View Full Version : Li Sun talks about his coaching career

06-13-2013, 11:05 AM
It is an interview with one of the best coaches for women players. I was deely impressed by it, so I'd like to translate it and share it with you. Maybe no one is interested in people of the women team but I think it is instructive. Forgive me if there's any literal mistake. Here's the link: http://sports.sina.com.cn/o/2013-05-29/02506593551.shtml

06-13-2013, 11:14 AM
The man behind the grand slam girls--Li Sun:A coach's duty is to dig up players' potential
It has been a very impressive scene that Li Xiaoxia dashes to the stand to embrace her coach, Li Sun, when clinching the title at the past Paris World Championship. Li Xiaoxia has leapt to become the 4th grand slam after Deng Yaping, Wang Nan and Zhang Yining, who colleted all the titles of the Olympic Game, World Championship and World Cup. Among the four grand slam girls, three of them-Wang Nan, Zhang Yining and Li Xiaoxia-are all directed by Li Sun to realize their "grand slam dream".

After the truimph of Paris, Li Sun at his age of 50, finally spared his time to sit down, sharing his "secret" in coaching with the reporter. "Actually, there's no secret in my coaching career. What I do is just what I should do." The "gold medal" coach opened the topic like this. While coming out of his shell, this man somewhat tough at the very first glance, put his subtle feelings under exposure.

06-13-2013, 11:21 AM
"Li Xiaoxia used to be an unambitious person."

Having been coached by Li Sun for 11 years, Li Xiaoxia admitted, "If it were not Coach Li, I would be nothing." She said on her Weibo: Thank this man for bringing me my dream, leading me to
overcome, to conquer myself unceasingly.

Li Sun says that it is really a little difficult to make an unambitious girl such as Xiaoxia claim her dominance.

Reporter(Q for short below): How do you feel at the time of embracing Xiaoxia?

Li Sun (Li for short below): Many said my eyes got moistened on the TV live, while acually I did not have that strong feelings. This scene I've imagined for many times before, including the final of the World Championship 2 years ago. On that final match I let Zhang Yining sit next to me in purpose, in order to celebrate together once Xiaoxia won the title, which to me symbolizes the baton of the women's team handing down. Before the London Olympic Game, I talked to Zhang Yining that she must go to London, but it's a pity that she didn't come because of pregnancy. This time at Paris, she was invited by CCTV as an announcer, and failed to fulfill the "ceremony" again, but we three took a picture after that.

I'm happy with it that Xiaoxia became the grand slam, not only because "grand slam" itself, also because she played at a high level. Yining had a dominance when clinching the "grand slam", while Xiaoxia is not stable enough, and her level is more closer to her opponents. To tell the truth I'm not sure how far she could go.

Q: What is the key to shape Li Xiaoxia?

Li: She is not a person with a huge ambition, not aggressive, and with a gentle and timid charactor, like a little girl. She is unlike Wang Nan, who is doughty in her life, and she lacks the fortitude that Zhang Yining has. When she was young she even said she would be satified if she took part in and win a team event. I was shocked by her words.

During all these years I have been fighting against this kind of charactor. I tried to set higher goals for her, or else she could be "sidelined" after winning the team's title in the 2006 WTTC. In fact till the year of 2010, we were still not on the same track. I set high requirement on her, but she thought she was doing well enough already. I have to make sure she is provided with "a
champion's heart", not going back home cheerfully after paltering with one or two gold medals.

Q: Does she have a champion's heart now? After all the Rio Olympic Game is on the way.

Li: She has totally risen up to a new horizon, no one can stop her now. The rest thing is to help her make a good plan for the next stage. She now comes to a crossroad of her caree. With remarkable accomplishments, older age, more injuries, it is quite easy to slacken off.

She still wants to play at the next Olympic Game, to defend the title. I won't aim lower than the present time for her, perhaps even higher. Regardless of future achievements, I'm sure that at least her level of performance will not fall behind.

06-13-2013, 11:40 AM
"A coach's duty is to dig up player's potential"

After Li Xiaoxia won the title, Li Sun received a message from Wang Nan: Mr. Li, you are worthy well to be studied carefully. Totally different personalities as we have, we are all directed by you to such a success.

Having worked for the national team for 17 years, Li Sun said "A coach's effect is not such crucial as they remarked. I am lucky enough to become a "gold medal coach".

Q: Wang Nan thinks highly of you, and what do you think of yourself?

Li: I must say the three of them have the potential of "grand slam". Luck factors really work that they were all in my group. I think the effect of a coach is to dig up your players' potential, helping them cross over the ridges they can to reach a new height. Take the example of Li Xiaoxia, I just let her know what she can do, what she should do. I rarely use the words such as "create", because even the most magic coach cannot make everyone to be a champion.

Q: We think Zhu Yuling will be your next "grand slam" disciple. Is there any possibility?

