by Dora Jeler, ITTF High Performance & Development Operations Manager
You are a highly decorated coach who has worked at an elite level for quite some time, culminating with the recent massive success with the Indian team at the Commonwealth Games and the Asian Games. Can you tell us your story and share your background with us?
First of all, during my career as a player, I have always had a passion for understanding Table Tennis and the techniques behind it. I wanted to improve myself, and the best way to do so was to implement the coaches’ advice with a better comprehension of what was going on in my game. From there, making the next step into coaching was quite natural. As a player, I represented my country Italy for 23 consecutive years, contributing to the growth of Italian Table Tennis in those years. I started coaching right after my last World Championships in Tianjin in 1995. I was the Head Coach of Italy 2002-2005, Head Coach of the UAE 2007-2008, Head Coach of India 2009-2010, Head Coach of Indian Community Centre in the USA 2010-2016,and then again the Head Coach of India until a few days ago. The opportunity of having had so many different experiences gave me an additional knowledge in teaching/leading/guiding/coaching players and coaches.
You’re the first “technical” (coaching) hire by the ITTF. What are you hoping to bring to the table?
Well, my role is quite specific, having to deal with High Performance which is quite familiar to me. I want to add value to the multitude of players around the World who are demanding to be guided. Currently, there is a huge request for Table Tennis, because it is getting more popular, but at times many of them have no clue as to what to do, what kind of preparation to adopt, where to play and how to play. I would like to be a point of reference for many talents scattered around the world. I would like to explain why the Chinese are so good, and maybe how to beat them, what to learn from each other, talk about the secrets of Ma Long or how Boll continues to be a phenomenon, why sometimes you do a good action and lose the point and why sometimes you do the wrong action and you win the point. There is so much behind High Performance, and I would like to explain exactly what is behind it. Furthermore, I believe that my extensive experience in several parts of the world (as I said I worked in Europe, Asia, America) gave me the ability to select the proper key of communication and being effective and efficient.
What are your aims and ambitions for the High Performance program, also with a view to the importance it has within the ITTF’s new Strategic Plan, as one of the five strategic priorities?
It is definitely a huge responsibility. The good news is that behind the scenes is a team that works and supports each member of the program. This is a fantastic feeling that I have perceived since the first meetings and email exchanges. Yes, the Strategic Plan is our Northern Star: there will be a lot of hurdles before reaching the goals but honestly, I am not afraid of facing them. I like the challenges, I always do. The High Performance program is the starting line of a path where the ITTF can be essential for the success of numerous players. We are there to assist and guide a new generation of players and give a better perspective for their future. We are definitely ready to give support to everyone for an improvement in their game. There are already some existing programs, like the Hopes with training camps and competitions, and for Juniors the Rough Diamonds program in cooperation with the CTTC (China Table Tennis College). Our actions will never stop to encourage Continents, countries, coaches and players to trust Table Tennis and trust the talent they might have. The moment they call, we will promptly respond. Within 2019, we want to have 2 ITTF High Performance Table Tennis Centres of Excellence. These will be our laboratory where we can develop Table Tennis in any form. Later also several Continental Centres will see the light of day. In the near future, we will need the cooperation of the NOCs and coaches, we will recruit more people to make sure we will achieve what we have planned, and at last, we will see our goal taking the proper shape.
What are you most looking forward to in your new role?
In this first period, I want to meet people, players and coaches. I want to talk to them; I want to let them know that I am here to help, to give something that they could not get otherwise. I want to attend competitions, observe them performing and understand what needs to be added or what needs to be subtracted from their game. I want to have a constant line of communication with Federations, coaches, players, fitness trainers, mental trainers, and ultimately I want to share with them my knowledge for their benefit.
And what will you miss the most about your “old” life?
I wouldn’t call it my “old” life, but simply an evolution of that life. Well, obviously, those moments when your player, thanks to your eye-contact or time-out, or because of a word said, or a sign of understanding, wins the match, that I definitely will miss. But on the other hand, I tell you that if I can teach something to someone and came to know that a player won a match because of that teaching, then, perhaps, that’s going to replace those missing moments.
Thank you and have a great Table Tennis ahead.