Table tennis: Regaining belief before medal bid

Chen giving Feng Tianwei directions at the Singapore Sports Hub. The men’s and women’s teams are preparing for the World Championships in Malaysia.
Chen giving Feng Tianwei directions at the Singapore Sports Hub. The men’s and women’s teams are preparing for the World Championships in Malaysia. ST PHOTO: MAY CHEN
Newly appointed national table tennis women’s head coach Chen Zhibin (above).
Newly appointed national table tennis women’s head coach Chen Zhibin (above). PHOTO: SINGAPORE TABLE TENNIS ASSOCIATION

Lack of confidence worries new women's coach Chen ahead of World C'ships

The World Team Table Tennis Championships are just a fortnight away, but for the new head coach of the Singapore women's team, it is not a successful defence of the bronze from 2014 that is foremost on his mind.

Instead, it is the issue of confidence - or the lack thereof - within the team that worries Chen Zhibin the most.

The German-Chinese, whose appointment was formally announced by the Singapore Table Tennis Association (STTA) yesterday, said his focus in both the short and long run is to help his charges regain their self-belief.

"They need to get back to playing at the standard that they are capable of," the 54-year-old said in response to queries from The Straits Times.

"The overall level of the whole team is reliant on the younger players' improvement. Feng Tianwei and Yu Mengyu are already there, but the most important thing is still regaining confidence."

He replaces Liu Jiayi, who is now head coach of the men's team. The latter was promoted in November following an internal coaching conflict between the players and former national head coach Jing Junhong.

Chen will be assisted by Hao Anlin, who will continue in his role as assistant coach.

A press release from the STTA yesterday said that Chen's appointment came after a request by the national women's team, and is supported by the Singapore Sports Institute.

He was present at the OCBC Arena yesterday, where both the men's and women's national teams have been training since early this month to prepare for the World Championships and the Olympics in August.

Chen has 11 years of coaching experience and was previously the head coach of the Netherlands' women's team (2009 to 2012).

He was also a successful player himself, reaching a career-high ranking of fifth in 1991. A men's doubles champion (with Ma Wenge) at the 1990 Asian Games, Chen was also a part of the team who won silver for China at the 1990 World Team Cup.

The World Championships that kick off in Kuala Lumpur at the end of the month will be Chen's first big test.

He said: "Tianwei is going through a low period now. I hope she'll be able to regain her confidence through this tournament."

Feng was given the boot in her opening match at the Hungarian Open last month, her first tournament of the season, and also failed to get past the round of 16 at the German Open which followed.

The string of early losses, which began last year, has seen the three-time Olympic medallist's world ranking drop from No. 4 last June to the current No. 8.

Feng, however, is ready to start on a fresh footing with Chen.

She said: "Coach Chen has the coaching experience to take my playing career to the next level of success.

"He and I also aim to achieve medals at the upcoming Olympics and we wish to see the Singapore flag fly high in Rio."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on February 16, 2016, with the headline 'Regaining belief before medal bid'. Print Edition | Subscribe