Li: She has this potential, too. But it relies on whether she could beat indolence. She is talented, even more talented than Zhang and Li, as she has good perceptions, good sense of the hand feeling, rhythm, space, good concentration, and consciousness of fighting. However she is too far away from working hard. Maybe clever youngsters are all lazy, for they learn so quickly that they are not willing to spend time. Her technique is still not good enough, having a long way to improve, which all depends on bat-after-bat exercise. Only when you refine the basic skills of every bat to perfection, you can stand at the peak. Maybe she is too young to understand this. What I'm doing now is to fight against her shortcomings, but coach can only do a favor beside you. It is you who are supposed to conquer yourself. As fighting in a war, weapon matters though, the determinant of victory is the person using the weapon.

06-13-2013, 11:44 AM
"Coaching girls, you need to treat them with sincere and concern."

Li Sun is talktive, generous, and a little rough in manners. But in the eyes of his disciples, he is humorous, considerate, and trustworthy.

He says, To be a competent coach he himself went through a growth process, "Coaching girls, you need to let them feel you're treating them with sincere and concern."

Q: Li Xiaoxia said there's once a distrust between you and her?

Li: It was the time of 2010's Guangzhou Asian Games. I set a high target for her without exchanging ideas much with her. I thought it is enough for you to follow my instructive to exercise and I'd guarantee you a good result. One day she was pushed too hard by me and said in front of others, "I'm not Zhang Yining." And I immediately knew something severe happened. She is more emotional, more thinking, especially sensitive to the views of the outside. She underwent all the ups and downs and all the splendid achievements Zhang Yining has where she thought she may never attain.

What she spoke reminded me that we didn't have enough trusts yet. The key for a coach is to be trusted by his team members, to be believed in that you can help them to do well. Then I talked with her everyday. When she tended to be worried, I managed to brighten her mood. In training, I myself helped her to do the streching and recovery exercises, showing considerations to her. These young girls, with their parents away, are confronted with intense competitions. You've got to let them know you care for them, and then trust can be built step by step.

Q: You look like an crude and careless man. How do you deal with women players?

Li: These years I've been working on the mentality and perspetive of girls. Most girls tend to play passively, thinking a lot before and after. For example, when it comes to attack, they seldom think "I can make a kill within one shot", while they are likely to consider what if they didin't get ready in case that their opponents return it. So I ought to direct them to consider problems more actively, and change their way of thinking subtly.

I feel that working with girls is kind of like playing house. They are sensitive. Consolation or a white lie is necessary at times. You must let them know you want to do good to them, and of course, you should let them win on the aspect of technique, then they will give you their trust.

Q: Is that to say you need to attain a state of mutual understanding?

Li: Yes. Such as Zhang Yining, we can understand each other even with a glance or an expression on the face. Sometimes when she lost a game, I asked "Why you didn't win since you can win?" She answered:" You don't mind the outcome, why should I go for it?" She knows my attitude towards a game at a glance, so does Li Xiaoxia. Everyday I meet her, I can tell whether she is happy or not. Understanding each other to such an extent helps a lot in body language reading during the match.

Q: You seems to like playing jokes, is that a reason why your team members like you?

Li: Actually I was very irritable around the time that I just joined the national team. Zhang Yining was kicked by me to run everywhere around the court, even under the table. Wang Nan once hesitated to turn into my group, because "It is heard that Coach Li beats people a lot." At that time I had far less experiences while more pressures. Sometimes I didn't know how to deal with things, only lost my temper when players wasn't training well. Now I am a joyful person because I have the confidence of being a coach with less metal stress, knowing how to deal with different problems of players at different stages. A coach needs to grow up step by step.

06-13-2013, 11:49 AM
"Working behind the scene can also give you a sense of accomplishment"

In spite of the coach of three grand slam players, he is still seldom to be reported when searching the key word "Li Sun" on the web, in contrast to the populaity of his players.

Li Sun says it is more important to acquire others' respect and approval than to earn money and fame.

Q: What is the kind of relationship between you and your players?

Li: Zhang Yining once said that for a period of time, the coach played all the roles she needed, including teacher, father and friend. She'd always visit me whenever she come back to Beijing until now. She, Wang Nan and me become friends. When they have something on the mind, I am the first person they are going to recall and to talk with. Xiaoxia also would like to share her personal affairs with me.

Q: You've got such a big "family", do you have time to take care of your own family?

Li: I don't have much time to care about my family. I owe a lot to my family, hoping to make up a little with more gifts bought while going abroad. My daughter was dissatisfied with me when she was young. While profoundly influenced by me, she is now studying abroad herself, quite self-dependent and motivated.

Q: Working hard and going to success, players earn both money and fame. Do you feel unfair as a coach?

Li: Many athletes conflict, even break up with their coach after they reach the top of their career. It is the reality. It is difficult for outsiders to imagine how it will provoke a coach under the contrast of the fame and wealth between each other. On the visit to Hongkong with the 2012 Olympic Champion delegation, Li Xiaoxia was surrounded by large crowds of people wherever she went, while I followed her, carring her bag. To tell the truth I was embarrassed to get off the plane.

