MAY 2015

Friday 15th May 2015
Hi I’m Owen and I’ve been coaching now for over 30 years! I’ve been full time since my wife Kate and I had kids that’s 16years ago. We now have four kids and surprise, surprise they all play table tennis! I live in West Cork, in my mind one of the most beautiful places on the planet even when it rains and that’s a lot. Table Tennis is a minority sport in Ireland and we live in one of the most remote parts of the island, you can’t get further away from Dublin on the mainland even if you tried. That brings a load of problems when competing on the national level mostly the cost in time, travel and accommodation. Loads of early mornings, late nights and budget arrangements. But all in all I wouldn’t live anywhere else.

We are nearing the end of the 2014-2015 season, maybe not the best time to start a blog but as it is quietening down I’ve a couple of free hours on my hands and the website needed up dating. I say quietening down but Friday is club night in Goleen and we have over 20 players regularly coming to the club. I might add that some are more interested than others, they have the idea it is a “social club” more than table tennis, but if it gets them through the doors and off the streets then we will just have to make it fun enough that they want to use the tables 😉

Next week I have 12 children and 7 adults coming over from a village in Finland so I am taking a few days off from coaching to look after them. It is an exchange program with Lissagriffin NS, my local primary school and I am on the Board of Management. It is a 1 teacher 1 class school but not surprisingly the school regularly enters the local table tennis competitions and they even won the division 2 title at the Munster Schools League this season.

As you can see from the main page we have both a trip to the International youth Cup in Belgium and a visit from Hu Wei Xin (Danish National Coach) coming up during the next few weeks. I am excited about both events as I hope are the players.

Eoin, Dave, Mike, Mair & Kate in Brussels
Eoin, Dave, Mike, Mair & Kate in Brussels

We sent a team to the IYC in 2001 & 2003, once with a girls team and once with a boys and we traveled down by rail to the event and stayed in tents. We had Mair & James with us then with Mair being 3 and James 1 the first year. Mair was in a buggy and James in a rucksack. I remember buying some very small Butterfly shoes and a couple of Stiga Junior blades at the event, just in case they took up playing, oh dear, I am sad. The teams helped us look after the kids, the girls were better than the boys at that if I remember right. Mair remembers being given a load of biscuits by the man in the club house. We spent a day looking round Brussels and went to Mini Europe with the girls and the European Parliament with the boys, I think the girls may have got the better deal.

James (the tall one!) with the U13 Irish Team
James (the tall one!) with the U13 Irish Team

James returned to the IYC 2 years ago when he went with the Irish U13 Team and they won gold. I went with the Irish U15s Chloe & Kerry and they won Gold as well, a great event for Ireland. So we are returning this year with two teams a boys & a girls. James, Niall & Oisin in the boys and Mair & Ana in the girls. Oisin & Ana used to live in Ballydehob and went to school with the rest of them before moving to Antwerp. We are staying with them for the weekend and driving in each day. I think it is important to have a “motivator” for the players who train so hard during the year and this season it was Hasselt. I think that’s enough for my first entry, I hope to make many more……..

I can’t believe I forgot to mention the Munster Special Olympic Games they are on tomorrow! I have been Head Coach for Munster for over 10 years and it is a great organisation and I love coaching the players, who are all so keen and work so hard, we have a great time with a real party atmosphere and some great competition. I get to be the tournament referee and I have to remain neutral, which is surprisingly easy as I know most of the Munster players at this stage and even though I do keep an eye on the West Cork players I don’t find it as stressful as mainstream table tennis.

Mair my daughter has been bugging me to get her involved and as she is now 16yrs she can be an official volunteer. She has filled in all the paperwork and done the training and this will be her first games as an official. I am delighted not just that she wants to volunteer but because we need good umpires and she has loads of experience. She know a lot of the players as well as she comes into Skibbereen with me and we have had a couple training in our club. We don’t have doubles this year which in one way is disappointing but from an organisational and time prospective will make the day much easier.

I invited Chloe O’Halloran one of the top Juniors in Munster to take part in the presentations as we had football and soccer players doing it and I felt it would be good to have a table tennis player. She is not from our club, she’s from the Leeside Club in Cork but she has agreed and I am delighted she is willing to come along and I think the players will appreciate it as well.

We have Liam from Skibbereen playing again this year. He is one of the best Special Olympic players I have coached and I am working on trying to get him onto the paralympic squad within their category 11 for intellectual disability players. a load of paperwork but I’m sure I’ll keep you posted as to how that works out. Now that really is it got to get ready for the club tonight, session plans to write……….

