Sheffield table tennis clubs fighting to increase youth participation

Members of the new Vulcan coaching team with coaching and  development officer Rob Loxley. Left to right: Alan Lowe (head coach}; Lewis Fox (level 1 coach); "Ziggy" Mohammed (level 1 coach); Dennis E Green (level 1 coach); Rob Loxleyr, Cliff Glaves (level 1 coach) and Steve Parkinson (level 2 coach).
Members of the new Vulcan coaching team with coaching and development officer Rob Loxley. Left to right: Alan Lowe (head coach}; Lewis Fox (level 1 coach); "Ziggy" Mohammed (level 1 coach); Dennis E Green (level 1 coach); Rob Loxleyr, Cliff Glaves (level 1 coach) and Steve Parkinson (level 2 coach).
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Table tennis isn’t merely about winning points and hitting a 40mm plastic ball past your opponent at 100 mph!

When I began playing in the 60s it was described to me as “lightning chess”.

Now the sport is recognised by doctors, physiotherapists and psychologists as a requisite tool in the armoury of professionals who deal with the physical and mental problems of the less fortunate. Table tennis is a gender friendly, equitable sport for life which encompasses ages from eight to 80 and beyond!

In 2015, Table Tennis England committed to signing up to the Mental Health Charter for Sport and Recreation, following evidence of the benefits of the sport for improving mental health and wellbeing.

Sport England stats say more people are playing. The Active People Survey highlights increases in able-bodied and disability participation in the last year.

More than 107,000 people 16 and over are playing for at least 30 minutes every week, and the number of people with disabilities who play every month has increased to 35,500.

For decades, many of the table tennis clubs in and around Sheffield have catered for established players content to compete on a once-a-week basis in the local leagues.

The idea that the sport can continue by depending solely upon the longevity of its participants is now being challenged. The need to arrest the inevitable dwindling number of league members as the sport’s population reaches old age is being addressed with new coaching/development opportunities.

Locally, we are fortunate to have volunteers who devote time and effort to introduce and nurture a youthful element into our sport.

Phil Wright has for many years supervised the Sheffield junior league which is hosted by the English Institute for Sport throughout the winter season. Together with Fay Buchan, Phil provides competition and fun for around 90 young boys and girls which continues to thrive, thanks to their enthusiasm and work ethic.

Sheffield league president Rod Bly has worked tirelessly for years on behalf of the Wadsley Bridge club to establish a partnership with Sheffield Wednesday FC. This has now borne fruit with Wadsley making its home within the Hillsborough ground and at its heart, is the goal of producing young players, as Wadsley seek to recapture past glories.

The Abbeydale club also has an established coaching programme overseen by England’s No 26 woman player Isobel Ashley and supported by the other licensed coaches - Tim Denby and Phil Wright.

Darnall’s Albert Premier tunities for all ages and in particular for people with disabilities, through Shaun Alvey’s “Inclusive Ping Pong” organisation.

Rotherham Scorpions have two teams in the higher echelons of the Sheffield League. Their coaching initiative is lead by Mick Barlow and Andy Saxton at Thrybergh Sports Centre and Bramley Sunnyside School. They receive valuable support from Harry Saxton and league secretary Alan Battye.

Vulcan Redtooth now have a development programme to reduce the average age of its club membership. Since taking on the development role, with guidance from Andrea Holt - development officer north - I have steered the club into a coaching and development channel which complements the overall strategy of the club’s anticipated progression and league commitments.

Head coach Alan Lowe, supported by Steve Parkinson and Ron Ridge have worked tirelessly with junior members and their efforts were rewarded last term with the Division Seven title in the adult league!

Three weeks ago, four more Vulcan members completed the UKCC level 1 coaching course. Club secretary Cliff Glaves, Dennis E Green - club chair; Zaigham Mohammed (16) an upcoming Division Three player and Lewis Fox (16) - captain of Vulcan L are set to enhance the Vulcan coaching team and begin work in selected schools.

There will always be a place for the stalwarts at these clubs as they continue to make significant contributions, however, unless we continue to invest in youth development to fill the gaps, it is a statistical inevitability that our sport will slowly descend into a downward spiral.