“An Interview with Angelita Rosal Bengtsson”

Published in USATT Magazine, September/October 2008

Article by Ed Levy

In July, I attended a training camp instructed by Stellan and Angie Bengtsson. Angie and I sat down during a lunch break to talk about her accomplishments as a coach.

What do you feel were your greatest accomplishments as a player?
Angie: What I am most proud of in my whole career was being the first woman inducted into the American Indian Athletic Hall of Fame. I am also proud of my win over the No. 2 Japanese woman, Abe, at the 1975 US Open. Everything that I trained for throughout my career came together in that match. It was a great win.

You’ve lived, played and coached all over the world. How does the table tennis mindset in other countries differ from that of the US?

Angie: In Qatar, there isn’t a steep table tennis tradition. They believe that a couple hours a day of training is enough to be good, but it isn’t. Part of their problem is that the current players don’t have any accomplished role models to look up to, yet. The juniors need to utilize their time better, like the kids in Sweden and Germany. In the US we don’t have strong leagues like in Europe, partly because the country is so big.

The US faces many difficulties in its attempt to better its international standing in the table tennis world.

Angie: We need to get very dedicated individuals who can find a way to get table tennis into high schools and colleges. That is partly why Europe is so ahead of us, table tennis is integrated into the school day and kids can train and be educated at the same time.

There’s a saying that if you love what you do, you’ll never work a day in your life. You and Stellan are both full-time coaches. Do you view coaching strictly as a job or as a passion?

Angie: Stellan and I are really blessed that we have been able to transition our passion for table tennis from being players into coaches. Until I heard this question, I’d never viewed table tennis as a job.

Despite our low standing in the table tennis world, the US has some very dedicated coaches. However, many of them run local programs and there is very little synchronization between them and the national association. Do you view this as a problem?

Angie: I absolutely see this as a problem. The top coaches in the country need to get together and share information regularly. Information then needs to trickle down from these coaches to all of the others.

How has the San Diego club changed since you and Stellan have started your programs? Have the players been open to a more structured type of training?

Angie: The San Diego Table Tennis Club has long been known as one of the best table tennis clubs in America. Since Stellan and I have come, I believe there’s a lot more training and a lot less recreational match play. We’re also trying to get more juniors seriously involved in the sport.

What advice would you give to aspiring coaches? Juniors?

Angie: Coaches, like players, also need mentors. Information needs to be passed on from coach to coach, and experienced coaches need to be there to answer questions that less experienced ones my have. To juniors, I say listen to your coaches and try as hard as you can to understand and do what they ask of you. Ask questions and have a great imagination about who you can become as a player. Practice, practice, practice, spin, spin, spin, footwork, footwork, footwork.

The US is one of the few countries with a national rating system in the world. What are your thoughts on its value to our players?

Angie: I understand that you have to have one for adults, but ratings for children is insanity, because it gets kids to concentrate on numbers instead of technique. There has to be a better way of doing it besides putting the pressure of numbers on kids at such a young age. USATT should stop using the rating system for juniors and the junior team selections should be based on tournament results and coaches’ analyses of the players’ abilities.

The US Paralympic team did a camp with Stellan this year. Are you all experienced with coaching disabled players or is this something new?

Angie: Stellan does have experience with disable players. Coaching them is really exciting and it’s a great joy for us.

The theme for this month’s magazine is “Female Players” do you have anything to say to the women reading this?

Angie: When I was a player, everyone would complete hard against each other, but we would also be great friends off the table. I don’t see this as much now, and I’m very saddened by it. Camaraderie and friendship are lacking in all parts of the sport, but especially at the top levels. This is true for the men as well. Even though you’re competing against somebody, you have to be a bigger person, and enjoy them off the table. For those who aren’t aspiring to be elite players, I would point out that table tennis is great exercise, and is so much fun! More women need to play!

If you could have USATT do one thing differently to improve from an elite perspective, what would it be?

Angie: I would like to see a national training center created, where all of the country’s top coaches and players could work together on a regular basis.

Any final thoughts?

Angie: It’s a great time to be in America, especially from a table tennis perspective. Stellan and I definitely see that there’s talent in this country, there just need to be more junior programs and structured training opportunities to make the dream of improving America’s results a reality. This country has a long road ahead of it, but Stellan and I are optimistic that things can improve.