Saturday 16th May
I had an early start today up at 7am in order to get up to Cork for the Munster SO Games. Mair came up with me as an official volunteer and Suki joined us as Kate didn’t have enough room in her car. As it was Suki proved a bit of a bonus as she helped one of our new umpires out.

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Mair was excellent. The divisioning went well enough but it did indicate that some of our new umpires still need a bit of work. Umpires have proved to be a bit of a problem area and we still need registered volunteers to help out. EMC sponsored us this year and supplied us with a great bunch. I wish more mainstream players would get registered, as Mair remarked it’s not like umpiring at our usual event, you are really appreciated by everyone and so many of the athletes came up to her and thanked her. She was really buzzed in the car on the way home and full of excited stories of the happenings of the day. I’m proud of her.

Mair & the EMC Volunteers
Mair & the EMC Volunteers

I should have spotted a couple of anomalies in divisioning but with over 80 athletes it is hard but that’s the job and I need to do better and will try harder. On a positive note I was delighted when Chloe one of Munster’s best young players agreed to help out with the presentations. I think it important for our Special Olympic players to get recognition from the mainstream. We are in the same sport and I know how hard many of the SO players train for this event. I also think it is important for the mainstream players to put back into the sport and I think volunteering at an event like this can put real prospective on what is important in our sport. SO players are great at celebrating their efforts, mainstream often forget this part of the sport, moving onto the next challenge before acknowledging what has been achieved.

Chloe with Claire, Margaret & Emily
Chloe with Claire, Margaret & Emily

I could rattle on for hours about Special Olympics suffice to say the more I put in the more I get out and my life is richer for the experience.

Sunday 17th May
For someone who doesn’t like committees I seem to spend a lot of my time on them; a necessary evil. Until they come up with a better solution I am stuck with it. We don’t have too many meetings for West Cork Table Tennis but I am on my local school board, I am secretary of the Goleen & District Community Council, the local hall committee, the Mizen Community Partnership and Munster Special Olympics. That keeps me busy enough! However I am thinking of taking place on the Munster Table Tennis Branch again.

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I have over the years had nearly every role and was a force in establishing a proper branch back in the 90s when Munster was run as a sub-committee of Cork Table Tennis. I was secretary the year before this but due to frustration and other commitments I stood aside. But 3 members resigned during this year including the chair and secretary and if I want table tennis to develop here in West Cork I need a strong Munster.

One of the problems in my mind is we are all coaches but the branch should reflect the membership, the parent, player & coaches. I am a coach that is what I do, so I think that is what I am best at and what I am willing to contribute. On my other committees I try and stick to what I am good at but on the Munster Branch I end up doing what many others could do better and end up with a 4 hour drive in order to do so. I also get frustrated as I like to work to a plan. I think it is the only way to get things done. It is the way I coach as well. Working with a group I think it is essential, if you want to make sustainable progress I think it is the only way.

There are so many ways of making table tennis better and we need to tackle both participation & performance issues equally. A lot has been achieved but there is a lot of stress for those involved and we consistently lose volunteers at too high a rate. So I don’t know what I will do at the AGM on the 25th, it is the day we fly back from Belgium so Mair, James & Niall will attend their 1st Munster AGM. Should be interesting 🙂

