Yinka Olasoji Interview

By Rahul Acharya | May 03, 2015, 12 a.m. (ET)

A little poster hanging on the lockers at Westchester Table Tennis Center reads, "The World Plays in Pleasantville." This is so true! Just last month the club hosted Fouad Abdullah, an Iraqi table tennis player. This month the club has two special guests from Nigeria, uncle and niece duo, Yinka Olasoji and Nike Aroyehun. They have been training at the club everyday for the last couple of days and played their first ever USATT tournament this weekend.

Yinka definitely earned the spotlight at Westchester TTC's February Open. Estimated at 2400, Yinka won several events on Saturday and Sunday, including the Under 2500 after beating Kun Yang (2479) 3-1. I had the opportunity to ask Yinka Olasoji, a 33-year-old player from Lagos, Nigeria, a few questions. I hope you enjoy reading about him!

Quick facts about Yinka Olasoji:
USATT Rating 2532
Two-time National Doubles Champion of Nigeria (2012, 2013)
2004 All-University Champion of Africa
Two-time Nigerian University Games Champion (2000, 2001)
National Table Tennis Coach - Junior and Senior Teams - Cameroon (2009 - Current)

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1. Is this your first time here in the U.S.?
Yes, this is my first time in the U.S.

2. What brought you here and how do you like what you have seen so far in terms of table tennis?
I came here to explore the potentiality of the players here, to see how good they are and to also find an opportunity to play here in the U.S. 

The table tennis here is not bad, but I still want to believe that there is still more to be done in terms of developmental programs and putting things in place, in terms of organization and coaching.

3. How did you find out about his club?
I was just on the internet one day trying to look for clubs where I could play. After checking this club's profile, I discovered that a lot of foreigners have played here in the past, including people that I know such as Bojan Tokic and Damien Provost. So I saw this as a good club to come visit.

4. Where do you go after your stay in New York?
I will be traveling to Columbus, OH to compete in the Arnold Table Tennis Challenge.

5. I know that football is the most popular sport in Nigeria. Tell us how you got started with table tennis.
My older brother played table tennis and that's how I got interested. When I started primary school, I hit the ball for the first time on a mini table. I loved it!

6. What equipment do you use?
Blade: Stiga WRB (oversized)
Forehand rubber: Tenergy 64
Backhand rubber: Tenergy 05

7. How often do you play and train?
Virtually every day.

8. When did you start coaching? Tell us about your coaching career?
I had been playing for a very long time, but I discovered my coaching potential about 6 years ago while I was in Cameroon. So I worked with the Cameroon National Team during the African National Championships. I coached Sarah Hanffou, winner of the 2010 African Women's Singles Championship. I still work with her as a personal trainer.

9. What do you enjoy more - coaching or playing? Why?
Both, but for now, I would say more of coaching because I strongly believe that I have the potential in coaching.

10. What are your thoughts on "a good player makes a good coach"?
Coaching is a gift! It requires many qualities. A temperamental person cannot make a good coach. You need to be somebody who is a very very observant. It takes a lot of character and a lot of enthusiasm to be a good coach. So no, not all good players make good coaches.

11. What is the biggest tournament that you have played in?
I would say the 2001 World University Games in Beijing, China. Aside from that, I've played in the 2012 African Club Championships in Morocco and the 2013 African Club Championships in Congo Brazzaville.

12. What is the most memorable match that you have ever played? Why?
My most memorable match was against an Egyptian player, Emad Moselhy, during the 2012 African Club Championships in Morocco. We played a 3-2 match. He thought it was going to be an easy match for him because he was a top player on their national team. But unfortunately for him, it wasn't easy. He had to slog it out. He was very aggressive at the table, but I stayed calm. Even though Emad won, it was a very good match for me.

13. Who is your favorite international table tennis player? Why?
My favorite international player is Aruna Quadri from my home country of Nigeria. I met Aruna when he was a 10-year-old cadet player.  I was studying at the University of Ibadan at that time and he lived in the neighboring town. After my day at the university, I would go to the stadium to play. Aruna also came there to play, without shoes, without equipment, but with a strong belief in himself. He believed that he could play table tennis. I am so proud of him that he was able to fulfill, to live up to that dream.

14. In my opinion, you had a great first ever U.S. tournament. How do you feel about it? Did you meet or exceed your expectations?
Well, I have mixed feelings. I am happy how I played the Under 2500, but I was a bit tired for the Open. I couldn't really explore the possibilities to the fullest in the Open.

15. Before playing a tournament, some players scout their opponents by watching their previous matches on video, etc. You really didn't have that opportunity because you didn't know whom you would be playing. Can you share some coaching advice on how to play opponents that one has never seen or played before?
First of all, you have to be yourself, play your own style irrespective of whom you are playing with. My advice is not to play someone else's style, but see how the opponent plays, and blend it with your own style to be effective.

16. What do you like to do when you are not playing or coaching table tennis?
I like to read motivational books. If I remember the name correctly, my favorite book is called A Higher Height by Sam Adeyemi, a great Nigerian Christian writer. My favorite motivational author is the late Dr. Myles Munroe.

17. What is your favorite American food?
It would have to be burger and french fries.

18.  I saw Aruna Quadri's amazing performance just this past November when he was in the U.S. He's now 30th in the world. What do you think Aruna has done for Nigerian table tennis?
Aruna's performance has impacted Nigerian table tennis in a very positive way. Nigeria has a lot of potential, a lot of talented players, both male and female, young and old. Aruna's example serves as a great inspiration to African table tennis players. His success has shown that it is possible for any one to reach their goal with the right focus and persistence. It has given many players the hope that they can achieve what they dream of in spite of hardships.
Yinka Olasoji (middle) & Nike Aroyehun (right) with Will Shortz, owner of Westchester TTC 


With Yinka Olasoji at the Westchester TTC