To use an American expression; we have to take care of our own.
A text by Mikael Andersson, adapted by Sebastian Hallen
With that I mean to support and honour a perhaps dying breed in table tennis; the Elite coaches. The guys or gals (there have been a few) that are prepared to go that extra mile for their players, push the envelope, wake up the dead, walk on water, you name it.
At the World Cadet Challenge 2013 in Guam we had one of the very best there is to lead the training camp for the young cadets of the world. He was sharp, well prepared and active in the training hall. Richard, “Richie” Prause – former German National team coach for both the women and the men and now the head-coach for the Werner Schlager Academy in Schwechat, Austria.
What I do know now as well is that we should send a huge thank you to his late grandfather back in Germany, for having him here in the first place. It was he who forced the decision by putting Richie’s career choice to an early face off.
“My family, for generations, have all been butchers. When I was twenty-four years old and playing table tennis professionally, my grandfather called me to his house for a close talk about the future. “Well, Richard, when are you going to stop this ping pong business and become serious in your life?”
I thought for a while and said: Grandpa – not to disappoint you, but I think I will stick to table tennis.”
So here is the situation. The family Butchers’ shop outside Frankfurt is now closed and the son of a butcher-man is still enjoying his choice of career with no regrets. The good thing is – you can clearly feel that so important love for coaching when you speak to the forty-four year old German native.
“Yes it’s true, I really like what I am doing”, Richard explains. To make the jump from coaching in the German national team system to my present job as the WSA coach I think was good for me personally. Even though it might not be that easy to handle the different aspects of coaching at a training centre, I am now in touch with a broader base of players and I kind of like the international opportunities that comes along with it as well. I have for example been working with the Iranian Association on a regular basis with Noshad Alamiyan, who played extremely well in the Olympics as the No. 1 focus. On top of that, we have by now at the WSA centre a good group of highly ranked European players that I am working with on a daily basis, “Richie” says.
For an aspiring coach – could there be anything better than getting a first-hand look at 64 young prospects from all over the world by working this event, the World Cadet Challenge here in Guam?
“It has been a pleasure to work here in Guam. It’s a great event and also fun to see how the continental teams are coming together. There are a plenty of interesting young players competing here and if I had to pick a few, for sure, Kunal Chodri from USA, born 1999, and Adriana Diaz, born 2000, are two players that I would like to see as guests in the WSA training centre in the near future.”
As a player, Richard Prause was a runner of very good calibre, covering – I would say – 98% of the table with his forehand. His service was also well thought out, always setting the scene for a lethal forehand topspin. All in all, good enough to make the German National team as no. 4 or 5 – but when it came to the important team matches Richard was often nailed to the bench.
“it was pretty simple: I was no. 4 or 5 for many years and with Rossi (Jörg Rosskopf), Fetzner (Steffen Fetzner) and Peter Franz ahead of me. The coach would send the call mostly for matches against slightly weaker countries.”
The desire to become a coach started early.
“For me it was just something I liked to do and I remember very well how it started. I simply jumped in to coach Steffen Fetzner at one international competition when I was knocked out and his chair was open.”
The opportunities to continue on the chosen path would become both quickly and in very natural way, like it was meant to be. In a period of four years, 1996 to 2000, Richard retired from international playing duties, started his DTTB (German Federation) coaching education and began to work in what I always referred to as “Helmut Hampl Land” – Gönnern, in the german “Bundesliga” where he in the beginning was combining playing duties (as the no. 4 or 5 again) with match coaching.
Why is it that this man, Helmut Hampl, always comes up as one of the key coaches to almost all the better German players? Timo Boll of course, the best of the best, but also the new German up and comer Patrick Franziska is from Helmut’s stable of players. I am asking Richard to try to give his take on Helmut Hampl and his coaching success:
“Helmut was of course my mentor and I really grew up as a player with him coaching in the hall. He has always been a coach with the ability to make his presence felt, a pair of eyes watching, that made you focus even more on your task at hand.” Prause remembers.
What I also always admired with him is that he cared – even today he is sending an email or a text message to his players reminding them to get ready. Tough as nails in the practice hall – but a good friend and supporter outside – which is one of his absolute strengths.
Soon enough the German Association came asking, offering the female team as the first gig and then, in 2004, the men’s national team.
Following four successful years with the national team, crowned with silver medals at the Beijing Olympics 2008, Prauses tank was partly empty.
“I had given all my knowledge to the players and it was the right time for them to have another person come in as their coach.”
In 2009, Richard Prause was appointed head coach for the Werner Schlager Academy in Schwechat, Austria. The project, by now 3 years old, has been a challenge for everybody involved. The center is catering to a wide range of clients and Richard prefers to use 3 groups when describing the current situation.
“The way I see it is like this: We have the national associations in need for expert coaching and ready to pay for that service. It might be specific preparation for Arab championships – gulf championships etc. The level of those players might not be extremely high and we then need to work with having a good group of sparring for that level. The second group is more the self-going elite level Europeans. Here we are only making a small amount of money – but the group is growing and I think we are now having some 40 players calling WSA their training base. The third group would be younger players who can come to the WSA on a regular basis for practice for shorter or longer periods.
For sure we can improve in all areas. The project with the WSA team in Serbian Open was interesting and I personally hope that we can find the right formula to attract younger clients and their coaches moving forward.” Richard Prause explains.
With a lot of players circulating though the WSA operations there are very few coaches in the world of table tennis, having the opportunity to see so many players fighting to get better.
Any key observation, or specific ideas for the future of table tennis?
“Obviously, the WSA has been pushing for a closer cooperation with the European table tennis union for quite some time now”, Richard recalls. I have attended many meetings over the years to discuss the status of European table tennis. We are interested in trying to attract female players at this point – no doubt about especially with our new coaches Tamara Boros and Aaiay Umamura starting their jobs.”
“One more thing that I have noted as well is that many coaches coming to the WSA with players are often taking the passive role rather than becoming actively involved with their athletes. I think that more than ever young players are in need for strong and active coaching in order to improve”, says “Richie”.