Italian table tennis expert Massimo Constantini, who took over as India chief coach six months back, said top Indian players don’t give importance to physical fitness. “The perception has to change. Otherwise top players will never be able to excel in the major games including Olympics,” he told HT on the sideline of the International Table Tennis Federation (ITTF) World Tour event.
Constantini though is convinced that a youngster like Soumyajit Ghosh, who won his two qualifiers to reach the main draw on Tuesday, is a bundle of talent but overweight. “He has mind-set of a champion, but unfortunately has unhealthy eating habits. He needs to cut baby fat around his waist. If he doesn’t shed another 10-15 kg then his chances of breaking into the top-50 at the world level diminishes,” said the Italian of ignoring fitness training.
According to Constantini, table tennis comprises three ingredients --- skill, mindset and fitness. Indians are good in skills but are weak in the other two areas. “If Soumyajit is ranked in top 80 in the world, it is purely based on the strength of his skills and mindset. To further improve his ranking he has to weave physical fitness in his training system,” he added. “If he trains properly for next seven years, I am sure India will have someone to create a buzz during the 2024 Olympics,” he said.
Change in mindset
Constantini has shortlisted 40 top players, including 20 in women’s group in various age groups for future international events. One of the areas he plans to focus is on improving mindset of the core group of players.
“They need to think on the lines of doing a better job each day. In the beginning, winning low key international events should be on cards. It will help improve world ranking. Gradually, players should graduate to next level,” he said, adding “We can only think of podium finish when Indian players have steady performance in global events. The ranking has to be in top 10-15. But if the players are languishing at bottom of the ranking, say not in top 100 it’s just a dream.”
Age no bar
Constantini believes that age is no bar in table tennis. It must be heartening for Achanta Sharath Kamal who at 34, is the country highest ranked player and included in the national camp.
“The average age of top 50 players at Rio Olympics Games was 27. Many top players from across the globe peak when they are in the early 30s,” he said, adding “If Sharath continues to maintain good physical fitness, he stand good chance in 2018 Commonwealth Games.”
On the women’s side, he was all praise for Manika Batra. “If she can break into top 100, chances are she could break more barriers. And it should be done gradually,” he said.
This is second stint of the Italian expert. Earlier he was with the national team from 2009-2010 in preparation of Delhi Commonwealth Games. His contract expires after 2018 Asian Games, but he was hopeful of getting extension. “The government is proactive in making an impact at the world level. It’s a big change for the Indian sports,” he said.