Indian TT players at ease with European trainers

New India coach, Anders Johansson from Sweden, is the sixth from overseas in the last 10 years.

It is not only the Indians who are fond of their methods of training, even Europeans are happy working here. Former Swedish World Champion Peter Karlsson, who is currently in India to coach the budding youngsters for a week, says the Indian players are easy to work with and  language is not at all problem.

"I feel very comfortable while coaching the Indian players. It is amazing to see that everyone is so fluent in English here. And it is a very important factor as effective communication is necessary in a player and a coach relationship," Karlsson told IANS.
On Indian paddlers preferring Europeans to Asians, he said: "I think Europeans believe in an interactive style of coaching, which the Indians like."

India have had the benefit of training under some of the best Chinese, Korean and Japanese coaches in the past, but in recent years the Indian players have performed a lot better under the Europeans.

Frenchman Hubert Hustache set the ball rolling when India won the gold in the men's team and individual (Sharath Kamal) at the 2004 Commonwealth Championships in Kuala Lumpur.

Under Hustache's successor, Romanian-born Benoni Christian Grigore, India bagged their first ever gold at the 2006 Commonwealth Games in Melbourne when the country's top paddler Sharath won the men's singles gold and played a significant role in the team winning another gold.

India's performance during Anders Johansson's predecessor, Italian Massimo Constantini, was also satisfactory with the women's team winning its maiden silver in the New Delhi Commonwealth Games and Sharath and Subhajit Saha securing a doubles gold. Despite the impressive showing at the Commonwealth level, India have not gone up in the world rankings.

Former India player and Arjuna Awardee Kamlesh Mehta acknowledges the fact and is worried about India's inability to have four-five players of high standard performing at the highest stage.

Kamlesh, however, has little doubt that the future holds promise and the European coaches are the ones to take the Indian table tennis to greater heights.

"Our players are used to the European style which is based on tactical play whereas the Chinese rely more on intensity. We cannot compete with the Chinese in fitness and that is why we find Europeans more comfortable to work with.

"Another important factor is that language is not a barrier in the case of  Europeans as most of them speak English. They are also known to have a better backhand than the Asians and it's one aspect where we need a lot of improvement," Mehta, who trained under North Korean and Chinese coaches in the 1980s, told IANS.

On the current state of Indian table tennis, Mehta said: "It is true that we have always had a single player performing at the top whether it was me in the 80s or Sharath (currently ranked 60) now. But with the government support increasing thanks to the Commonwealth Games, I see more players doing well," said Mehta, who reached a career-high ranking of 71 in 1985.   

"The change will not happen overnight and the only way we can produce world-class players is by taking care of the junior lot."

As if to endorse Kamlesh's views, Saha finds the Europeans more professional than the Asians.

"They are totally committed to their job. Even their skills and knowledge are no less than the Asians. Barring the Chinese, a lot of the Japanese and Korean players have  European coaches. I learnt a lot on how to play in a match when Constantini was around and will hopefully do a lot more under Johansson.

"Johansson looks the best we have ever had," said Saha, referring to the Swede's credentials, which include a stint with former World Champion and compatriot Jorgen Persson.

India's next big assignment will be the Asian Championships in September and the all-important Olympic Qualifiers in April.

"It will be interesting to see how much commitment he shows as there is little time left before the Olympics," said Mehta.   

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