Tio Embracing the European Experience

By Matt Hetherington | Oct. 23, 2018, 7:23 p.m. (ET)

USA's Nick Tio took the plunge this season and relocated to join Kanak Jha in Grenzau, Germany. As part of a new push to get national team players more exposure to the level of training and competition necessary to move up to the next level, USATT High Performance Director Joerg Bitzigeio made several arrangements for a large group of national team players. Tio was among those players and one of three players currently in the national team playing and living abroad - along with Kanak Jha and Wu Yue.

Tio joined the Grenzau training group and for his league matches he entered the third division of the German league with TTC 1957 Lampertheim, where he joins the likes of 2016 Lithuanian National Champion Alfredas Udra. 

I had the opportunity to catch up with Nick as he sat on a train bound for Belgium, to compete in the Belgium Open which is currently underway. 

It's been 3 months since he left the comfort and steady environment of home and departed for a foreign land, to pursue his goals of developing more as a table tennis player with aspirations on the international stage. Tio now enjoys around 5 hours per day of practice, including physical training, 5-6 days per week, with league matches on most weekends. It's the schedule of a full-time player.

"In the beginning the schedule was kind of hard to get used to, because in the US i'm used to training 1-2 hours a day with the same coach. Here I have morning and afternoon sessions around 2.5 hours long and I'm playing with different training partners, so I find myself working on adjusting to different blocking and spin variations," says Tio, upon being asked to illustrate the main differences between there and home. 

"Instead of having the coach practicing with me, I have them watching me, often from behind – so I get more in depth details of my footwork or timing that I may not have noticed before. 

I have 1-2 multiball practice sessions with the coach each week to really pinpoint and work on specific areas that I need to work on and also improve my footwork/reaction speed. 

There's a lot more time to practice here, where in the US you try and cram everything into 1-2 hour lessons."

It's certainly a big change up, and one that took some getting used to for the young man from California. 

"It was difficult in the beginning because I didn't know anybody and wasn't sure how well i'd get along with the people here. But now after making friends with the training group in Grenzau and also with my teammates, things are a lot better. We go out to eat and drink a bit after the league matches and celebrate and it gives a good chance to bond together better."

So what can Tio say for others who wish to take the leap and spend time abroad? 

"There are definitely some challenges early on getting used to the environment, so I think you have to be 100% committed and prepared both physically and mentally. It's a big step, but with the right mindset you can get a lot out of it, because it is a really good environment to improve your game and take it to the next level."

And so it seems that he is making the most of his situation, having faced some initial struggles, his confidence is growing and he is beginning to embrace the environment around him. I asked a little more about the competitive pressure of being in a league team and how he has been finding that: 

"There was a lot of pressure in the beginning because I was new to the team and I wasn't sure how I was going to perform. Then right off the bat we had to play against the strongest team so that was a bit unlucky. 

In that first league match I won the doubles with Alfredas Udra and in my singles match I was leading 2-0 and then lost 3-2. I felt super down after that. Then in the next singles match I lost 3-0, all three sets 11-9 and the first set I was leading 8-2. 

We ended up losing the match 6-4, so if I had won one of my singles then it would have been 5-5, which is a big difference, and I felt that I lost a bit of confidence after that," reflects Tio on his tough start to this new experience. 

But as with anything, and in a great training environment - one which has seen USA's Kanak Jha flourish on the international stage, Tio quickly dug his heels in and got to work.

"The next match we played the second strongest team in Berlin. We lost the doubles and in the singles I was leading 2-0 again. My opponent caught up to 2-2, but this time I was able to win, I guess the experience of the previous time helped get me through. That gave me a lot of confidence. In my second singles I won 11-9 in the fifth and overall we were able to win the team match 6-4.

I felt a lot better after getting in my first wins and helping contribute to the team victory, those were the first two matches since moving to Germany where I felt like I actually played really well. 

The next two matches after that we won 6-0 so it's been pretty good."

Having competitive matches regularly and a team of experienced players around him all the time is certainly making it's mark and Tio is very aware of it.

"The team has really good team spirit and are always supportive. I'm always very focused and trying to perform my best because I don't want to let them down. I think that's one of the big benefits of playing in the league, the competitive environment, and that positive pressure of feeling accountable for my results and so constantly trying to improve myself.

My teammates coach me during league matches and even during the doubles. After matches Udra and Putuntica are always giving me advice on how I can improve my game, like utilizing certain tactics or committing to my attacking opportunities. They remind me that I'm quite an aggressive player and so I should optimize that.

They've really helped me improve after every league match and having league matches frequently and that feedback loop helps me incorporate everything I have been practicing."

So plenty going on in the world of Nick Tio at the moment, after competing in the Belgium Open and more league matches, he will represent the USA at the Pan American Championships, World Junior Championships and then return home for the 2018 US Open. 

We certainly look forward to seeing his new experiences coming to the table. Keep working hard Nick!