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48-Day Countdown to Change in the ITTF's Presidency

By Sheri Cioroslan | July 15, 2014, 5 p.m. (ET)

Day 48, July 15 - Polona Cehovin Susin’s Approach to the ITTF’s Education and Training

“The main objective is to show the way and teach the Associations how to do it.” 

Polona Cehovin SusinYesterday Polona Cehovin Susin spoke with the Countdown about her background in the sport.  Today she addresses her role in leading the ITTF’s Education and Training Program. 

What are your primary objectives in the ITTF’s Education and Training Program and where do you see it heading in the coming years?

That’s a complicated question!  It might be good to start with the mission statement we use in our presentations, as I believe it says it all in a few words:

“To play a fundamental role in improving the sport of Table Tennis by securing sound and constructive pathways for Athletes’ development, by providing opportunities for Athletes and Coaches to excel in overall sport specific knowledge, including strong awareness of important rules and regulations attached to ITTF events and by creating a level playing field for talented Athletes and promising Coaches pursuing Table Tennis as their number one sport.”

Mikael Anderson is the author of this description of the Program’s core business.  He’s also the “father” of practically all the different projects that are run under our umbrella now. He was for many years the only person working on the program. I guess that because most of the projects were born spontaneously through Mikael’s efforts as ideas were coming to him, it might have given the impression that things were not very structured. So we made some “face-lifts” and tweaks, where needed, and added a few components to interconnect the projects, where applicable. 

If I try to summarize really briefly what our team is doing, I could say that everything starts with the “Hopes” Program. It is designed as the ITTF’s talent identification program, whereby we do think globally, but try to act and, especially to implement, the program locally. It’s partly about identifying talented players, mainly from lesser developed Associations, where maybe such structures don’t yet exist.  But the main objective is to show the way and teach the Associations, through their Hopes Coordinators and Coaches in charge of talent identification, how to do it.

More and more Associations around the world have started introducing National Hopes Week. Also, the continental phase that has been introduced has become very popular on some continents. In addition, we added the online component this year, making it compulsory for the coaches of the players that were selected in the World Hopes Team.

“With the Future in Mind” is another well-conceived program that, in cooperation with Olympic Solidarity, offers opportunities to some 15 players from not traditionally strong TT nations to practice in internationally recognized environments, namely training centers that are members of the Hot Spot Network, and/or compete at various Global Junior Circuit or other international events.

This way the players, Youth Olympic Games and/or Olympic Games candidates and their coaches, can gain precious experience that would normally not be available to them. For the future we want the Associations, and in particular the coaches of the players involved in this scholarship program, to be more "hands-on.”  That is the primary way taking part in the program will have a longer lasting legacy as the learnt skills and experience will later on be passed on to other players and new generations.

In addition to these two projects, there’s also the “Hot Spot Network,” with 25 member centers, and the “Online Education Platform.”  The Network is currently under revision.  We would like to add the Academy level, in which an even more educational approach would be applied, in particular for coaches. And due to the great interest of centers from across the world to get the ITTF stamp, we also plan to apply stricter criteria to join the Network and later on to maintain the status.  

The Online Education Platform that is supposed to function in support of all the mentioned projects, is something we all see as a tool with a lot of potential. It’s a tool that you can use practically for education of every target group, of course not limited to the “customers” of the Education and Training Program.  Some of the courses or their modules have already been put in use by the Development Program and the Umpires and Referees Committee. Hopefully soon we will spread its use further. It is also used as an efficient communication platform and the response is really good.

Overall we can say that all the above programs and projects are driven by the global reach and universality principles aiming at putting in place a contemporary and effective Athletes Development Model with the goal to provide sustainable development and a long-lasting legacy to the National Associations. 

As you mentioned, a source of pride for you is the ITTF’s Online Education Platform.  Can you give a brief “tutorial” to the readers who are interested in learning more and possibly even engaging more directly? 

Correct, I have a lot of faith in online education.  It is the latest addition to the Education and Training Program’s menu. It cannot, and it also was not set up with the wish to replace the “live” component which is run through the Development Program’s Coach Accreditation System, but with today’s technology, amazing things can be done. You can almost develop a proper virtual classroom online, which is actually what we would like to do.

We started on a small scale, not really knowing how the initiative would be accepted, but soon we had more than 2,000 registered users. Now our goal is to fill it up with quality content so that everyone interested and willing to learn or maybe just to see some good practices from around the world will find something for themselves.

The idea was also not to have the content related to coaching only. On the contrary, there are some other areas that, due to their nature, online courses might be even more beneficial and efficient. For example, there could be courses and examinations for umpires and referees, tutorials for players, virtual guidelines for competition organizers, etc.

Everything can be enriched with interactive features, like chat rooms and video materials. In fact, the Young Umpires Project that is connected with the YOG was run completely on our platform. And it was very well received by the participants. The possibilities are really countless.  I hope that once we are big enough to have one person dedicated to working on this platform only, we will be able to bring to life all the potential that modern online learning tools offer. 

You are in a unique position to comment about both the tangible and intangible benefits the sport has realized over the last fifteen years from the ITTF’s robust emphasis on Education and Training.  Could you share your views on this and add any other remarks about the progress the ITTF has made during President Sharara’s term in office?    

According to my knowledge, the ITTF is a real trend-setter among International Federations when it comes to the introduction of programs targeting youth, their development and most importantly setting up various and very diverse educational and training incentives for players, coaches and all the other stakeholders.

Everything that has been achieved so far wouldn’t be possible without a very close cooperation with the other ITTF’s Programs, namely Development and Competition, and all their dedicated staff members – Glenn Tepper, Mikael Andersson, Zita Pidl, Alison Burchell, Dejan Papic, Raul Calin and many more.  Besides, the contribution of the external members of the team is really valuable and important, too.

The guidance of the Junior Commission is considered as crucial. And I should mention all our partners – sponsors, Hot Spots, experts that work in the field and all the other friends and supporters of the Program.

However, none of this would have happened if it wasn’t for Adham’s vision and his broad picture of the overall development of our beautiful sport in the first place. He managed to bring in very passionate people, real masters in their field of expertise, to attract the right partners and finally to “sell” it to the membership.

With the current team, we are trying to keep all the good that has been developed over the years. And there’s really a lot of it.  Enriching it by innovative and contemporary approaches, also by orienting the projects more toward education, consequently means putting the coaches in the spotlight.  The training component, in particular when it comes to players, shall be progressively taken over by the Hot Spot training centers.

Thanks to the President’s vision about affiliation, Continents have become important partners in the structure, too.  And, in my personal opinion, this is the right pathway to follow.  Also, from the professional point of view, the step from national to the international/world is too big. Continents play a crucial role in the model as representing an important milestone in each player’s career.

We will be able to feel that we’ve really made a difference when we see the level within Associations and Continents elevate. This will result in seeing our sport grow even more. Consequently the top will go higher and higher. It’s common sense that applies everywhere, especially in sports.

Polona, thank you so much for all of your explanations.  Your passion for the sport and its future is evident.  And to think that it all started because of chewing gum!