Globally, Olufunke Oshonaike holds the record as the only female table tennis player to feature in seven Olympic Games having made her debut at the 1996 Atlanta Olympic Games in United States.
At continental level, she remains the most decorated female table tennis player having won more medals than any player in the Africa. At 42, Oshonaike bridges the gap between the old and new generations of table tennis players in Nigeria. She enjoyed the good old days of Nigerian sports when athletes were supported by government to improve their career.
However, when the Germany-based mother of two decided to organise a clinic for junior players in the country, she had thought that things have gone bad with the quality of the players in the country.
But to her surprise, she was dazed with the quality of players that are still abound in the country and she was quick to admit that lack of coaching coupled with dearth of equipment are major challenges bedevilling the sport.
“I am so impressed with the raw talent of the players. I had thought that things have gone bad and that we are lacking in quality players. But after spending one week with the junior players, I was surprised with the quality of the players in terms of their raw talent. This has made me to conclude that it is not that we are lacking in talent, the only problem is getting the right coaching for these young players”.
“The idea of a coach scolding a player because he or she fails to win a match is a thing of the past. These players are ready to work hard but they need support and encouragement from the coaches and this can motivate them to do well. A coach must be like a father and mother to the players for them to learn from such a coach and if all these are not there, there is nothing you can teach the players. Also coaches must also understand that these are young players and you must let them have fun for them to enjoy what they are doing. But If you insist of being strict every time, they will be reluctant to learn and this is also another major factor,” she said.
To sustain what she had started, the African champion disclosed that she hopes to partner Segun Toriola for future clinics in order to inspire the young players to see the opportunity in the sport. “I am hoping that Toriola and I can work together for another clinic because these players just need more encouragement for them to become stars like us. I just hope we can have the time before this year’s Lagos Open to stage another clinic for these players because they need that consistency now. This kind of exercise should not be a one-off event,” said Oshonaike.
The most decorated female table tennis star lauded the support she got from the President, Nigeria Table Tennis Federation (NTTF), Wahid Oshodi; Frot Group and the Editor, The Nation, Gbenga Omotoso, while hoping that more sponsors would come on board in subsequent editions of the exercise.