The Land of the Champions

The Land of Champions

Time to brush off that keyboard. Time to start thinking – to start writing again..  I don’t know  really why things have been this quiet.. Some kind of blockage i guess.

Now,  I am in,  or rather on the land of the champions.. At least that’s what they call the grounds here at INSEP ( Institut National Du Sport) , located in the outskirts of Paris. An impressive arena it is.. Most Olympic Sports have their best athletes here on a daily basis.  Paid a visit to the Table Tennis hall yesterday to watch for an hour or so and to have a chat with the many promising youngsters calling INSEP their home.

Michel Blondel , the dynamic , forward thinking head coach of the French associations told me ; “No matter what , we have a good group of young players practicing really hard here at INSEP. They deserve a lot of credit for their effort and also for their performances the last few years. I don’t think any other country in Europe, as it seems are even close to what we are doing here..Thats scary though for European table tennis – it seems to me that the bar has been lowered in many countries and that the general level is going down”  Blondel said.

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From my point of view I found it impressive that the coaches  run a seven-day a week schedule for the juniors.. Parked in the hall was at the time of my visit a number of mountain bikes.. ” Well , we are going for a ride to a special place in Paris tomorrow Saturday Simon Gauzy told me ;  “We don’t know Paris that much so it can be fun of course”. Benjamin Brosser , another one of the many accomplished French internationals explained the principles applying ;  We like it overall – but its hard physically and its hard mentally to stay here for practice”

I tell them of course ; :Learn to love the place – Love the coaches – Love the opportunity ..  In return – the kind of  smiles from the boys  that indicates  ; ” Well the old ITTF man doesn’t know very much !

Here is the link to INSEP website by the way ; http://www.insep.fr/EN/Pages/default.aspx

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But , the truth is that I consider myself “one of the champions of Insep”  , especially if we bend the INSEP  phrase to apply to the European Youth  scene and if we also consider coaches part of the occasion   . The memories are crystal clear. We have to reverse time to the summer of 1994 and the European Youth Championships , played here , in the same venue that I the last few days have been walking by. At the time , I was the Danish National coach in Table Tennis responsible for all aspects of high performance. We had , going into competition , I thought , some chances to make  signficant noise , especially in the Junior Boys Team category. We prepared well – practiced much harder than ever before that summer. The likes of Martin Monrad, Morten Knudsen and Mads Sörensen together with the “benchmarked” nr four ; Tomas Sörensen , were all at the top of their game , sharp and well conditioned.

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On top of being well prepared ,  we also applied a smart set of tactics upon arriving Paris. I was much tougher than i ever were during my time seven years in Denmark when it came to overall discipline and knowledge . We came to win – not to compete nor to only  participate. The agreement was also centered around the fact that any European Youth events starts two days before in the practice hall. Our ambition was to dominate that venue – have the competitors all look at us. So I took a  bag of balls on my back ,  occupied the center table and started to work my ball session routine from the get go.. I can promise you good reader that it worked pretty well at the time.  We had good momentum from the start of the competition and really never looked back. It was – quite simply a good time in my coaching life.. Perhaps the very best of times even.

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My supporting cast of coaches and advisors were the best in the business at the time. Mr Steen Kyst Hansen brought a wealth of managerial experience to the table was backing up. In a stroke of genius we also contracted the Sport Psychologist Mr Jørn Ravnholt to prepare the players mentally.  Still remember the days and the moments in Paris. The shots, the anxiety and more than anything young Mads Sorensen’s unbelievable transformation from an often underachieving, complaining loser to a big time winner.

We were all stunned when the left-hander suddenly from out of the blue roared through opponent after opponent at crucial times. We defeated a strong Russian team in the semi-final and in the final a slick Hungarian team coached by the legendary Zoltan Berczik, who in traditional Hungarian manners tried to deflect all the pressure and expectations away from his players.

“You know”, he said in the corridors before the match “We really have no chance at all in this match; your boys have played so well, congratulations to the win” Yeah sure.

*******

The conference-es on offer at INSEP this week is about ; The ambition to create an International Sport Coaching Framework. The easiest way to describe a fairly dry and complex subject is to talk about Sport Coaching as a recognized profession and different initiatives aiming at strengthening the position of coaches within associations and in the overall workplace. Not an easy subject , but at the same time not without a bit of momentum , as not fewer than eighteen international federations showed up this week.

Part two of my five days visit  is about International Training Centers .  The organizers are INSEP together with an organization called Associations of Sport Performance Centers  ASPC . Well suited subject with connections to the newest ITTF education idea to have a number ITTF Hot Spot centers recognized.

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Sunday was otherwise the transition day for me , and what to do other than an early riser and the TGV train to Strasbourg to follow one of my favorite events ; The Eurominichamps  in Schilitigheim. Standard wise  lets say B+ for the 1999 singles events and more like an A- for the 200o girls and a good B+ again for the 2000 boys. Overall the ITTF World Hopes Team selection did pretty good , especially the girls who captured several medals in tough competition. The total number of players were close to 360 and the organization , as always excellent. Just wonder how you as a European Association really can afford NOT to send players to this event each and every summer.. Scary fact that many didn’t . Lets hope it was all budget reasons – if not European Youth Table Tennis is in even deeper problems than I originally anticipated .

Just want to leave you with a pretty good picture of France ;

Dinner with Michel Gadal .. I can promise you that they all tasted very good ! Vive La France !

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

With the Future in Mind 

Mikael

 

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