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Keenan Bowens - Planning for Success
September 27, 2013

Keenan Bowens plans for success, from being the Junior National Table Tennis Champion and double gold medalist in the Junior Olympics, to achieving goals for IV&V’s programs and offices.  [image-51]

Most kids don’t think too far into the future. Keenan Bowens and his father, however, always made big plans for success. As a result, at the age of 11, Bowens became an international table tennis star.

Bowens, a program analyst and lead for the Independent Verification and Validation Facility’s metrics program, started playing table tennis when he was five. His father, a professional tennis coach, was Bowens’ first table tennis coach.

“My Dad was my introduction to setting goals and milestones. You need a plan. My goal was to be the Junior National Champion, so my father and I made a plan,” Bowens said.

From the start, Bowens’ father also taught him to be mentally tough. His father kept a notebook with statistics including the “winner to error ratio,” meaning good shots versus bad shots, which they reviewed after each match. His father instructed him not to dwell on past mistakes, but to focus on how to be a winner the next time.

Bowens’ father also taught him to develop laser-like focus though the techniques of visualization and relaxation. His father had him visualize specific shots and serves and how he would take control of each point. He was always visualizing the positive, being successful, winning. Relaxation methods included taking deep breaths in through his nose and then exhaling through his mouth as well as meditation.

“I visualized before every match. I closed my eyes and thought and saw all the things I wanted to do, all the steps I needed to take to win, and only then the final moment of winning,” Bowens said.[image-78]

Extreme focus, visualization and relaxation lead to winning, and winning creates confidence. Armed with these skills, when Bowens was six, he began playing in local table tennis tournaments. Once Bowens started winning consistently, Sean O’Neill, a multiple winner of the U.S. National Table Tennis Championships who had played on the U.S. National and Olympic teams, began coaching Bowens.

Bowens traveled a lot. He even had a sponsor. He spent a month with a Romanian Olympian and his family who were then living in Flint, Michigan. He also trained for a week with other Olympic coaches at the U.S. Olympic Training Facility in Colorado Springs, Colorado.

In 1994, at the age of ten, Bowens placed second in the Junior National Championship. In 1995, the Junior National Championship and Junior Olympics were held the same weekend in Des Moines, Iowa.

“I knew I was doing well because I kept winning my rounds,” Bowens said. “I was used to pressure and I had the tools of visualization and relaxation plus the confidence of having done well in the past.”

At the age of 11, Bowens became the Junior National Champion. “It felt pretty good,” Bowens said. That same weekend, he also won gold medals in the Junior Olympics in singles and in doubles. Bowens then retired to, as he said, “do kid stuff.”

Bowens currently plays a lot of pickup basketball. Talking about his table tennis days inspired him to look for local competitions. “I want to get the fire back,” Bowens said.

Just as he once planned the steps for success in table tennis, he now helps set goals for programs and offices. He still relies on the skills of focus, visualization and relaxation techniques. Reminiscent of his father’s notebook of statistics, Bowens uses metrics to measure progress towards those goals.

Bowens readily acknowledges that his current success in his job is thanks in large part to his father’s early lessons about planning the steps to success in table tennis. “My dad is good,” Bowens said.

Elizabeth M. Jarrell
NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center

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Keenan Bowens
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Keenan Bowens and his father.
Keenan Bowens and his father.
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Courtesy of Keenan Bowens
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Page Last Updated: September 27th, 2013
Page Editor: Lynn Jenner