It is a sunny rather slow Sunday morning in Schwechat, Austria, the city of twenty-thousand inhabitants, but with a workforce of almost four times that number travelling in for daily work in the many petrochemical industry factories located in this part of Vienna. Yesterday night – in fact the whole day the local Harley Davidson chapter held a party in the city center with a long lineup of entertainers on stage. Not that I paid too much attention – catching up with work following a few days of travel – but some of the stuff I did see passing through the city square sounded very good.
So, my guess that the people of this city are taking a breather today. However , not so much for the staff at the most famous, from an international perspective, institution in Schwechat – The Werner Schlager Academy. The doors opened back in 2011 and have since then remained open for the wonderful world of International Table Tennis. During the plus two years of active service, the coaches of the WSA have seen players from almost eighty countries enter and leave the WSA hall.
Usually the daily practice sessions features some 20-40 players per session – a mix of decorated internationals and local Austrian top stars. Lots of young players are finding their way to the WSA these days as well , this is a good promising development . They have , the coaches I mean, done their fair share of development work as well catering to a variety of players arriving from – let’s say the emerging Table Tennis countries out there. Venezuela is the latest country to make a strong commitment to the WSA parking almost their entire junior national team in Austria for a lengthy period of time.
So let’s put it like this. The idea of an active vibrant international center – we opted to call them ITTF Hot Spots does work. The WSA center fits that model perfect. Coaches are good, the admin staff also showing excellent commitment in establishing the business. It has not been an easy ride for sure – financial stress – slow cooperation with national association and the always difficult process of building a top level training group in Europe can at times be taxing on the spirit of the people working here.
But here we are. Seems like the business is, if not booming, at least working. Personally I think that patience is the key – and proper support from outside as well. There have been talks on high level to involve the ETTU in a women’s development project and also other ideas floating around how to improve marketing around the world. The latest initiative – powered by the ITTF is to have Hot Spots teams present at certain international junior events. Let’s build on that idea for the future. Out of the box thinking – yes indeed. But understand this; The Future for our sport is constantly changing and we have to ride with it.
My presence in Schwechat this week is related to the third ITTF Hopes Week and challenge. We organized the first Hopes challenge here at the WSA in 2011 – went to Falkenberg, Sweden last year and are now back in these familiar surroundings. . The good thing with the Hopes week; Impressive numbers. Sixty Hopes players from all the six continents – some plus thirty countries will be present this week. The Hopes week is the ultimate eye opener for the very youngest cut of aspiring internationals. The program overall – under the leadership of the experienced due of Dejan PAPIC and Zita PIDL with the new ITTF Education Director Polona Cehovin Susin overseeing things is now close to reaching the next level. Four years of operation is not a very long time for a global program of this nature. It’s a question of understanding the reality out there and realizing the true potential of identifying players at an early age – educating and pushing their coaches and in order to set the scene for coming success in international table tennis. With the Hopes so far – The number one thing to learn is the simple fact that motivation and ambition are making wonders in driving a different set of international goals.
The fun – The challenge and not to forget the Basic Education is on the Hopes schedule this week. What an amazing group of lecturers the Hopes Team is presenting to the participants. We will all learn about the Chinese Model from the experienced national coach/ teacher Li XIAODONG. The WSA trio of Werner SCHLAGER – Richard PRAUSE – Mario AMIZIC will cover interesting topics, and with a few other persons in the mix the educational power is probably the best ever.