Nine-year-old Dac Lac boy impresses
Whiz kid: Teenager Pham Thi Thu Huong practises with the Ha Noi-based T&T team. — VNS Photo Hoai Nam
HA NOI — Nine-year-old Dinh Anh Hoang has spent two months training at the Ha Noi T&T table tennis centre.
Anh, from the Central Highlands province of Dac Lac, was recruited by the Ha Noi-based team following his impressive performance at the Junior Table Tennis Championship in June.
The boy trains in the 7-11 age group at the centre, which is home to 13 talented players from throughout the country. The centre also hosts 12-15 and 16-18 age groups.
"I enjoy life and the training at the centre. I hope to stand on the medal winner's podium someday, but I'll have to sweat during training now," Hoang said.
"My parents were worried about letting me go. But they're satisfied at the progress I've made in the less than two months I've spent away from home. They came here to visit, and saw me doing everything for myself.
"My day starts with early morning exercises, and five days a week playing table tennis with coaches in the morning and evening after school in the afternoon."
Hoang, whose home is 1,000km from Ha Noi, and his team-mates receive a full education at the Xuan La School on the banks of West Lake.
According to T&T coach Vu Manh Cuong, the club faces difficulties in luring players to help the team's development.
"We have enrolled only half of the team's target since 2008. It's because parents are hesitant about sending their kids to train as professional players," Cuong said.
"Hoang is the youngest player whose family we have managed to convince to be allowed to join the team. It was tough negotiating with his parents. However Hoang's parents were finally convinced by quality of the training facilities when they witnessed their son's progress in the sport and life," the 37-year-old coach added.
At the All-stars Junior tournament last month, the young team finished first in medal tally with two golds and one silver, beating off table tennis powerhouses Hai Duong and the Army.
The triumph resulted from the two years of hard work by the first set of juniors - the foundation of a professional team in future.
At the National Juniors Table Tennis Tournament in Vinh Long Province, Ta Hung Khanh and Pham Thi Thu Huong also bagged two golds to help the team finish fourth.
Two years ago, Vu Manh Cuong played for the T&T table tennis team at the National Table Tennis Championship, along with former national team members Nguyen Quy Tai and Do Tuan Son. However, the team withdrew from the championship a year later, due to a paucity of players after Tai and Son left.
"It was a disaster, as we had no players coming through at that time. We signed Tai and Son from Hai Duong as a spur of the moment decision and we paid the price for our lack of strength in depth."
"I recognise that a strong team must rest on a foundation of a good training system with elite kids, not just relying on mature players, as we did. We expect future successes with a generation of youngsters from our centre over next five years," the coach said.
T&T was the first team in Viet Nam to be owned by a business - the Ha Noi T&T Group, which transformed club's status from an amateur club into a professional outfit, just as the company had done for its football team.
However, the team currently survives off a modest investment of VND2 billion (US$103,000) per year, which is just half the required funding for a professional team.
The team have yet to own their own training centre for the two dozen athletes who will enrol for the five-year training period.
T&T Group chairman, Do Quang Hien also said the group has sought a co-operation agreement with the Ha Noi Sports Administration to establish a training centre at the My Dinh Sports Complex, where he hoped the table tennis team would be able to focus on a period of prolonged development.
"We want to train a generation of high quality table tennis players. They will grow up at our centre. We can buy the best Vietnamese players for immediate success, but it's a short-term vision and lacks a stable foundation," Hien said.
The T&T team coach said the first players from the centre would be sent to intensive training sessions in China over the next two years. — VNS