Up until eight months ago, Joanna Raj of Moncton had never played Table Tennis. This week the 12-year-old is a member of Team New Brunswick’s first Table Tennis team to compete at the Canada Winter Games in 20 years.
As a member of one of the youngest teams at the Games — her team is composed entirely of players between the ages of 11 and 12 — she says she doesn’t expect to win any medals but is here to learn as a player and grow.
Raj said she came to the Games to gain experience by playing against more accomplished players. “It’s not only about winning, it’s about learning,” Raj says. “ I know I’m the youngest of them all and I just want to gain experience and go back and practice for the next Canada Games.”
Raj said the competition she and her teammates have faced is “very hard ” but she is learning things she needs to know. “I’ve played a lot of games and I’ve learned a lot of things. If I lose I’m still upset but I’ve learned something from every game.”
Somewhat philosophical for her years, Raj said she finds Table Tennis a very interesting sport because there are so many ways to win, so many strategies and techniques to be learned from watching older players.
Michel Ichiy, who finds himself coaching a youth Table Tennis team for the first time in his life, is proud of his young squad. They’re playing teams from other provinces composed of players who are older, bigger, and more experienced but they’re not intimidated, he says.
“Table Tennis is a very democratic sport, just because of the nature of the sport itself,” Ichiy said. “But being older and more experienced than our team does make a difference.” He said his players tend to be very vocal when they play.
“These young athletes tend to lose their temper more often. Children tend to be either too shy or too vocal. The older players will take advantage of that.” He said older, more experienced players can try to make younger players like his lose their focus.
“That’s something that can happen with children. It’s a young team and while this is their first Canada Games they are going to be able to make it to the next Canada Games because they’re improving fast.”
There aren’t a lot of competitive young players at this point in time but the four players competing here for New Brunswick are very good. They were chosen based on a national rating system that rates players based on their skill levels and past matches.
Ichiy said his players should be proud of their efforts and their spirit.
“I don’t think they realize how many matches they’ve played because they are spread out over a full day but they have a lot of energy and I’ve rarely heard them say they are tired of playing.” Ichiy, who’s based in Saint John, said he and their other coaches in Moncton try to make sure their players keep their energy level up because in terms of skill there is a gap between them and the other players they’re playing against.
The teams they’re playing against here in Charlottetown have players three and four years older than they are, are much taller, and more experienced.
Ichiy said he and the team manager tried to make sure their players realized that medals for them were far on the horizon. “Going for medals is too hard at this point, so let’s learn as much as we can, gain experience for the next one. Then we can go for medals and go for positions.”