At this situation, you should adjust yourself to a peaceful mind. You cannot feel that "without me you never suceed." My work is to send you to the summit, not to profit from the success of you. If her income is 10 times as many as yours, your should be happy, not jealous.

Q: Is working as a backstage hero a fulfilling job?

Li: Sure. The sense of accomplishment supports me to move on. The job is too toilsome and adventurous for ordinary people to endure. I feel my life span has been shortened at least of 10 years as working so long on the firing line. I have my own criteria for accomplishment. I value more the respect of others. When "Li Sun" is mentioned, people will say "he is training so many elite athletes", and they give their approvals, that's enough.

Brief introduction of Li Sun

Borned in July 12, 1963, he was playing table tennis in Railway corps team and Bayi team in 1970s. Suffered from carditis in 1982, he had to retire and transfer to the sports commission of Xicheng
District of Beijing, working as a clerk. He was recruited to Beijing team as a coach in 1989 and became a coach of the national team in 1996.

06-13-2013, 12:03 PM

06-13-2013, 12:43 PM
Wow this is epic! Looking forward to reading this all later tonight!

06-13-2013, 05:27 PM
In the interview he did not speak much of the techniques and strategies prepared for the match, because it is too detailed. Aftering watching the final against Liu Shiwen at the WCCT, several fans of us discussed it and made a short summary of this. In our points of view, The advantages are as follows:

1. The fundamental principle is to restrain the first three shots and the speed of Liu.

2. To Achieve the purpose, there's specific tactics:

The landing point of the serve is mainly on the centre-left and by chance on the centre-right. The former is a mainstream, because it is the hardest line for Liu to play, while the latter is to tie down your opponents. Playing in this centre-left line made Liu to be locked at the backhand's forth and back, so she won't attack with her forehand, meanwhile Li Xiaoxia can twirl at her backhand with large diagonals or lots of spin, Liu failed to return it and missed many points on this line. If Liu struggled to use her forehand leaning her body on side, then there is a wide open on the table because her is short. If Liu attack at the forehand place after the serve, Xiaoxia will use the straight line of backhand. At many time this will cause the ball too close to Liu's body, so she could not strike the ball powerfully and was forced to go into the back and forth of the backhand. And if the returning ball of Liu landed on the right, Xiaoxia can use her strong forehand.

3. The improvement on playing skill is the guarantee of carring out the tactics:

A striking new technique is the twisting rally of backhand (the representative of this skill is zjk), both straight and diagonal lines. Compared with that of men, the quality is not high relatively but fatal enough in the women's event. It is clear that Li Xiaoxia have specific training on this skill to integrate it into her whole strategy.

4. The technique of returning a serve is also improving: more flicks and small drop shots, comparied with more block or push returns before that are easily to be long. It is very effective to constrain the first three shots of Liu.

On the TV show of the final, the Head Coach KLH (the former coach of Liu Shiwen) pointed out Li performed better than Liu on the key points of the match, but he did not say why it became like this. The match gave me a feeling that Li has a net to stick every stroke of Liu.

It is perhaps better to sum up her success with Li Xiaoxia's own words that "My opponents are the same opponents but I'm no longer the same person. We prepared every strategies towards almost all the situations that may occur on the match." I'm sure her coach Li Sun worked a lot on that.

06-14-2013, 10:29 AM
Thank you very much for all of this. I found it very interesting as it is great to get a detailed explanation from a world class coach and how they actually feel. Also interesting tactics for people to try and integrate into their game.

06-14-2013, 12:57 PM
Thanks. The content of #9 is me and my friend's idea on the final, not yet admitted by the interviewee,haha.
Thank you very much for all of this. I found it very interesting as it is great to get a detailed explanation from a world class coach and how they actually feel. Also interesting tactics for people to try and integrate into their game.

06-17-2013, 11:21 AM
HUGE thanks for this, strideforward.
A very valuable insight indeed.

06-17-2013, 11:50 AM
Thank you.
HUGE thanks for this, strideforward.
A very valuable insight indeed.

07-08-2014, 06:56 PM
I haven't seen/noticed before this great thread!!!

# Thank you Very Much strideforward (http://www.tabletennisdaily.co.uk/forum/member.php?10898-strideforward)!!!

07-08-2014, 07:37 PM
Same. Thank you very much !

07-08-2014, 11:04 PM
Very nice piece :) thanks for sharing.

07-09-2014, 10:40 AM
very informative.thanks for translating and posting.

10-19-2017, 03:38 PM
Just ran across this. It’s great stuff. thanks for sharing! Wonderful insight and I Especially loved hearing strategy for the match.

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Ilia Minkin
10-19-2017, 04:27 PM
Yeah, awesome interview, very insightful.