As a player, Michael Olufemi Oyebode did not strike the headlines like Atanda Musa, Bose Kaffo, Funke Oshonaike or even Biola Odumosu, but like many coaches around the world, who did not hug the limelights in their playing days, this Italy based coach has made it big in his field of table tennis.
A junior player when the likes of Atanda Musa, Sunday Eboh and Yomi Bankole reigned, Oyebode in his own right featured in a number of top flight championships like the Coscharis Table Tennis, Coca-Cola Table Tennis, Omo Table Tennis, Star Cup and Oluyole Table Tennis to mention but a few.
However, despite not making it big on the local scene, his level of play was enough to attract interests from foreign clubs, which took him to Libertas Siracusa Table Tennis Club, where he was from 1994-1997.
Speaking from his case in Italy, Oyebode tells his story.
Getting into coaching
I actually started coaching back in 1998. I was still playing very actively then, but here in Europe, the clubs actually push you to that line so that you can help younger kids. So, while I was still playing actively, my boss sent me to do the course and I started coaching the kids in our club and that was how it all started. Today, I hold Italian Level 2 coaching license.
I was a junior player when the great Atanda Musa and co were playing and I actually did well later. I have played in the finals of Coscharis, I also played in the semifinal of Coca-Cola and got to several quarterfinals in the Omo, Star Cup, Oluyole Open and others. I was not playing badly, but only God knows why I didn’t go as far as had wished.
Moving to Italy
I have been in Italy since 1994 and have been with many clubs. I coached and won the Italian National Table Tennis Demale Division 1 League I 2010, 2013 and finished third place in 2014. Again in 2015 and 2016, I won with my team and was runner-up in the same category.
I recall that most of us left Nigeria in those days because we were playing good and the clubs came for us.
Coaching Nigeria’s national team
I’m very grateful to the Nigeria Table Tennis Federation and the Lagos State Sports Council. I actually started with the 2011 All African Games in Maputo and later got a call from the then Commissioner for Sports, Enitan Oshodi. I was asked to handle the Lagos State team I coached the team for the Eko 2012 and won 5 gold medals.
The results we had was the best in the history of table tennis for any state since the inception of the festival; I was at the Glasgow 2012 Commonwealth Game, Congo 2015 All African Games and the Rio 2016 Olympic Games.
I recorded a bronze medal with Nigeria men’s team at the 2014 Commonwealth Games in Glasgow 2014; gold at the All Africa Games in Congo Brazaville with Nigeria men’s team in 2015; 3 gold medals at the 2015 Egyptian International Table Tennis Federation Cadet and Junior Championships and a quarterfinal place in the men’s Singles event of the 2016 Rio Olympic Games.
Coaching the big stars
Coaching the likes of Segun Toriola, Funke Oshonaike, Aruna Quadri, Offiong Edem and Bode Abiodun has been a great experience, because they are great personalities and one need to understand them. I never thought I get to this level, but God has been wonderful and I am also lucky that these stars are my friends, which makes it’s more easier. They trust me because they know I was a player like them and I understand how they feel on the table.
Managing big players makes me feel happy, but it’s also a great challenge because I must always try to stay with their evolutions. I do a lot of research and I study a lot of other international coaches
The psychology of coaching is very interesting. When you face a tough opponent, it’s very easy to manage the pressure, but it is difficult when you face a less difficult opponent, that’s when the pressure is more, but with good tactics, preparations and experience of the players, it becomes easier. When I am under pressure, I normally start by removing my track suit and standing up from the bench.
Future of table tennis in Nigeria
I can only hope for a better future, The Nigeria Table Tennis Federation is working and I hope to continue to be useful to the course of the development.
However, I’m only worried about the Egyptians in Africa, but we have talented kids and all we need to do is to nurture them and give them the necessary attention the Egyptians and the Europeans are giving their kids. I know it is financially problematic but we must find a way to do it.
I’m one of the luckiest persons on earth with my wife. She is the best thing that happened to my life. My son plays table tennis for Italy because he is an Italian. The country (Italy) is doing everything possible to develop him, he trains and go to school at the Italian high performance centre and Italy pays for his upkeep.
You see here in Italy, my son plays for a different club from my own and I have coached my team against his team. It’s not easy for me as a father because I want his success always, but I’m a professional and I must do my job, he understands that. Two years ago in Lagos, he did not allow me coach him against a Nigerian player because he felt I’m a Nigeria’s coach.