Athletes’ Dais

by Mariann Domonkos in Saarbrucken, West Germany

I wonder how many Canadian athletes experience the feelings of frustration that I did prior to coming to live in Germany. I call it the “l-know-l-can-do-better” syndrome. In case you’re not familiar with this condition, allow me to outline its causes and symptoms. I’ll take a typical Canadian athlete as my example.

He is a very talented and dedicated athlete. He has benefitted from excellent coaching throughout his career and has followed his training program vigorously. In short, he is well-prepared and technically up-to-date with developments in his sport. All in all, he should be one of the top athletes in his event, but his results don’t merit such distinction.

Over the past year, he has travelled to two major international competitions. (He would have liked to have competed in others, but it wasn’t financially feasible). So he selected the competitions carefully, wanting to go to those with the highest calibre of competition available. He felt ready to prove himself. He was psyched-up, but in the back of his mind was the potentially destructive knowledge that if he didn’t perform now, he wouldn’t have another chance for several months. No wonder his performance was hindered.

Only results matter in the world of sport. No one is interested in excuses and problems. His frustration built; he became a victim of the “l-know-l-can-do-better” syndrome, which has a tendency to snowball out of control.

A few months ago, I found myself in such a situation. For quite awhile, I had been progressing beautifully, both technically and physically. My progress reached a pinnacle with my participation in the National Training Centre, a program of the Canadian Table Tennis Association whereby six national team members moved to Ottawa to train. For seven months we followed a training program prepared by Technical Director Adham Sharara, putting in 20 to 25 hours of practice weekly.

My game matured and I was able to eliminate many weaknesses. My progress was reflected in my international results. Then Adham Sharara advised me that if I wanted even better results, I needed to compete at the international level on a long-term basis with the continuous opportunity to use all my skills in matches of high calibre. Arrangements were made for me to compete at a club in Germany, ATSV Saarbrucken, with 300 members.

Since arriving in Germany last August, I have developed a certain peace of mind in the knowledge that I have time to prove myself; that if my performance isn’t up to par in a particular competition, I’ll have countless other opportunities throughout the year.

These opportunities consist of three different types of competitive events:

(1 )The German Bundesliga is the first division in Germany and is made up of 10 club teams from different parts of the country. Each team has four players, with each club permitted to have one foreign player. I am one of seven foreigners playing in the women’s table tennis Bundesliga.

Throughout the season, which goes from September to March, each team plays the nine others twice, once at home and once away, for 18 matches per team. In March, the last two teams in the final standings descend from the Bundesliga to be replaced by two teams promoted from the second division.

The second division is regional, with Germany divided into four geographical regions, each of which has 12 teams. The third division serves the 15 counties of Germany, each county having a division of 12 teams. The fourth division is local. All in all, there are several hundred women’s table tennis teams alone participating in organized league play. I am told that a similar league network exists for most other sports. Mind-boggling!

(2) National level ‘Open’ competitions are held by most countries in Europe several times throughout the year.

(3) International ‘Open’ competitions are held annually by most European countries. They attract a world class field with most of the top countries competing. There are also minor ‘Opens’, which tend to attract a world class field, with fewer of the top countries represented.

In the past, I was rarely exposed to the International Opens. And when I was, I struggled to attain respectable results, but had to suffer through more than a fair share of frustration along the way.

The main difficulty was the sudden jump from the Canadian National level to the top international level. Although I was very well-prepared in training, I did not have the proper competitive forum to evaluate my progress. So I never had the necessary confidence to perform to the best of my abilities.

Being in Germany has solved this problem. With 750,000 registered competitive players, the quantity and quality is tremendous. I can now also clearly see my progress because each result is meaningful. The large number of matches played in the Bundesliga have been a very high quality and have been excellent preparation for my international matches representing Canada.

Fortunately, the results have started to prove that the decision to come to Germany was an excellent step towards fulfilling my competitive goals. The real test will be the Commonwealth Table Tennis Championships in Bombay, India, February 3-9.

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