Day 80, June 13 - Interview with ITTF’s Deputy CEO Glenn Tepper
“Each of the continents were very skeptical of this tall Australian guy.”
In yesterday’s interview, ITTF President Adham Sharara indicated that the ITTF hired you in 1999 to head up the Oceania Development Program. That must have felt really exciting to be hired to do what you love. Before we get into that subject, can you tell us how you got started in the game and what you find so appealing about table tennis?
My father was a regional tennis champion, and table tennis was his off-season passion.
In our small home town of 1000 my father and mother ran the table tennis association and at one stage 40% of the population played weekly competition, which must be some sort of record at least from a percentage point of view.
I started off playing both tennis and table tennis but a very wet summer holiday when I was 9 years old, where 4 wet weeks were spent exclusively in the table tennis room, changed all that.
My father studied legendary Australian tennis coach Harry Hopman’s methods intensely and applied this to table tennis, resulting in him using advanced techniques, such as multi-ball, before it was introduced anywhere in Australia.
All 4 of us family siblings played for Australia as a result, despite being a 4 hour drive from the nearest major table tennis centre.
Moving on to your professional career, were there any memorable logistics involved with transitioning over to a paid staff position with the ITTF?
The biggest challenge and question for both myself personally and the ITTF in general was whether I should move to Lausanne or remain in Australia and thus follow a “centralized” or “decentralized” model when the ITTF was starting to expand under Adham’s leadership.
I was the “test pilot” for this discussion at the EC level and given a 12 month trial on the “decentralized” model.
After 6 months based in Australia I thought I had made a mistake being on the phone daily to Lausanne and Adham, but by the second 6 months, I became more independent and by the end of the year it was not even discussed anymore, as the decentralized model clearly worked and was adopted as a policy for ITTF.
For the specific work, having a Physical Education teaching background which included curriculum development and being school sports coordinator, playing for Australia for 10 years including 2 years in Sweden and many trips to China, and working in a school for troubled youth seeing the power of sport to transform their lives, gave me the perfect background for the work I was about to embark on and was just a matter of applying principles and organizational skills already in my repertoire to the table tennis scenario.
When I studying for my Bachelor of Physical Education I was also involved in several joint projects to produce coaching manuals for other sports. I wished to do the same for table tennis. And so again when Adham asked me to set up an ITTF Coach Accreditation system and write the ITTF Level 1 Coaching Manual, the seeds were already planted many years before.
President Sharara stated that Oceania was "probably the most difficult area in the world to develop our sport." Given your fantastic success in doing so, can you share what your strategy was?
“Multi-skilling” is the key, and it’s a model that has been followed to this day.
We do not need the best coach in the world, but we need a passionate multi-skilled person that can introduce table tennis in a primary school in the morning, meet with the National Olympic Committee President in the afternoon and conduct an ITTF Level 1 Coach Education course in the evening, while assisting with a detailed development plan in their “free time.”
We spend a lot of time both scanning the globe for these multi-skilled and passionate staff and educating them at every opportunity.
So then the ITTF added a continent to the program each year after that until all were covered in the ITTF's Development Program. Can you address how you built up the program over the next handful of years after being hired?
One of my early tasks was to attend the AGM of each Continental Federation and, in your own case in North America, travel to the USA for a joint meeting with the USA, Canada and Bermuda to form NATTU.
Each of the continents were very skeptical of this tall Australian guy in the beginning and each said, “We are different.” That is absolutely correct but the same basic principles always apply and were successfully adapted to the specific needs of each continent. Now at the IOC and ASOIF [the Association of Summer Olympic International Federations], the ITTF Development Program is used as a model for other sports and has won multiple awards.
That’s fantastic! Now formal Agreements with all of the Continental Federations are in place. And, with the impending cap on number of associations to participate in future World Team Table Tennis Championships, do you foresee an expansion of duties on the Development side to help the Continental Federations become even more self-reliant?
Look at the FIFA World Cup. Every match played is considered a critical part of the World Cup and promoted accordingly.
The new system, which in reality is due to the expansion of ITTF to become tied as the biggest International Sports Federation worldwide, means there is only a handful of countries that can organize an event of that size. This can actually be a huge benefit for the continents. Continental Championships become more important, which allows for the fifth “P,” Promotion, to be fully implemented at the continental level. Marketing and Development are already working hand-in-hand to achieve this in many continents.
With all of this success, you have been promoted within the ranks to ITTF Deputy CEO. Besides the Development Program, what are your other main responsibilities?
The ITTF has 4 main pillars: Competition, Operations, Development and Education, plus, of course, marketing through TMS.
CEO Judit Farago is responsible for Competition and Operations, while I am responsible for Development and Education, then we share other higher duties connected to the Executive Committee and other areas.
Thank you, Glenn. I hope we can delve deeper into some of these and other topics again soon.
Sure! Watch out for our new Diploma, Bachelor and Master’s Degree Professional Coach Pathway, which is coming soon in the ever expanding Development and Education area.