There were delegates from all over Europe present at the Werner Schlager Academy to hear Jean Claude Decret explain some of the secrets of the French Association’s success at European Junior level over the past few years. He revealed that the French TTA had scrapped at least 6 National centres in favour of a more personal approach based around the individual needs of the most talented players. They now have just 3 National Centres around France each one catering for only 8-10 players in spite of the thousands of players playing at a high level in France. On a level above that they have INSEP in Paris where the Senior teams live and practice.
He said that players were being identified at a much earlier age and started to specialise earlier. They have introduced Baby Ping in the clubs for 4-7 years old. Already for the 8-12 year old they expect 14-16 hours practice a week. By the age of 13 the top level cadets are ready to be integrated into the National Centres. In the centres, they take a player-centred approach which saw each player have a strong team around them directed by the National coach but including fitness trainers,physio,sports psychologists but also including the parents of the child and the club coach.
A unique part of the scheme was that the club coaches are educated along with their players and they learn and grow so that they can better help future generations to have even stronger basic skills. Obviously they have a large amount of money for this structure to work but with total buy-in from players, parents, coaches and clubs they have managed to upskill their coaches while providing a high performance environment for their players and the cost, Jean Claude said, is still less than they used to spend on the large number of centres,which actually never produced any results!
Other contributors included Viorel FILIMON from Romania. He spoke about a Romanian system based on early selection and showed videos of training which was repetitive and brutal. Players only got one chance to impress before being shown the door if they did not pass a battery of tests. Those who survived pre selection were trained with multi ball and rigorously screened over the next few months. Many of the delegates commented that in most western countries they would be arrested for this kind of Training regime but Mr Filimon just smiled charmingly and said that “it is a difficult, tough road, with many obstacles and sacrifices for which there is no recipe. I am sure you all know this but the satisfaction of being a winner is unforgettable.”
Sunday saw the arrival of Werner Schlager and Mario Amizic from the WSA for a question and answer session and discussion of the previous night Euro Champions League match in which Schlager played and all the delegates attended. He gave some interesting insights from his years of playing: “This is very unfair sport. In the age of 18, 19, or 20 you have physical strength, but your mind develops latter. There is no way you can teach the youngsters how to win in “do or die situations”. It is something that comes with experience and age.” Much travelled coach Amizic who has just left his post as Japanese National coach to take up this post in the WSA was very philosophical about his time coaching and gave some insights into his work with many of the world top players including Samsonov, Mizutani and others. “Never take your watch into the hall” he cautioned the puzzled delegates before explaining that you had to be always flexible and sensitive to the needs of the players and design the training to allow a last minute change.
There were also presentations on Physical Fitness Training and on Coaching Young Girls as well as other discussion sessions in a packed weekend schedule. The delegates dispersed with many thought provoking and interesting ideas and also having had the benefit of making informal contacts and exchanging ideas with coaches from other countries.