13 December 2009

Australian National Coach Marcus Gustafsson, what are your goals in Australia?
My biggest goal is to get the players to think more 'group' than just 'individual' like now. It is so much individual thinking in Australia which doesn't necessarily have to wrong but we need to combine the two much more.
How can we achieve this?
The states and TTA need to work together so we can have as many camps and practice together as possible. That is number one. It isn't hard to do and should be happening more around the country. It is also cheaper for the players and the coaches can also make a higher hourly rate this way. This is the way the rest of the world does it and I'm trying to make Australia understand the benefit of group training.
Australian table tennis is conservative in its thinking. - This is the way we have always done things - is heard far and wide. How can we get past this and get positive changes happening?
That all starts from the top. The boards and administrations in the states and in TTA. It's important that the people in deciding positions are seeing and acting in a way that's best for the progress in the country, and that they will be able to make decisions eventhough it affects their own personal interest in a negative way.
Do you think we need some help from outside our own sport?
Absolutely. I believe in involving business knowledge and resourcefulness in our boards. There is completely different thinking in the business world compared to the sporting world and we would benefit from tapping into this more.
How can we motivate our best juniors and seniors to get to a world level in table tennis?
I think the association should play the major role here. We need to bring sparring and competition to Australia and fund players to go overseas. We need that stimulation and those opportunities. It is more difficult for seniors as we can't offer them a salary to play right now. I believe we have to look at the private sector for extra funding. I also think the national body as well as the state bodies should be careful not to exclude players from participation in the activities with too many and too complicated rules and regulations, since we need the players to stay in the sport.
What is the difference between a player who makes it to the elite and a player who doesn't?
Many things. It is what you do on a day to day basis. Becoming an elite player is not a couple of times per week but all day every day. There are no shortcuts. It is about having the right attitude. It takes a lot of training and training of good quality.
If we look at the Chinese. They lose 99.9% of their good players along the way to becoming top players. They burn out or injure themselves.
It is difficult to compare to China as they have such a massive pool of players to use. But the top European nations practice very hard to reach the top. Of course, some must drop out along the way but it is crucial to find the right balance between a lot and too much. You have to be alert and notice when you are burning out or you have an injury coming on.
Can players in Australia really be expected to dedicate their lives 24 hours per day to table tennis at the moment?
It is very difficult without a professional structure in place, and also without a centralised program.
Do you feel the palyers handled the tough conditions in New Caledonia during the week?
The players did very well I think. There was a big difference in standards at the Olympic Qualifying and at times it was very challenging for the Australians. But it is hard to play a few easy matches in a row and then have an all or nothing match against a strong player for a spot in the Olympics. The humidity in the hall made it like a different sport out there at times and the players had to have very strong minds to deal with that. They did that well.
Swedish table tennis was world leading for a long time but steadily declined. As a Swede, could you tell us a bit about that?
It was for several reasons of course. The big one was the board and association. They did very poorly at turning the results and all the media attention into sponsorship and money. An association cannot become successful without money. The players must be given opportunities to go abroad to practice and compete properly. Secondly, they got lazy and thought the success would continue by itself. There are few good coaches in Sweden compared to 15 years ago and that has had an effect as well. Another big reason is that though we had some juniors on a top european and world level, they never got a real chance in the national team since the old players, who were not committed any more but still the best, always got picked ahead of them. That I believe created a big gap which now 5-10 years later still is there. Sweden seems finally have learned a little by the mistake since a lot of the funding goes in to the new young generation who now taking medals in European Youths every year.
Can you draw any comparisons between Sweden's decline and countries like Australia which struggle to reach the world elite?
It is very difficult to compare as the cultures are so different between Sweden and Australia. But you have to have good coaches, a strong board, good administration. That foundation must be in place to starting building good players. And you should not be afraid of selecting young players who need the experience of international senior championships on several occasions before they have the pressure on them to deliver for their country.
Do we need a league in Australia?
We need a league in the future for many reasons. The only chance we have to keep those players who are willing to dedicate themselves to the sport is to offer them a chance to make a living out of playing. It is so important to keep them and we need them to practice with the younger players and give the younger players have someone to look up to and aim to beat. A national league is a must to give the players a chance to earn a living and keep them in the sport. Now the main reason for top players to stay in the sport is to gain spots in the Olympics and Commonwealth Games. It is admirable that our players, even those approaching forty and over, are willing to put so much time into the sport. It is impressive to see. We need a league to offer them more reasons.