Aaron Edwards, coach of this country’s senior team at the just concluded 62nd Caribbean Table Tennis Federation Senior Championship at the Pabexpo Coliseum, in Havana, Cuba has called for an urgent return of national training programmes.
Edwards, a former national player himself made the call after this country failed to medal in the seven categories of the competition.
These include the Men and Women Team competitions, men and women Singles, as well as Mixed Doubles, Women’s Doubles and Men’s Doubles.
In the Teams competition, T&T men and women both failed to advance from their respective round-robin pools.
The T&T women, ten-time champions T&T was represented by France-based Rheann Chung, Chloe Fraser and Imani Edwards-Taylor and went under to Guyana 2-3 with a semifinal spot at stake after both teams tasted defeat against pool winner Puerto Rico.
The local men’s team of USA-based Khaleel Asgarali, Aaron Wilson, Derron Douglas and Joshua Maxwell ended third in Group One after a lone win over Jamaica 3-0 following losses against pool winners Puerto Rico (3-0) and the Dominican Republic (3-1) in a decisive clash for the second spot.
The seven local players all failed to get out of their respective round-robin pools, with five-time singles champion Chung, 37, a major disappointment as well as 34-year-old Agarali, the two most senior members of the team.
In the Doubles, Chung and Wilson reached the Mixed Doubles quarterfinals while Fraser and Douglas were beaten in their opening round-of-16 match.
The pair of Chung and Fraser also reached the women’s Doubles last-eight while in the men’s Doubles, Douglas and Wilson also reached the quarterfinals, and the pair of Asgarali and Maxwell bowed out at the first hurdle.
The return of no medals marked the first time the team ended emptyhanded at a senior regional champion in more than a decade leading coach Edwards to call for an urgent need for training camps for the promising players
Reflecting on the team’s dismal display, Edwards said he thinks several things affected the team’s performances in Cuba
“Firstly, this was our first international competition in the past three years as we have not been involved in any competition regionally or internationally as a team or as players besides, Chung and Asgarali, who are both based outside of the T&T.
“Everyone else has been more or less not competing at all as we haven’t had any local tournaments as well other than the few hosted by some clubs recently, mainly WASA and Queen’s Park Table Tennis Club.
“So going into the tournament in terms of preparation we were already behind the eight-ball.
He added,” Then we had a very young team with 13-year-old Chloe Fraser and 16-year-old Imani Edwards-Taylor in the women, and we are hoping now that we can have our mainstream women players like Brittany Joseph and Catherine Spicer back involved soon because moving forward I think they are two very important players for us.
“We also have the next young group with Fraser and Imani at the forefront and other youngsters like Shreya Maraj and Priyanka Khellawa who have been top performers at past youth Caribbean competitions.
“So, as an association, we have to find a way to get all those players who were showing and have been showing all that promise at a young age back into a national program and have them training at least four to five hours per day
for five days per week, and then only we will see our game start back to pick up and be where it belongs,” stated Edwards.
“For the men, we also have a crop of young players coming through led by Aaron Wilson, Arun Roopnarine, and Derron Douglas, and inclusive of Joshua Maxwell, Javie King, Abraham Francis, Luc O’Young, N’kosi Rouse and a couple of others who we need to put into training camps as soon as possible and rebuild our program from scratch.
“We do have the talent, but at the same time we know the talent is not all, and we need to put in the work and as an administration, we also need to put things in place for the players so that they will be able to compete at these levels without having to worry about any other thing than table-tennis itself.
Not wanting to put a timeframe on when we will begin to reap the rewards of the camps and programs, Edwards emphasised, “Success for us is not going to happen overnight, and it’s not like longtime when those other Caribbean countries were just playing at home.
They now have their players in training camps in places like Germany, Portugal and Sweden for three months as well as competing in leagues outside of their country, so it's no longer a level playing field for us where competition and preparations are concerned.”
Reflecting on the competition, Edwards said, “hose countries that we competed against like Puerto Rico, Dominican Republic and Cuba, they are no longer focusing on the Caribbean Championship,
“Their main goal now is medalling at Pan Am Games, and World Championship, while we in T&T are still just focusing on the Caribbean competitions and podium finishes.
“The Puerto Ricans, that’s not even their strongest team as they were without their top two players, one being ranked 13th in the world, Adriana Diaz, 20, and her sister Melanie Diaz, 25, ranked in the top 50, so it's no longer a fight to be the best in the region, a lot of countries are now well ahead of us and for us to get back the glory days we have to put all these things into consideration and try and get as much of our players outside playing and training at international level.
"Our local program needs to get started as soon as possible. We have the Level III coaches here in the country who are willing to put in the work to help the sport move forward, and we are also willing to work with international coaches if the opportunity arises, but we need to start to do things differently," ended Edwards.
Host country, Cuba won all seven gold medals at stake in the competition.