In 2018 Michael Lauro was named USATT Volunteer Coach of the Year for his work at the Little Rock Table Tennis Club (LRTTC) and as coach and owner of the recently opened Arkansas Table Tennis Academy in North Little Rock.
But for the Little Rock, Arkansas resident and former competitive player including the 1985 and 1986 Junior Olympics, the award could have just as easily been to honor him as Comeback Person of the Year.
After putting away his paddle for 25 years and not returning until 2011 Lauro has since thrown himself completely back into the game he has always loved with the goal of sharing his passion and knowledge for table tennis with others in his community.
“Since I've returned to the sport in 2011, I cannot explain the passion and energy that I feel when I am involved with table tennis, especially when working with younger players and seeing them develop and reach new milestones in their table tennis adventure,” said the 46-year-old Lauro.
“ During 2018, I was so focused on learning to be a better coach, improving my knowledge of player development, and supporting my local community. Everything I have been doing in table tennis is with the goal in mind to have a positive impact on other coaches and players, and to be able to help grow the sport,” he said.
Lauro was initially surprised and then humbled that his efforts in his community were being recognized by USATT.
“I was really excited when the announcements were made, but at the same time I was a little shocked to see my name alongside the other coach of the year winners in the various categories,” recalled Lauro. “I read through the list of coaches and their achievements, and came to my photo and announcement last. I thought "who is this guy and how did this happen...does he belong on this list?" I always feel like the little kid from Little Rock who has been away from the sport for 25 years and not many people really know whom I am. “
Lauro accepted the award seeing it not as the end of his work in promoting the sport but more as a significant milestone on his way to doing more in introducing table tennis to even more people.
“For me the award is less about personal accomplishment and more about setting myself on a path that will help to inspire and motivate others and eventually lead to the growth of table tennis in Arkansas,” said Lauro. “In particular, I hope that more local kids and their parents will be able to experience the lifetime benefits and joys of table tennis like I did when I was a kid and like I do now as an adult. Unlike many other sports, we can play table tennis at from age 4 to over 104.
“The lessons we learn and the friends we make along the way are some of the most enriching things we can experience in life. Receiving this award shows that you can have a full time job outside of table tennis and still be able to have a positive impact on individuals and the community, Lauro said of his “day” job as Information Systems Manager in the IT Department at Arkansas Teacher Retirement System.
“All that is needed is the desire, the passion, and the will to do it,” he said.
Last December Lauro officially opened the Arkansas Table Tennis Academy after 5 months of remodeling and upgrading an empty warehouse space of 1800 square feet.
“The academy is a dedicated space focused on growing the sport of table tennis in Arkansas and implementing a sustainable junior development program. It has 4 tables, with 3 always set up. Two tables are always set up for lessons and open play while the third is primarily used for robot training. During group training sessions, 3-4 tables can be used,” explained Lauro.
“In this dedicated space which I rent, I am able to have all of my coaching and training tools, schedule lessons and training sessions at any time. Although I operate it outside of my full time job, it functions as a full time training facility.
“The academy provides a space in which I can reach my full potential as a coach and player. It also offers time that I can spend by myself to engage in creative thinking about coaching techniques, activities to offer other players, and ways to engage youth,” he said.
Lauro has absorbed much knowledge to expand his coaching capabilities over the years and is quick to credit those who have supported him across his career.
"All my life I've learned from coaches who have taught me valuable life lessons and nurtured my development as person, table tennis player and coach. Two coaches who have had the most profound impact on me are my parents, Mike and Cathy Lauro. When I first took up table tennis at age 7, my dad coached me; but he and my mom both raised me in an environment that included freedom to try new things and explore my interests. Growing up surrounded by unwavering encouragement and unconditional love is the main ingredient for where I'm at today in life. They continue to support my table tennis adventures, including my new table tennis academy. I am forever grateful for everything they’ve taught me and for all of their love."
"As my table tennis skills grew, my dad realized I needed a professional table tennis coach. A decorated table tennis player and club owner, Coach Duke Stogner stepped in at a pivotal moment in my adolescent development. He spent countless hours with me in our carport and garage at home working with me to be a better table tennis player and person. From him I learned sportsmanship, responsibility, honesty, and caring for others. Duke's positive impact on my life is a primary motivation for me to share what I’ve learned and to help develop young players today. Coach Duke and I continue to stay in contact he always encourages me."
He took those initial skills as a player and decided to invest more into coach education, turning to the world's most decorate coach educator.
"After returning to table tennis as an adult, my first experience with another professional coach was learning from Coach Richard McAfee in the ITTF Level 1, 2, and 3 Coaching Courses from 2012-2014. During these courses, Coach Richard showed me what it means to care deeply about education and the importance of always striving to learn more. I admire his calm demeanor, preparedness for class, and dedication to teaching. He created an atmosphere in which learning was exciting. He also emphasized the importance of studying, being prepared, and believing in myself. These experiences provided me with a solid foundation on which to build my coaching skills."
More recently he became involved in the Hopes Program, and recently his club was part of the USA Hopes Tour and hosted a regional qualfication event, where he had a chance to work alongside National Coach Pieke Franssen and also USATT High Performance Director Joerg Bitzigeio.
"In 2018, one coach in particular has changed my life and improved my coaching more than I could have imagined. I met Coach Pieke Franssen in person on Friday, April 13, 2018 at the Alameda Hopes Camp and Tournament in Alameda, California where I was invited to train as a coach under his mentoring. Although I had practical experience coaching small groups, this camp introduced me to a large group of more than 20 young and talented players. Working alongside Coach Pieke at this camp was humbling, rewarding, and engaging. I had a privilege to spend the next two Hopes camps and a week-long training session with Coach Pieke, and to assist him with coaching the Alameda’s youth team at U.S. Nationals and the U.S. Open. His focus, intensity, and way of coaching young players of all skill levels was an amazing experience for me. He taught me the impact that cohesive group training can have on the development of the individual player when the group trains as a team. He emphasized to me to always think about the goals of the training when organizing sessions, and to recognize the value of being able to improvise. Coach Pieke is an extremely effective coach who continues to have a positive impact on the sport, his players and their parents, and other coaches."
"Recently, at the 2019 USATT Hopes camp in my hometown of Little Rock, Arkansas, I had another privilege to coach with USATT High Performance Director Joerg Bitzigeio. Throughout the camp, he engaged easily with the young players and they responded with focus and intensity during the training sessions. I observed his way of working with other coaches and talking with parents. He is highly skilled with organizing training sessions, improvising when necessary, and relating to players in a positive way. Like Coach Pieke, Coach Joerg makes large group training look really easy. Both coaches have mastery of time management, positive ways of engaging with young players, and an inspiring passion for their craft.
I’m truly fortunate for all of these learning opportunities that have helped to shape my coaching skills and perspective. I love to learn, and I hope I always do."
No doubt with such passion and a humble attitude, Mike Lauro is destined to become a role model, in the same light as he praises his own, for many young and enthusiastic table tennis players in Arkansas and across the USA.