|France coach Jean-Aimé Toupane might smile like a care-free teenager, but there is never the slightest doubt about his authority|
You wouldn't guess it by watching Jean-Aimé Toupane interact with his players in one of France's practice sessions in Kranjska Gora during the U20 European Championship, but the coach is 34 years their senior.
With his contagious smile only leaving his face when he is not happy with the players' execution of a drill, Toupane will join in the fun at times, looking more like their cool older brother than a distant father figure.
"Working with young players makes you feel young also, it's very interesting, they teach you a lot every day," Toupane tells FIBAEurope.com wearing one of his trademark enormous smiles.
"They ask me questions I might not had thought about and just having to think of ways to make them improve constantly is a responsibility that makes you improve as a coach too.
"I want to help them reach the top level, I've been a young player myself and it's a pleasure for me to be part of this."
Toupane, in fact, played professionally until the age of 39.
It is not hard to understand why, seeing how much he enjoys every minute on the basketball court.
The development process he carefully plans for his players though inevitably takes place only in the summer.
The coach gathers the troops, a different generation of under-20s every year, and the U20 European championship is the cornerstone of this process.
"A lot of these players play at a different level of competition to the U20 European Championship, this is like a senior competition because you need experience.
"They learn fast though, day by day, and I hope that keeps us going.
"The way the federation and the clubs in France work is really good, our development program is good, but I think it is really interesting to compare with what other players of this age are doing in Europe," he explains.
THE U20 MEDAL COLLECTION
|France have won three U20 European Championship medals under Toupane, with gold coming in 2010 in Croatia, after defeating Greece in the final|
Teenagers will be teenagers and fun is encouraged, but there is never any doubt about who is in charge.
Toupane's authority is unquestionable and with good reason.
The 54-year-old coach took charge of the U20 France team in 2009 and has a full set of silverware to show for it, stepping on the podium every single year he's been at the helm.
They have made it to the Second Round in Slovenia, but will have to fight really hard to make it to the Quarter-Finals, let alone keep their perfect medal-winning record, since they are carrying over two losses from the First Round.
"A medal might come here or might not, but what I care most is that my players become good players and good men in the future," Toupane says firmly.
"This generation has talent too, but talent is not enough in itself.
"To win you need to have something more, you need to have mental toughness and believe in what you are doing, previous generations had this and what we're trying to do here is instil the same mentality.