I met Christian in June of 2015 at the Triangle Table Tennis Club in North Carolina where I attended an ITTF PPT Level 1 coaching certification course with him as the instructor. I was instantly impressed with his teaching style, knowledge of the sport and obvious passion for the game. Christian has been an instructor for ITTF since 2010 and currently teaches the ITTF PTT Level 1 & 2 courses all over the world. A special thanks to Christian who took time out of his busy schedule do this interview.

Why did you decide to become an ITTF instructor ?

I have always enjoyed teaching coaches more than anything. I taught my first courses back in 1996 for USATT and did courses for IPTTC since 1998. USA firsts started the ITTF coaching program in 2010.

What was your involvement in table tennis prior to becoming an ITTF instructor?

I started to coach in Sweden in 1976 at age 16, when I took my first coaching course, Level 1 in the Swedish coaching education system. That is a 2 day course on how to coach beginners. I took Level 2 in 1978, which is a 4 day course, and Level 3 which is a 6 day course in 1982. At that time that was the highest level. Now they have Level 4 as well. I was also invited to the 2 day annual top 16 coaches National Coaching conference the last 2 years I lived in Sweden in 1984 and 1985. The last 2 years I Lived in Sweden I worked as the Head Table Tennis coach in one of 2 High Performance national Sports Colleges where the top eight 16 year old players were selected each year to a modified education where they had one extra year to study and Table Tennis was a subject on the schedule. The players trained there for 4 years. Many of the players were on the Swedish junior national team.

What do you think it takes to become a great table tennis coach?

It is important to have trained as a player on a high level, but my experience is that the best coaches are the ones that did not succeed as players, but tried very hard. If a player is too talented with his hand it is difficult to convey that information to others. To teach is a different skill than to play. Many high level competitive players when they coach are still hanging on to their, so to speak, secrets as players, and are not teaching everything they know. The players that are good team players most of the time work well as coaches afterwards. A good coach needs to have an interest in the theory of the game. How to make analysis and look for ways to improve what we have today and not just look at the best players and copy them. They need to have a vision for what will happen in the future maybe 10 years from now and train the players accordingly today. The most common mistake I see is that coaches look at the current world champion and whatever that player is doing is considered to be the best and then copy that. Each player has strengths and weaknesses and just because a player is World champion does not mean that everything is perfect. Next year somebody else will beat that player.

How many countries have you taught in around the world?

I think my current number is 43 and counting. I have coached 4 national teams at least for one year in USA, Canada, Mexico and Sweden.

How many languages do you speak, and what are they? 

Fluently: Swedish, English, German and Spanish. Decent: French, Chinese and Italian.

What 3 words would you use to describe your career as an ITTF instructor?

"Body, Mind and Spirit"

What is the biggest challenge you've had in teaching these courses around the world?

To understand that even if a country says they speak English many do not understand Table Tennis theory, the complexity of the sport is often underestimated. Coaches many times makes strange simplifications of concepts that are not true, and live in a bubble of old traditional thinking.

In your opinion, what is the biggest challenge coaches around the globe face in table tennis today?

To understand the importance of developing players with no weaknesses and evenly. Meaning Backhand and Forehand has to be equally strong. Defense (close or away from the table) and offense has to be equally strong. Inside (from middle and down the line) and outside (corners and cross court) strokes have to be equally strong. Serve and serve return has to be equally strong. The 1st ball after serve and serve return, 3rd ball attack and 1st block have to be equally strong.

To date, what country is your most favorite to visit?

USA :-)

What is your most memorable experience teaching in different countries around the world?

Traveling around the world and comparing USA coaches to the rest of the world and realizing that US coaches on an average are some of the best coaches in the underdeveloped Table tennis world. That is really fascinating. ITTF courses are not taught in the Table Tennis power houses like China, Germany, Sweden, France, England etc, so I am not saying US coaches are the best in the world, but it is interesting to notice what high standard USA coaches really has, and their willingness to learn.

What was the worst experience you've had traveling to different countries?

Many of my travels to different countries involve first a Coaching course followed by a training camp. I have never yet been to a country that knows how to organize a training camp properly. We have, it seems, extended explanations on how to do it, how many players you need, how many tables, the time in advance needed for things to be done and it never works. It is also some mistake on our end because it keeps on repeating itself and we are working on a better way to present it to the organizers. On 4 occasions on the first day of the camp, only one player shows up for example. The last day of the camp we have maybe 25 players and too many.

Has your outlook of the sport changed since you started teaching ITTF courses around the world, and if so why?

Yes, it has showed me how difficult table tennis really is. Many times you see players who get upset when they miss, and they are absolutely clueless on why they missed and so are the coaches. They are upset because they think it was an easy mistake but it was not. The coaches should be the ones that explains that to the players but most of them cannot do that either. For example one of the least important things in table tennis is technique, meaning the form of the strokes. Way more important is to learn trajectories, timing, what are deviation spins, rhythm in points, how to look at the ball, understand how spin curves in the air. These are the main reason why some players get better than others. For example players in the range of maybe USATT rating 2300 are always hitting the ball too hard and miss way too much. They most of the time have the same level of technique as a 2600 level player, but that level of player knows when to hit hard and when not to.

What would you say is the most common factor among different countries in regards to the development of the sport?

Most of the countries start to develop players too late in age. If we compare ourselves to Gymnastics and Swimming everyone starts at age 5 or sometimes earlier. Physiologically speaking we are at the same level of difficulty or more and need to start to develop players at that same age. Table Tennis is a very deceiving sport because it is very easy to start to play, when spin and speed is not a factor in the game so it seems easy. Compare table tennis to for example Tennis which is very hard for a young person to do, the racket is big and heavy, the ball is heavy, the court is huge for a young person. When especially spin starts to be a factor, the difficulty just exponentially explodes. The other factor is the physical aspects of table tennis that most of the time is way unappreciated. To do proper footwork and speed work makes table tennis maybe the most physically demanding sport of all. Weight training, running, agility, and speed is all part of high performance athletes daily routines. The deceiving concept here is if an athlete does not understand proper trajectories physical training is not the most important part. A player can compensate to a certain level for a lack of proper physical preparation with smart variations in spin, speed and placements and can win over a player that has better physical preparation than him.
Posted in: General
Daniel MIllare
Sir Christian Lillieroos is an excellent ITTF-PTT Course Conductor! I'm glad that he is our Course Conductor last June 2015 at Triangle Table Tennis Club in Morrisville, NC. Hat's Off