TTFit are very excited to bring to you a comprehensive interview with one of France’s leading Pro A coaches Julien Girard!
I was first inspired to become a coach was when my first coach arrived in my town after travelling all the way from Montenegro to France during the war times by foot!! This coach was a massive influence on my life and he became almost like a second father for me. He taught me many things about the game and life, but the technical side was not his strength. It was, however, a real privilege to work under him and I thought to myself that I want to give back to the sport like he did for me!
As a player, I competed in National 1 (3rd League) in France and was ranked around 200 in the National French rankings. However, at the early age of 24 I developed a series of injuries including some issues with my back and neck that sadly ended my playing career. After this I decided to become a coach and started with the French coaching courses and awards and gained two levels but felt that these did not teach me enough! Therefore, I decided to travel the world for two years and look for new experiences in table tennis. I visited many countries on my travels that included Sweden, Germany, Denmark, Algeria, China, Japan plus many others… this was almost my passport for freedom whilst learning many new life and table tennis skills on the way.
My coaching career blossomed after this as I started working with a group of young players in Villeneuve Sur Lot in France where we worked for 12 years to create a men’s team capable of competing at the highest level in France “Pro A”. In this team, I helped create and nurture players such as Adrian Mattenet French No 27, Marcos Madrid Mexico No 1, Julian Petiot (Junior French Champion 2007) and Stephane Quaiche French No 28. During these 12 years we put a lot of focus on creating and working with real French talent and to help give them the chance to compete on the international stage. Our highest finish in in my time at Villeneuve was 5th in Pro A – An achievement I’m very proud of…
Question 1 – Who is your greatest inspiration in Table tennis and why?
For me of course it was Waldner… When I was a young boy, I was watching this player with a lot of interest and what stood out for me was his charisma and the different things he could do with the ball! I learned a great deal watching Waldner he is a massive inspiration to me!
Question 2 – Do you think attitude plays a big factor in winning?
Yes, you need to start with the attitude to set some goals or targets for your table tennis game… Of course, you need tactics to win, but during the matches it’s important that you are reacting to situations when your game is not working! Working with players who appreciate and play every ball is the most important point… then, this is good and what I look for in terms of attitude. Also, I feel that players must keep the negative thoughts and feelings out of their game and life in order to progress and keep an “open” mind-set. For this game is about passion and I want to see players express this in their body language (shouting, positive gestures & looking happy in the fight) but this must be done with the utmost respect to your opponent and opposing team! I feel if the player can express themselves like this then it will take the focus off the nerves and pressure situations – we try to cultivate this in our training sessions! Finally, it is very important to have the public supporting you and I feel with good expression on the table this will help the public get behind you and raise your level with their support!
Question 3 – How do you get the best from your players?
I always say – A great coach will change your life and a good coach will change your game! We try to build the player and also the human! It’s important that we work on both these factors… If you give the players good values and they accept this then we can work together on helping them improve as a player. It’s very important when we are training and setting the training sessions that we build step-by-step setting small achievable goals and not always looking at the players end goal! Why I think this is important is because if we reach our end goal too quickly then the player feels “I have made it…” there is no more motivation to keep improving… We have to explain to the players that titles are important yes, but we need them to think about the long term and help them develop as a player!
Question 4 – What do you look for in a player?
For me I look for 3 important factors…
Question 5 – Who is the best player you have worked with and what sets them apart?
For me it has to be Stephan Quaiche… he was so different from the rest! Sometimes you could think of him like a Chess master… he understands the game and always seems to be one step ahead with great perception for space and the ball!
I feel that he is a player that doesn’t always work hard and in my time with him I found myself creating many different challenges in order to keep his motivation high! For example, we play a simple multi-ball exercises like 2 Forehands Wide and 2 Forehands from the backhand and after 5/6 minutes he would feel a little tired and does not want to push so hard. So, in this instance I created a challenge/fun situation always with a little fun bet for a coke or something, then we might do something crazy like – play penhold for 50 balls and if he makes all 50 on the table then he wins the bet! Maybe what he did not know that this exercise was working on improving his movement and strengthening the power in his legs whilst he was having a lot of fun! With this type of player, you need to create some challenges to get your goal without them even knowing what you’re doing… this is not easy and takes a lot of energy! Also, for Stephane we need to make a lot of variety for him in the drills and let him try to change the ball and work with much variation in speed and spin on his shots… maybe sometimes he is working on chopping the ball far from the table even though he isn’t a defender! I like to work with these players as it’s a big challenge for a coach and not all are willing to work with such players!
Question 6 – What advice do you have for the new generation of players?
15 years ago, I feel that only 20 countries were doing quality work in table tennis in terms of training and knowledge but now this has doubled!
For a young player who wants to achieve something in table tennis first it is important that they play every day – the length of time does not matter but this feeling of playing every day is important! For the young, it’s not so much about working hard but more about developing touch and feeling and as coaches introducing exercises to help achieve this.
The new plastic ball has changed the game and now the physical condition of the player plays a huge factor on being successful! Again, as coaches we must be careful that we develop this for the correct age and try to be specific to our sport. At the start, I would focus on building some strength in the legs and then work up the body as the player gets older.
Coaches working with the new generation need to build their sessions and trainings so that the players are working a little harder each day but working on building small achievable steps so the players feel motivated.
The young players now want to know why? So as coaches we need to explain now more than ever… in our sessions we need to be detailed and explain the outcomes for them to understand better! Already the young generation has a lot of information from the internet and as coaches we need to give them quality explanations!
In Europe, I feel the players mature later than the ones in Asia – for example maybe the men will mature at 25 years old and ladies maybe 23 whilst in Asia we see them Table tennis mature at maybe 18/19… much younger!
Finally, Keep the smile on your face… you have one life and you have to enjoy these experiences to the full!