17 Dicembre 2015 da Ping Pong Italia 

What does talent mean? If you look up the meaning in the major dictionaries, they say: ”talent is a natural aptitude or skill”. Normally the term talent is associated to sports or even in any other field to indicate someone unusually, rarely skilled but one thing is indisputable fact, if you want to succeed in something you have to be a talent. Tabletennis certainly is not excluded from the list of sports where talent is one of the pre-requisite to excel at the highest level.

When we observe someone performing amazingly, It is extremely easy to exclaim: “what a talent!!!” Now the question is: as tabletennis coach or any key person for anything you want, are we able to identify some signs that lead us to invest or trust in somebody? Be a coach means to treat our kids as a sort of start up companies. What does the start up company need? Support, encouragement, knowledge and somebody who trusts in their abilities to make money or produce results. There have always been the start-ups since the dawn of the time, since birth of each person; who are the people who trust the most in our abilities? No doubt, our parents, I would say. Be sons or daughters for them mean having great talent, no matter what we do, how we do, if we do, just because we have a natural aptitude or skill to be devoted to whom gave us life, we are talents. But this is not enough, I would say too simplistic, because the crucial point to be a talent in anything you wish, is the environment and the aptitude to improve yourself. There have been a lot of studies that demostrated environment is the key of success.
To better explain it we should flip through the pages of anthropology. Our behavior is affected by our mother and father figures, why? Because for us they represent a role model and unconsciously, day after day, we want to be similar to them, if my father has been able to make it, hence I can make it. Another quick example, if my father is engineer, my least expectation of career is to be an engineer (emulation), but this is not enough, because I want become a chief engineer i.e. better than my father (challenge). And again, let’s see how it works in the animal behavior: what is the ability of a baby lion to hunt a prey? Surviving? yes, but most important is to stay all time with father lion and mother lioness, so they will guide the baby to develop the proper abilities in surviving, hence to hunt.
The consequence of all above said is: to have a talent we need to create and develop a solid, protective and, at the same time, challenging environment where our “babies” players can show day after day their potential to be and become talents.

I don’t want to write treatise of anthropology, so I want to keep my feet on ground and coming back to our major area of interest which is tabletennis but nevertheless not immune to the studies of anthropology.
We have a daily challenge: make our students devote to us in a sort of umbilical cord in a cozy and loving environment, every coach desires it. To do so, we have to set up few things: how to recognize a talent; in what area we want to identify the talent.
It is very common by mistakenly say: that player is a real talent just because played a outstanding stroke. Sometimes to me the word talent associated to amazing stroke is abstract because tabletennis is made by many different ways to express the talent. Talent is much more than a simple amazing shot. So what kind of talent are we looking for? What is the sign or signs which can inflame the will to dedicate our work in that particular element?
Let’s analyse the 4 skills + 1 of tabletennis:
1) Technique
2) Strategy and Tactic
3) Will power and mind set
4) Appropriate phisycal or as French say: having “Le physique du rôle”.

1) Technique
It is the ability to perform some particular movement with the paddle in order to make the ball on the other side of the table, this ability includes: grip, position of the paddle, rhythm (tempo), stability (balance), stance (posture), general coordination (ability to move in a certain area), specific coordination (ability to perform at least two things at the same time, an example: legs do something, arms do something else) and so on.

2) Strategy – Tactic
I keep these two aspects always separately cause is very common to conclude that the words are synonyms. To me they are not.
The strategy involves a general plan in order to put to opponent in a weak balance and make him an error, the tactic is the ability to use proper strokes (push, smash, various type of spins and so on) to achieve the strategy, both are inter-connected, for examples, there are lots of kids who keep playing their balls in the same spot, forgetting that the table is big enough to send the ball in some specific areas, now in this case we have a poor strategy plan. Have you ever noticed that when you play with some smart player either young or adult or amateur, the first things he/she does is to play what I call “windshell-wiper” example: one ball to the right, one ball to the left and keep going until the opponent loses his balance. There are some other kind of player that use only one kind of stroke or spin, in this case we have in front a player with poor tactic.

3) Will power and mind set
This combined skill includes the psychological sphere, in other words, everything that is truly untouchable like emotion, passion, will to win, hard work, excitement, fear to lose, be afraid of somebody or something, laziness and I can list many others, you can also name them. This area is directly related with the past experience and the motivational; most of the time the emotions are affected by the initial experience. So it is very important to consider and understand our kids in the very first moment of their tabletennis “life”.

4) Physique du rôle
This last skill is never considered enough in evaluating a potential champion, in the early stage does not matter if kids are too skinny or a bit chubby, too tall or too short, lefty or righty. We can definitely have time to shape them with some specific programs of training which allow him/her to better perform but we also have to keep in consideration the phases of their growth, a kid of 10 years old has different needs than a kid of 14 years old. One of the most important sign is how the kid moves his/her body in relation of the space of action. So the question is: where should I search the sign of talent? Have you ever gone into a ballroom? If so, you should have observed how the dancers move with music, you should have also noticed that someone has a special grace, a different way to express their dance. Here you are what to look for, the grace of movement, the harmony of the body stimulated by the sound of the ball. Most of the kids trying to hit some balls but they are mesmerized, motionless even afraid of their own shadow. Try it and let me know.

So when we have in front of us these start-ups we have to identify some potentials for the future. Many coaches think about technique, i.e. ability to generate power or spin, coordination, rhythm and so on. Other coaches are more focused on fitness or other abilities as I have listed above.
I’m not a know-it-all type, and I am very open to learn new things, so I don’t want to say “this sign is better than that sign”. My feeling is to be open in respect of whom I have in front and try to consider all the 4 skills at the same time. It often happens that a kid can be very talented in something and lacking in something else, then what to do? Well, of course, we try to bridge the gap by doing specific training or we can develop some other alternative solutions, but eventually that particular lacking will be his/her on going limitation for the which we have to live with. Or I can forget in what is lacking (I like it more) and I am more focused to perfect his/her skills. Anyway, most of the time, the reason why they did not achieved higher results is because they lack in something at the very first stage of career.
As tabletennis is considered a minor sport by a majority of media, we have to work with a limited number of subjects. We don’t “live off the fat of the land” like China superpower or Asia in general, so we should not weed out them, on the contrary we have to keep them involved and passioned to tabletennis by handling them with very much care, we don’t have to forget that they are fragile, in every sense, they can quickly approach to tt but likewise they can leave tt if we don’t give them proper support and incentives.

For some of you was evident that I forgot to tell about the +1 skill, I did it on purpose. To me is the most important. What is this +1 skill? It is the control panel, the setting icon. A stable system has beyond a solid setting. +1 skill is the ability to supervise all the 4 skills at the same time. This is the real talent that we are looking for to produce a great player first and then a champion. It is very difficult to identify it, because we are too focused for some limited things instead of seeing things as a whole. That’s why the observation of how they act, they play, they think, is crucial to assess them. And remember a great shot does not make a great champion.

I believe all above said is interesting indeed and can involve even other areas of daily life, Just imagine in any other field how is important to identify the right person in order to make your business more efficient and more effective in the market. Sometime we don’t linger enough to consider people in their whole, we want to be fast, at first glance, arrogantly, we want to understand everything.

So to conclude my a bit long write-up, the secret of success is to create a vital environment where people can perform freely by enjoying themselves, to establish a feeling of love and affection with people who take care of them and last but not least, to make them comfortable as if they were at home.
Classic question: “can my son/daughter become a champion? Obvious answer: “yes but he/she has to work very hard. Unusual answer: “after hard work he/she definitely can be a better person which is a requirement to be a champion”.

Massimo Costantini


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