How I Will Develop Table Tennis – New NTTF Tech Director Soji Tayo

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The Nigeria Table Tennis Federation (NTTF) has appointed the Chairman of Table Tennis Section of Ibadan Recreation Club, who also doubles as Chairman of Oyo State Tennis Association, Dr. Adesoji Tayo as the Technical Director of the Federation.

In this interview, he speaks about his plans for the game.

Congratulations on your appointment. What does this mean to you?

Thank you very much. The position of Technical Director of the Nigerian Table Tennis Federation is one that requires a lot of work because of the present state of the sport in Nigeria today.  For me as a person it is a call to service, a call to work with other stakeholders, to ensure that the game of Table Tennis will take its pride and place in sports in Nigeria as it was when we were growing up. 

You have made several contributions to the game of Table Tennis. Are you fulfilled with the level of the game in Nigeria or there is more to be done? 

Nobody will be fulfilled. It is so sad that when we were growing up, there were two things that distinguished the game of Table Tennis from other sports. It is a game that you found in every nook and cranny of Nigeria. Even those that could not afford a Table Tennis board would play on the concrete floor, some would use the desk and benches in their primary and secondary schools to play. But as it is now, you will hardly find the game of Table Tennis anywhere in the street. It is an indoor sport and as I speak, there is only one Table Tennis hall in the whole of Nigeria and is at the National Stadium where the floor is even outdated and the hall is dingy. If you go to other countries, even smaller countries that are not well known for Table Tennis like Congo, there are several Table Tennis halls dotting the towns and cities in those places but in Nigeria, we have none. All the efforts you find happening in Table Tennis today, are all personal efforts of people, nothing is structured as it is supposed to be. 

For the officials, there should be consistent training. When we talk of officials, we talk about the coaches, we talk about the umpires, there should be consistent training for the umpires, whereby the highest level they can get to is to have a blue badge. In Nigeria today we have only two blue badge officials and the two of them are close to seventy years of age. So we need to encourage younger people to join the fold. For the coaches, I can’t remember the last time our coaches went for international training except only one that sources for funds on his own to go for training abroad. All these are things that we need to change and if you look at the players, our female players are almost going into extinction. Funke Oshonaike is in her late forties, and she is still playing. By now we ought to have had younger players that can defeat her. I thought by now we will. Because we don’t have a structure that will bring up young female Table Tennis players in Nigeria. Now we are lucky to have players like Haruna Quadri, Segun Toriola is in his late forties. Now when these people leave, who are those that will replace them? Do we have structure that will really breed young players like that to come in and take over these positions? These are things that we need to do. For the coaching, you need to go abroad, you will see different coaches for junior, kindergarten and senior players. In Nigeria we have only one coach. Now we should look at it because it requires different skills and temperaments to manage young players as well as mature players so we need to look at the structure of our coaching.

In terms of equipment, we don’t have equipment at the state level. And where do talents come from? From the states. When you go to the Middle Belt and the North, you will find virtually nothing and these are issues we need to really look at and structurally arrange. It’s not something that will happen overnight, it is something that will happen when we work with other stakeholders. And I can tell you that Table Tennis is a game that a lot of people love to play, watch and participate and we need to pull everybody together.

You are the Chairman of Table Tennis Section of Ibadan Recreation Club. What are your achievements so far? 

In Ibadan Recreation Club, we have changed the facilities available for Table Tennis and it is top notch. We did the flooring, the boards, the hall and we can compete with any Table Tennis hall in the world. We have experienced coaches and we also have a structure where we allow young players to come when club members are not there, to train so that when they go out to play, their challenge will not be the facilities. As a Table Tennis player you need your head, your nerves and your skills. But when you get into a hall to play, the first thing to do is to conquer the fear of the ambiance in the hall. Of course it is a short game, before you know it, the game is finished. So we have our young players, coming into Ibadan Recreation Club based on the arrangement with the club, for them to be able to come in and train, using the top notch facilities so that when they go out, it will not be a problem.

Most social and sporting clubs in Nigeria have Table Tennis Section. Can we really say this has contributed to the development of the game in Nigeria? 

Virtually all the sports clubs in Nigeria have a Table Tennis section, that shows you how much the game is loved. But our contribution to the development of new players and the fate of the future is still minimal. If you go to Egypt, virtually all these social clubs have young clubs that do compete internationally. And this is one thing we just have to look at as a country. Our social and sporting clubs should be looking at the possibility of harvesting young players and it is to the advantage of the sports in these social clubs because all of us are getting old. By the time we leave, another set of people will need to come in and play the game. If we do not develop players, the game will go into extinction and that is an aspect we need to look at. We need to sponsor young players, we need to recruit young talents.

How do you intend to use your appointment to develop the game, especially in the clubs? 

Developing the game of Table Tennis in Nigeria requires a lot of networking. In the past we had lots of sponsors even more than football but everything fizzled out. What happened that all sponsors disappeared is something we need to look at but as the Technical Director, that is not my forte. My forte is to ensure we have players, we have coaches, we have umpires and the ambiance around the game is kept at the professional level but at the same time that doesn’t mean I will not contribute to the development of the game. We need to handshake with all the social and sporting clubs. We need to handshake with the private sector, we need to showcase the game. A lot of time when we play the game, we don’t give it a lot of publicity, we need to work with the media so that people will be able to see the beauty of the game and when they see the beauty of the game that is when they can see how the game can contribute to their own businesses. That is very important.

How does Table Tennis help mental and physical health? 

I tell you, Table Tennis is in the league of swimming, but then it is even a little bit more than Swimming. Because in Swimming you are swimming against the water and yourself but in Table Tennis you are competing against another person and it requires your mental, physical and social skills. Social skills in the sense that if you are not good at managing crowd, even the noise from the crowd will make you lose your game. If you cannot manage your temperament on the way your competitor behaves, it will make you lose your game. It is one game that doctors will tell you that anybody playing Table Tennis will not really have any form of mental illness. Even at old age you are not likely to get dementia if you play Table Tennis because your brain is working at every point in time. For you to be able to place your bat and make contact at the right angle; for you to be able to displace your opponent and place the ball where your opponent will be uncomfortable requires your mental health, mental alertness. Physically for you to be able to move around the table because the table gets wider when you move backwards. For you to know the angle you are going to stay and for you to understand how your opponents play, all these things require your physical agility. So the game is more than wonderful and it is a game you can play far as eighty years old. If you come to Lagos Country Club, Ikoyi Club, Ibadan Recreation Club, you will see people in the league of seventy and eighty years still playing actively. It helps you to maintain your heartbeat and your system. So this is a game for all and I will recommend it to everybody.

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