What does 1. FC Köln (Cologne) have to do with Liebherr Masters College?
Quite simply: Björn Helbing from the 2nd Bundesliga of 1. FC Köln is not only a passionate table tennis player and has already been on the podium at the German Championships – he is also Product Manager at andro, which supports the LMC as a partner. We talked to him about eSports, being different and – of course – table tennis.
“For many years, we have been supporting clubs and associations in the implementation of tournaments and projects with the goal of inspiring young athletes.”
andro & BeDifferenTT
What do you associate with the term “New Dawn”?
“New Dawn” stands for shedding old structures in order to develop and establish new ones. All of this should usher in a start, a new beginning.
andro has always been a brand that tries to be different and sometimes surprising. We want to take other paths, and therefore often leave old and familiar ones behind us. Since the existence of andro, there have been many such decisions and changes of direction and there will surely be some more to come.
What does andro contribute to this?
For many years, we have been supporting clubs and associations in the implementation of tournaments and projects with the goal of inspiring young athletes. Our most successful project so far is undoubtedly the Andro Kids Open in the Düsseldorf Athletics Halls, which attracts up to 1,500 children every year.
In addition, we have set ourselves the goal of presenting the sport more professionally and more excitingly. With fresh designs and high quality in textiles or with an exciting event at the World Cup in Düsseldorf, we want to focus not only on andro, but also on the whole world of table tennis sport.
What is the significance of the development of eSports, Playstation, etc. for you in the digital age for the appeal of table tennis among kids and adolescents?
This is very difficult to assess, especially for our generation. Table tennis is and remains a sport that takes place in a hall or open-air. How much table tennis can be an addition or a distraction from the digital world depends on the quality of the development. Anyone who has visited our stand at the World Cup in Düsseldorf can easily imagine where this is headed. We have an interactive game projected onto the surface of the table there. The player had to hit moving targets and had the chance to win an andro RASANTER of his choice.
“Overall, product development is a very exciting process that is all the more enjoyable when you then get direct feedback in dialogue with the players.”
andro & Products
What do you think constitutes a perfect TT paddle?
The ultimate, perfect paddle does not exist. In the end, each player has his own style and preferences regarding the paddle’s material. In my case, the perfect paddle is an andro Treiber Q, which is a fairly hard and fast carbon-wood paddle and the andro Rasanter R50 for the forehand side and the andro Rasanter R47 for the backhand side. Add to that, and in my case – which is probably the “special” part – that I’ve sanded down the handle of my racket with sandpaper so that nothing bothers me when using my strange forehand technique.
What are your aspirations at andro?
First and foremost, we have very high standards concerning the quality of our products. To ensure this quality, we test them very carefully, both in the development phase and subsequently, when the product is already on the market. Only then can a stable and consistent quality be guaranteed. In addition, of course, a product must also make sense for both the customers and for us. We want to design the andro product range so that players can easily find their way around it anytime.
How do you develop a new product?
Of course, it depends very much on whether it’s a shirt, a bag, a wood or a pad. Basically, we develop product ideas in a team and then discuss how to make them together with the supplier/producer. This is followed by test samples that we put to the test in our development team. We often use many different playing systems and levels. Our product development is not only fueled by me, but also, for example, by Damien Eloi, the former No. 11 of the table tennis world who participated several times in the Olympic Games. Depending on the product, we can always fall back on players from practically every league, because our team consists of so many active TT players. They too often test products, which provides us with valuable feedback.
If all of these tests are successful, then we start fine-tuning the production. And at the same time, work is done diligently on everything from product design to marketing.
Overall, product development is a very exciting process that is all the more enjoyable when you then get direct feedback in dialogue with the players.
What is currently in development or what can players look forward to?
I can only say that we are working diligently on new and interesting products.
Would you say that as a table tennis player you are somehow “different”?
I don’t think so. Presumably, lots of testing and experimenting have had an effect only as far as materials, so that I see things more objectively and place less emphasis on, e.g. being dependent on wood. I almost always have at least one paddle in my pocket next to my own paddle, made up of different test samples. During training, I often switch back and forth between these paddles. It has also happened that in competitions that I went to the table without any previous practice with a completely new paddle. This doesn’t not bother me much nowadays.
Tell me about the championship. What was it like to stand on the podium?
I come from a true TT family and have therefore always eagerly followed the events in such big tournaments – even as a child. If someone had told me then that I would someday be on the podium at a German championship, I would have flipped them off. Therefore, I have to admit it that was a very emotional moment for me. And probably also for my parents, who used to spend a lot of time with me on the highways of North Rhine-Westphalia, driving me to training and tournaments.
Compared to the achievements of the LMC’s talents, such a medal is not necessarily something special at a national championship. For me it was also a special moment because amateurs and professionals meet at a national championship. If you, as an amateur, succeed in defeating a few pros in such a tournament, then it’s clearly an accomplishment you can be proud of.
What does it demand from you personally and physically to get this far?
That’s a tough question. I think you have to really have a love for the sport, because very often in the hall, you have to give up a lot of stuff at an early age. The time with friends, for example, is very tight.
In addition, discipline and fitness are needed. Although the latter has always been in need of improvement in my case.
In short: you have to invest a lot of time and be prepared to work on yourself and scrutinize yourself.
At this point, you can also fall back on the LMC. Because you immediately realize that the players in the training hall there are ready for anything!
How important is the equipment for this?
I think the equipment plays a big role on both the amateur and professional level. The equipment helps players develop their own style and technique. In professional sports, it is also important to regularly scrutinize your own equipment and to check whether there is room for improvement. Do I maybe need a harder pad on the forehand side? Is my wood fast enough? Maybe the player will be able to activate 1% more of his potential. And maybe precisely this 1% will make the difference when it comes to the game point in the decisive set.
At the same time, it’si mportant not to be too dependent on the material. If you only judge your results with regard to the equipment and disregard your own performance, then you have to immediately focus on the most essential factor: the sport of table tennis.