Melissa Tapper, Australian table tennis superstar, reflects on her India 2008 Commonwealth Youth Games journey.
The Commonwealth Youth Games are in the Bahamas!!! it sounds like it is going to be one heck of an amazing experience.
With the team heading to the Bahamas now announced, it has me thinking back to my 18-year-old self, a youngster lucky enough to have been selected to represent Australia in India at the 2008 Commonwealth Youth Games.
As a teen playing table tennis, I just loved the sport and had plenty of dreams and aspirations to represent my country at the highest level.
I just never imagined where it would eventually take me and the incredible opportunities that it would provide.
I was like a kid in a candy store when my Youth Games team uniform arrived – for me, putting that uniform on was one of my greatest privileges.
Having competed several times overseas in smaller regulated events since the age of 14, this trip to India was going to be the largest scaled event and the most real life stepping stone into what an actual Commonwealth Games would be like.
Although the travel to India was decent, my previous trips had been more towards Europe so India felt reasonably quick.
The biggest difference once touching down in India, was noticing the countries cultural differences and my mum’s driving didn’t seem so bad when witnessing the Indian traffic.
The Athlete Village was great, all the Aussies were in the same building block and able to mingle with the other athletes across the different sports and countries.
Many friendships developed in India and still carry on today, from my Australian team mates to those that I met from all around the world.
At the competition venue we got to meet and watch some of the worlds best youth table tennis players, just seeing the level of professionalism they displayed was an instant eye opener. Before training they followed the same warm up process, while practising they remained focused and a held a high level of intensity. When they finished they stretched and cooled down followed by a session with the physio before they would re-engage and socialise again.
Seeing the venue was exciting and nerve racking at the same time, it catered for thousands of spectators with a limited number of courts, meaning the focus of the viewers was much more confined.
As part of the Games experience we were coached on eating habit while competing, working in with bus schedules and competition times – this was an important process to ensure we were adequately fuelled and timely to venues.
This experience also proved to me the importance of looking after my body.
Long flights, no recovery and inadequate warm up strategies can play a role in terminating your quest very quickly. Again, this is all a learning curve and if taken on board and implemented, the only way is up.
So, that’s what I did, I got advice from the team physio on ways to recover after long flights, exercises to maintain a good base strength in my body to prevent injuries and in return help me to train longer and better and compete at my best.
Being exposed to as many experiences and opportunities is key.
The Youth Games provide developing athletes with an experience to be put in a challenging environment and learn to flourish. It may not happen straight away, but if you can leave the event more inspired, with more knowledge and resilience than before, you will learn that you either win or you learn.
In saying that, I had two unsuccessful attempts for selection into the senior Commonwealth Games team in 2006 & 2010.
In 2014, I secured a spot on my third attempt and joined the Commonwealth Games Australian team in Glasgow – my persistence paid off and got me on the podium with a Bronze medal.
To the Australian team heading away in July, I am so excited for you.
Work hard, do your best and enjoy every experience for what it is (good or bad).
This experience will make you an even better athlete and build your opportunity to become a future participant in the Commonwealth Games!