Craig Howieson going all out for Games glory

Table tennis player Craig Howieson. Pic: ALASTAIR DEVINE

Table tennis player Craig Howieson. Pic: ALASTAIR DEVINE

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Craig Howieson knows the fine margins between triumph and despair in table tennis.

With the countdown to Glasgow 2014 well underway, the Scottish No.2 is sharpening his edges in the hope that he can win a medal in either the team or individual events.

In May, he helped the Scotland team upset the form book and win a bronze medal at the Commonwealth Championships in New Delhi – the first Scotland men’s team to win any colour of medal at the event.

Howieson hopes it is an omen ahead of next year’s Commonwealth Games where there will be the added bonus of a home crowd to cheer every point.

“It was a fantastic achievement for us, but we’re still well aware of how far we have to go to emulate that at the Games,” he underlines.

“There were a couple of big players missing from teams in India, but you can bet your bottom dollar they will be there in Glasgow.

“It was always going to be hard next year anyway because everyone ups their game for a Commonwealth Games, but we believe that if we keep improving, we have a chance of challenging for medals.

“Our goal when we arrived there at last May’s Commonwealth Championships was just to get into the top eight.

“When we saw the draw, we saw how it could potentially work out for us and, once we won our first group, we knew we that were in with a shout.”

Having been to the last Games in India in 2010, the 23-year-old PE teacher at Broughton High School knows that Scottish players can stand up to some of the best in the Commonwealth.

He reached the last 32 of the men’s singles before losing narrowly 4-3 to home player Soumyadeep Roy, who went on to finish fourth.

In the men’s doubles (with London-based Scottish No.1 Gavin Rumgay), he went a round further only to lose to Australians Robert Frank and William Henzell, who also went on to finish fourth.

Howieson, a former pupil at James Gillespie’s High, will be older and wiser next year in Glasgow, but that does not guarantee an extended run.

He is leaving nothing to chance.

“I’m training and playing much better now than I have for the last couple of years, so things are looking up,” he states.

“I’ve been seeing a sports psychologist since the summer and it has helped me loads.

“It’s given me a different outlook training and competition and it’s certainly had a positive effect on how I look at things and approach things.

“I’d have to identify that as the main factor in my improvement in performance.

“I’d been able to train well and then feel like I was playing well, but I’d not been able to reflect that in matches.

“Now, when I’m training well it seems to be coming together in matches and making a big difference.

“Being able to have a positive approach and believe you are capable of winning the big points is a massive factor in the game.

“My old coach, Tom Hook, used to say that table tennis is a game of chess at 100mph! Being able to stay calm under that pressure is really important.

“You always hear people in sports science talking about the extra one per cent.

“You will always have tight matches and it’s the players who have done that extra little bit of work in their preparation who tend to come out on top.

“I’ve been trying to find as many of those one per cents as I can since the summer and it seems to be working out so I’ll just continue doing that over the next ten months.”

Allied to his mental improvement, Howieson is working harder than ever in training with the incentive of a once-in-a-lifetime home Games.

“I train five, sometimes six, nights a week for three hours, and I’m in the gym twice a week for two hours at a time.

“I even have to squeeze my gym session in before I go to school so I’m in the gym at 6am,” he continues.

“I’ve asked myself in the past, why am I training these 20 hours a week when results are not coming.

“But you have to persevere and my new outlook through sports psychology is providing those answers It’s given me a bit more confidence in my methods of training which allows me to be more positive.

“Miracles don’t happen overnight and it’s long, hard work to change your behaviour, your attitude and your skill ability – it all goes hand in hand.

“You have to be prepared to do the hard work to get the benefits.”