Par Thierry Verviers, Head Coach, Prestige Table Tennis Club (Montreal)
Today I would like to talk to you about an excellent book that I have recently devoured. Indeed, I read it in just 2 evenings! I have to say that I was looking forward to it.
As soon as Michel Gadal’s book “Reflections on Excellence” came out in French and in digital format, I downloaded it on my cell phone and started reading it whenever I had a free moment.
And yet, I have read several books on excellence, both in the world of mental preparation and sport, and in the business world.
But I was fortunate enough to meet and work with Michel Gadal when he accepted the position of National Coach in Canada. Michel speaks French and, of course, worked closely with the French-speaking coaches in Quebec.
I had the opportunity to participate in development seminars with him and to coach in player clinics. He also supervised me while I was writing the new content for the level 3 table tennis coaching clinics in Quebec. And of course, I had the greatest opportunity of all: to be able to discuss regularly with Michel.
Michel is a man who is very respectful of the different points of views of others. He often said that we could disagree, but that didn’t stop us from being friends and collaborating.
However, for many young coaches in Quebec and Canada, Michel Gadal is unfortunately not well known. And yet, Michel has had a considerable impact on table tennis in Quebec and Canada and also in many other countries, such as England, France of course, and so on.
In fact, he has had an impact on world table tennis. What today’s young coaches should know and remember about Michel Gadal is that he is one of the rare European coaches to have shaken Asian and particularly, Chinese supremacy.
And that’s because of a culture of excellence throughout his career. Let me tell you a few personal anecdotes to help you better grasp his character. 😉
I still remember the day I asked Michel to provide me with documentation to improve my skills as a table tennis coach. The day finally came when Michel brought me a lot of documentation. I was very quickly surprised, not finding any documents on table tennis in the batch. Many things: philosophy, sociology and history of sport, especially on dual sports, training science, etc. I was surprised to find no documents on table tennis. When I pointed this out to him, he simply told me that if I wanted to become an excellent coach, I first had to develop my philosophy and approach to coaching. That was lesson number 1 for Michel.
Lesson number 2: Michel gave it to me when he was supervising me in my design of the new Level 3 coaching program in Quebec. He read everything I had written and listed for this training. He looked at everything from A to Z. At the end, he asked me if he could keep a specific document. I said yes, of course, but I also asked him why? He humbly replied that it was because he had never heard of it. Looking back now, I don’t remember the exact document, but I learned my lesson. One of the best coaches in the world, Michel Gadal, coach of the reigning world champion Jean-Philippe Gatien, was still on the lookout for new knowledge, new ideas. That was lesson number 2. Humility and curiosity, no matter where it comes from, even from Quebec 😉
Lesson number 3 was when Michel pointed out to me that the science of sport very often only explains what coaches of excellence and high level have been intuitively doing for many years by intuition. In fact, Michel was convinced that sports coaching is closer to art than to science. It was quite a lesson for a young, freshly-ground university coach who swore by science.
These 3 lessons have stayed with me throughout my coaching career. Why did I take the time to share these different anecdotes?
It’s because his book contains dozens of others, full of brilliant lessons about excellence. I would even go so far as to call some of them life lessons.
Recently, I had the chance to meet Michel again after several decades. During a dinner with a young French coach who came to work in Quebec, Quentin Scaglia, we talked about many subjects. It was really enriching for all of us. But I found myself saying this to Michel during our meal: “You know, the best successes and results I have obtained with many of my athletes during my career is when I have trained these athletes following many of your principles. I can’t understand why over the years I stopped following them.” Michel’s opinion could be summed up as follows: “It’s probably because the other coaches weren’t following you.”
I had to admit, Michel was probably right. I summed it up with the famous phrase: “No one is a prophet in his own country!”
On the other hand, when you seriously think about it, how can you hope to develop athletes who can beat the best Chinese athletes by following the so-called “traditional” ideas? I think it will take a lot more imagination and creativity to do so.
I think that Michel Gadal’s book provides the necessary building blocks for the construction of a European, and even Western culture, of excellence. It contains the lessons from Michel’s entire career.
On the other hand, I feel a little sad that the new generation of coaches hardly read anymore. It’s a “YouTube, videos” generation.
Certainly, videos have their advantages. Unfortunately, it is impossible to put all the lessons and ideas in this book into one or even several videos. You have to go through the depth of knowledge of a book.
I sincerely hope that many young coaches read this book and become the new generation that will shake Asia 😉 This book contains so many lessons and ideas to meditate and reflect on.
I would like to highlight the format that Michel decided to adopt in writing this book. The book is succinct, barely 140 pages. Each topic is presented quickly, but with the necessary depth and references needed. This should help young coaches to persevere in their reading. 😉
I’m pretty sure Michel would advise young coaches not to be satisfied with the lessons and ideas contained in his book, but to imagine some of their own, and build their own approach to excellence.
To whet your appetite, let me summarize some of the lessons and ideas from Michel’s book.
It starts with Jean-Philippe Gatien’s preface. According to Filou, it takes work, determination, perseverance, pleasure and also good meetings without forgetting luck, to achieve excellence. Above all, you have to give meaning to what you do. Filou explains that Michel allowed him to give the meaning he needed to his project, in order to persevere.
Of course, you’ll find lessons 1, 2 and 3, or at least something close to them, in his book. But there are many others. Here are a few that struck me:
As coaches, we often tend to focus on mistakes and failures instead of taking a more positive approach. This attitude inhibits the self-confidence of our athletes. Athletes need to be made to see failure as something that can be changed so that they can make the next move.
Is the game more important than the technique or is it the other way around? The realistic answer is that the two are interrelated. You can’t separate table tennis into physical, technical, tactical and mental parts and try to make them one after the fact. We must put everything together and always take these multifaceted aspects into account in our discipline and the need to always focus on our current opponent of the moment. Top-level table tennis is perhaps closer to art than to science.
The 4 pillars of excellence. That says it all, especially to the coaches who have trained several generations of players: Passion, Patience, Perseverance and Project.
“Winning should not be a dream, but a project. “Stéphane Diagana, 400m hurdles World Champion
How do you know if your training was quality today? Athletes often respond more by their feelings than by objective criteria. Yet Michel proposes some simple criteria:
VOLUME: It takes a minimum amount of time
CONCENTRATION: The athlete must learn to be aware of his or her loss of concentration in order to regain it. Exercise duration should be based on the quality of the athlete’s concentration, rather than on time.
FEEDBACK: From the coaches, but also internally, from the athlete himself. For example, numerically, but it requires concentration and personal investment on the part of the athlete.
The best learning is based on constant back and forth between competitions and training.
I hope that these few excerpts from Michel Gadal’s ideas have piqued your interest . I strongly recommend reading this book, especially for young coaches and young athletes. You can also read sections on self-knowledge, self-confidence, creativity and leadership. And so much more…
Have a good read.
Get yourself a notebook to record all the new ideas that are bound to pop into your head while reading.