovenian national champion which consisted of some warming up exercises followed by coordination and stretching.
Second part of the training was on technical training with Coach Peter Teglas which involved the players playing consistently “Keeping ball on table” for over one hour with sole focus on correcting technique and for players to play with focus and 70/80% pace. Owen in this session trained with the rising young star from Panama doing regular drills and routines to his highest ability and receiving positive feedback throughout from Peter.
Final session of the day was with Croatian Tamara Boros (renowned for her serve) which as you guessed it involved serve and receive. From the general feel of the camp there seemed to be massive focus on basic technique and this was shown in service by Tamara. Owen was able to mix it with the best as he showed a good range of spin serves both short and long.
Day 2
The second day of the hopes involved a mixture of physical training, classical training and multiball training over the course of 6 hours. Owen started the day with physical training with Miran Kondric, who works at the Faculty of Sports in Ljubljana and also personal trainer for Slovenia’s top senior Bojan Tokic. The physical training was very interesting from a coaches prospective as it involved many small exercises that concentrated on coordination and fast short movements which were both fun and effective. Miran would stress that this physical conditioning for the ages of 10-12 years must be enjoyable and always changing so the players would not get bored easily. 
Later in the day Owen got a fantastic opportunity to work with Zhang Jike’s personal coach, Xiao Zhan with former World no. 2 with Zoran Primorac by his side to assist the 45 minute multiball session. The session involved a lot of work on basic technique with Xiao suggesting a few tweaks on both forehand and backhand topspin which was taken on board by the young kid from Belfast with open ears. It was very easy to see that this coach from China was very enthusiastic with his teaching and he brought a massive presence of knowledge and hard work. 
Day 3 
Back down to the hall for the third days training again under the direction of Eva Jeler which was a repeat of the first day with session with morning training consisting of physical conditioning, technique training and service training. In this session Owen came under the watchful eye of Coach Dejan Papic whom was genuinely impressed with his level of skill and technique but pointing out a few crucial tips regarding Owens movement. Overall another very good morning session with all the players taking lots of knowledge and experience. 
Afternoon session began with “Keeping the ball” exercises with again 70/80% speed so the players could gain consistency and build reputation within their games. These “Keeping the ball” exercises are very important for young players under the age of 12 explained the coach Eva Jeller; why? Because with consistent play comes good opportunity to play good technique in a repetitive manner. 
The final two hours of the training consisted of a small mini tournament starting matches from 8-8 and best of 9 games. This tournament was intended that the players will learn to play from important situations in the match and to make the correct decisions under pressure. Owen made a good account taking some good wins and eventually losing to a Mexican player who finished 3rd in this competition.
Day 4
The final day of training again followed a similar routine to the previous day with an additional free session in the afternoon that gave the players coach some time with their players and work on specific routines. 
Team Ireland decided to pair up with Czech team with Owen training with No.3 seed Thomas Martinko. The players were under the coaches guidance and worked specifically on service and receive of service which would prove vital if Owen was to win matches in the team and singles event. 
Team event
Friday began with the ITTF Hopes team tournament which seen Owen partner with Emilija from Lithuania. Team Ireland/Lithuania were drawn in a tough group with Sweden, Czech Republic and Panama. First match was against Czech Republic which Owen started brilliant with his best win of the challenge; over their number one ranked boy (No.3 Seed) Thomas Martinko winning 3-1. Next up was Emilija who lost a nervy game to take the match to the deciding doubles which eventually was lost 3-1. 
Next match was against the strong Swedish team with Owen playing against Martin Friss who was the eventual singles winner. Owen played well in this match but Martin proved just too strong and winning 3-0. Next game seen Emilija level the match with a win against the Swedish girl leaving the game 1-1 with just the mixed doubles to go which again proved to be very competitive with Sweden just edging it 3-1. 
Final match of the team event for Ireland/Lithuania was against a team from Panama/Peru with Owen taking on the talented Jacobo Vahnish from Panama who showed great flair and style during the training sessions. Owen again was up against it with Jacobo using aggressive attack on 3rd ball but Owen being able to stay right with him in every set showing that there was little between both players. Owen eventually lost this game 3-0 but the score did not do justice for the match which seen great flair on attack and service from young Cathcart. Emilija played the next game against Peru’s Alessandra Cisneros who was just too strong for her and eventually lost 3-1 and therefore team Ireland/Lithanuia lost overall game 2-0 and therefore not entering the knockout stages. 
Singles Event
Group Matches 
Sunday began with Owen playing the group stages of the singles event which consisted of four groups with six players and the top four from each group advancing to the last 16. Owen started the group with and excellent win over the Algerian No.1 who won many good matches in the previous day team event. Owen proved in this match that we was able to keep his focus and deliver a very strong 3-0 performance playing with great spin in both wings and also implementing a variation of strong services. Next Owen played the No.2 seed from Singapore and No.1 Canadian boy who both proved very strong opposition for the Ormeau player whom eventually lost 3-0 and 3-1. Next match in Owen’s group against the No.1 from Thailand would be very important as he needed to win this to have a chance to finish 3rd got off to a slow start going 2-0 down and in real trouble but knowing Owen and seeing him progress both mentally and physically over the previous season he was not giving up on this match and came back with brave attacking flair to win the game 3-2!
Final matches in the group stage were against the Latvian No.1 and Slovenian No.2 who posed no real problem for the Ormeau man and took the matches 3-0 and 3-1. The draw for the last 16 was made and Owen was up against the huge serving Hungarian kid Oliver, both who was coached by ITTF coach Peter Teglas. This was certainly one of Owens best matches which seen him give everything and play some of his best table tennis to date but unfortunately this was not enough and he lost 3-2. Owen was very disappointed but took the defeat in a positive manner and using it to help him with the 9-16 play off matches. 
In the playoffs Owen set a target to achieve a top 10 position but in his way was strong opposition from Egypt, Sri Lanka and Hong Kong. Owen started very well with two good wins over the players from Hong Kong and Sri Lanka which set him up for 9/10th place in his group and hence help him finish higher in the singles event!
Again this was a difficult match for Owen as the player from Egypt was fired up from previous good wins and took the first set but only to see Owen come back strong and win the following three sets to leave him in a brilliant 9th place.
Overall it was an excellent experience for Ormeau TTC’s Owen and proved to him that he can mix it with the best players in the world for his age category. ITTF Hopes camp gave him many great tips and great coaching advice that he can take away and use throughout his playing career. 
By Gervis Knox