New plan to unearth table-tennis talent

SINGAPORE - Singapore's national table tennis players have been world-class for years, with the women especially prominent, after being crowned world team champions in 2010 and bagging one silver and two bronze medals at the Olympic Games - team silver in Beijing 2008 and team bronze and women's singles bronze in London 2012.

The search for the next batch of paddlers to succeed them has not been easy.

After a review, the Singapore Table Tennis Association (STTA) has decided to dismantle the national youth team - the feeder squad for the national team - and introduce a new plan from next year.

The new system will see the top four finishers in STTA's local tournaments invited for selection trials to join a preparatory squad, ahead of tournaments like the South-east Asian (SEA) Junior Table Tennis Championships.

The tenure of the team will depend on the nature of the tournament, and will be disbanded right after the competition.

Speaking on Wednesday, STTA CEO Wong Hui Leng said: "The STTA has done a review of our youth development pathway and have found that we will need to chart a new path for Singapore if we ever harbour hopes of continuing to match the standards of the top table tennis nations, and more importantly, if we hope to see more Singapore-trained and groomed players on the winners' podium.

"The STTA has deliberated many times on which would be the best path in achieving results with the limited resources."

New system

Under the new system, which will kick off on Jan 1 2014, paddlers selected after the trials are expected to fulfil a minimum training attendance, which will take into account the students' examinations and school competitions.

Instead of spreading the budget over a year, resources will be concentrated on the period the preparatory team is kept together.

Outside of the period of time to get the team prepared for a competition, development of the paddlers at age-group level will be left to their respective schools, personal coaches and clubs.

Currently, aspiring paddlers will have only one chance to join the national youth team - via selection trials when they are in secondary one, although outstanding talent outside the team may also be invited to join.

The STTA says most players in the team have not been able to attend at least half the training sessions because of inter-school competitions and exams.

Some players in the team - aged between 13 and 18 - have also opted out of selection trials for tournaments like the SEA Junior Championships. Internationally, players are starting to devote themselves to table tennis at a younger age, thus driving up the competitiveness of the sport even at age-group levels.

Parents of 17 paddlers in the youth development squad - which feed into the national youth team - were briefed by STTA officials of the new plan on Monday night.

Stephen Chia, father of national youth team paddler Shing Kee, was surprised by the move. The 47-year-old student care facilitator said: "I wasn't informed about this and am quite disappointed. The STTA said previously that the national youth team would not be disbanded, and we parents have been asking them time and again to engage us but there has been none."

He said Shing Kee, a secondary one Raffles Institution student, will continue in the sport, but he hopes to meet with the STTA with parents of other affected paddlers to learn more about the new structure.

"Shing Kee's love and passion for table tennis is still there, so we'd like him to continue training in hope the he can one day represent Singapore."

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