USA Table Tennis
11-Day Countdown to Change in the ITTF's Presidency
Day 11, August 21 - Michel Gadal Urges Worldwide Table Tennis Family to Embrace P5 Plan
“Saying clearly that we want to be in the Top 5 will help us to believe it is possible and will give us more confidence.”
How did you begin playing table tennis?
I began playing table tennis when I was 9-years-old in a small city, Auch, in the southwest of France. Basically I went to the table tennis club because the father of one of my best friends was the President of the club and my friend was already playing. Actually there were four friends in our group. We lived on the same street and all of us became members of the club.
I believe this story is very similar to those of many table tennis players who initially chose the sport more for social reasons than for some specific aspect of the game.
Looking back, I understand how lucky I was to have met these persons because they introduced me to more than a sport. Table tennis has been at the centre of my life since my first step into that club.
What sources do you credit for helping you to develop your expertise as a coach?
As far as I remember, I can see 3 turning points:
- When I was 18, I understood that even though I had become a “good” player, I’d never become a top player. I was already interested in coaching but I didn’t yet have a clear idea that it could become a full-time job. At this time the President of the club told me of the possibility to coach a group of young players. It was the beginning of a new government policy creating part-time jobs in sport. He insisted, supported me and helped me get one of the first full-time coaching positions for a TT club. That was the beginning of my adventure.
- During the 6 years I worked for the club, I was following coaching education courses and met a national coach who helped me a lot to develop my style. His name is Gerard Leroy. He taught me more than table tennis. He helped me to use my brain in a better way in order to solve problems and always to look for new solutions.
- The third turning point happened when I got my first position in the French Table Tennis Federation as head coach of the region of Languedoc-Roussillon, the Montpellier region. After a few months I met Jean-Philippe Gatien, the eventual 1993 World Champion. He was then 11-years-old. Many people have told me that I made him the player he became, but my feeling is that he helped me as much as I helped him. To be recognized as a good coach you need to have good players! Coaching him was at the same time a challenge because he was learning very fast and very easily because he understood very early the style of TT he could play. He shared the vision of table tennis I suggested and it has always been part of the evolution of his game. He really pushed me very hard to study our sport, imagine new solutions and become a better coach.
Answering your question makes it very clear to me that there were three persons who have been key in my career: the first helped me to love TT, the second taught me to think better and the third helped me to implement my vision by giving me his full support.
What is the connection you feel with coaching that keeps you engaged and loving it to this day?
Even if I haven’t been coaching players for quite a long time, I still feel very close to the coaches. In my job I am used to coaching many people in order to help them to improve in their job. I also lead some coaching education courses and still have some projects to develop a coaching school to try to work on new ways of approaching coaching in our sport.
Besides that I am always very passionate about excellence in table tennis. I take every opportunity to exchange ideas with the coaches still involved in competition. I believe that we should take more time to exchange our knowledge and experiences in order to help each other to improve.
What do you think it will take for TT to be in the TOP 5 IN ALL WE DO?
Putting this as a priority Adham Sharara has already helped us a lot. Very often we are very shy and don’t believe that our sport can be among the top sports in the world. A lot of table tennis people still believe that we are a “small” sport and, therefore, are limiting their ambition. Saying clearly that we want to be in the Top 5 will help us to believe it is possible and will give us more confidence.
The second important point is that Adham’s message is very clear. We should start to benchmark all of our actions against the best in the world in everything we are doing. This is something not very common in the table tennis world. We are more used to measuring ourselves against other table tennis federations or against what we have done in the past.
I do believe that being proud of our sport and opening our minds to other activities (sport or otherwise) are two keys elements to achieve our Top 5 goal.
We also need to engage as many as possible to work in the same direction. This project has to become the project of the table tennis family. Concurrence is a very strong factor. Therefore we need to be unified and positive if we want to be successful.
Can you comment on the special ties you have with ITTF President Adham Sharara?
I met Adham at various occasions, but the first time we really spoke together was in Seoul during the 1988 Olympics. During that discussion, I mentioned to him that, at one point, I could be interested in working abroad and that Canada could be a country I would enjoy living in.
In retrospect, that discussion with Adham proved to be a turning point in my career. A few years later I moved to Canada and began working with Adham at the Canadian Table Tennis Association. So that is how together with my wife Helene and our daughters Marie and Stephanie, I moved to Ottawa. It was an adventure for us! Adham and his family were very helpful and right from the start we felt very comfortable in this new environment.
Throughout the six years I worked for the Canadian TTA I had the opportunity to meet Adham almost every day and to work with him on various projects. I still remember his capacity to find solutions to problems, to be always positive, and to integrate all the staff in a great dynamic.
Besides working together, we shared great moments on the squash court, cycling and eating out at restaurants! We spoke a lot about table tennis and many other things during our time spent together with family and friends.
I experienced a new way of life and a new culture. I learned a lot. Our time in Canada was one of the best times in my family’s life.
For all these reasons Adham is for me not only a “table tennis person,” but somebody I always have the pleasure to meet with and to spend time with.
What do you think has been Adham’s most meaningful contribution to the sport/the ITTF?
I am not able to limit myself to pick just one thing that Adham did, but I can say that he has completely changed our sport.
He has changed our attitude, our presentation and representation of TT. He helped us to be more self-confident.
His vision for table tennis and his charisma has led the ITTF and table tennis people in the right direction to have our sport become recognized worldwide.
With the P5 plan he is showing us again the right direction. We have a lot of work to do, but if we follow his example and his philosophy, we have a chance to be successful.
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