Tuesday 19th May

Hu Wei Xin with Michael Maze
Hu Wei Xin with Michael Maze

So I am very excited about the visit of Hu Wei Xin to our small club down in West Cork. I have invited the clubs in Munster to send who they would like to attend, if each club send 3 that‘s 15 and we will have 8 from our own club as well. With 12 tables that is 24 players which is just right. All but 1 club are sending players which is great, some only have 1 or 2 so we do have a couple of places available but they are being snapped up as the news gets about.
I hope the players get loads out of it but from a personal point of view I am hoping to get even more! It is difficult as a coach to be in such a remote place as there are not many other coaches in the area and I want to learn more and get to be a better coach. I try to travel every year to a new area to get new ideas and learn different techniques. If I was just doing the same thing all the time I would find it very dull. I do read a lot about coaching and this is not restricted to table tennis, I have done a number of qualifications in other sports and I like to think I have been able to apply this to my work in table tennis. The footwork in basketball and badminton are a good example and I did a couple of very good courses with SAQ, speed, agility and quickness training. I also did a very good course on sports psychology up in Cork, a night school thing with a lot to do with team sports but learning about motivation, emotional control and concentration is all very relevant to table tennis.
But traveling abroad and observing top coaches has got to be the best way for me.
I love traveling to new cultures anyway and visiting an active club is like being immersed in holy waters. I first met Hu Wei Xin in the Malmo club a good few years ago along with Peter Sartz who was the Danish National Coach at the time. I was very impressed with the club and actually stayed in the hall sleeping next to the tables! I learnt many things and remember Peter telling me “always take control of your game. It isn’t about who you practice with but how you practice.” It is often the small things that help you build towards the bigger things.
I have been to many different countries in Europe and I have had a couple of trips to China. I learned so many things but applying them to our small club in West Cork is not always possible. I was very impressed with the professionalism in China but seeing how a small country like Malta achieves its success may have been more relevant. My trip to Malta was definitely a highlight and being able to take my son James was great, they were so hospitable and the weather was incredible, their work ethic was incredible and to work so hard in that heat was certainly impressive.
We have had a number of coaches visit our club, I always believe that it is important for players to be exposed to different influences. I can say the same thing 20 times and they take me for granted, but a visiting coach can say the same thing and they respond straight away. You don’t even have to travel very far, we had a very good session with former Irish National Coach Con Higgins at one of our Summer Camps and the kids still talk about how much they learned.
However having a former Chinese National Coach and current Danish National Coach visit Goleen is a dream come true for me and I hope to squeeze every last drop out of the experience but I also hope my expectations are not too high. I along with the players will just have to wait and see 🙂

Friday 22nd May
We are nearly ready to go to Belgium! This has been planned since the beginning of the season. Last year we had hoped that James would have been selected for an Irish Team, maybe the schools as he was in the Top 3 at U15 but he was very disappointed after working so hard during the season. So this year we decided to send a team of our own abroad, something we could control and would help motivate the players throughout the season.
James will play along side Niall O’Driscoll who has never been away playing so this is a great opportunity. His mother work very hard fundraising for this event and the small community of Crookhaven got behind him with a quiz and a sponsored walk. However a couple of weeks ago they noticed his passport was going to be out of date and his father was away in Norway fishing. forms were sent and then returned but unfortunately there was a mistake on the form and it was returned just a couple of days ago saying they could not issue him with a new one!!!! A bit of a panic ensued, but with the village getting their heads together and some help from friends they now have an emergency passport and Niall will go. This is not just a major relief to Niall the whole team would have been so disappointed if he had not gone, his excitement and anticipation had made the upcoming trip even more exciting, the relief on his face when we gave him his shirt in training last night and his realisation it had been sorted out was brilliant.

The Kellys & Barretts
The Kellys & Barretts

Oisin Barrett is our 3rd member of the team. His family moved to Belgium last year and we were sorry to see him and his sisters leave our club. They only took up the sport when they started going to school in Schull and they all showed great enthusiasm traveling to Goleen from Ballydehob on the “ping pong express” every Friday. Oisin improved well a delight to his mother as he quickly became one of our “gang.” Oisin along with his sister Ana joined a club TTC Tecemo in Antwerp. rumour has it they are coming back to Ireland next year and it would be great to see them join us again.

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The girls’ team is only a team of 2 so it’s Mair and Ana. They will be playing at Junior level even though Ana is a cadet and may find the competition difficult, but she has determination and is dogged at everything she tries.
I am hoping they will all be able to play at their own age groups in the singles and entered them as such on the form, however I looked at the program and was very surprised to see that they had not been entered in their own events but in the same category as their team. James should be playing in Cadet Elite while Niall in the Cadet Club event at the moment they are both in Junior Boys Club. I double checked my entry form and I didn’t get it wrong! I have sent off an email to them, so we hope they will change it. Mair really wants to play in the Junior Girls Elite, i think it will be tough but so is she!
Mair and James are still lying in bed so the house is quiet but the rush will start any minute now I’ve finished this blog and we will head for the airport. Next stop Belgium!

Tuesday 26th May

West Cork Team
West Cork Team

Back in Ireland after an extraordinary weekend away at the International Youth Cup in Hasselt, Belgium. I love to travel and have new experiences and even more so when I get to be involved in table tennis. It always gives me a new prospective and energises me in my work. New techniques, new ideas and even the confirmation of my own ideas about the sport can all be tested and learned, especially when we get to match them up with other players & coaches from around Europe.

Coach getting to grips with foreign culture
Coach getting to grips with foreign culture

There is something about a foreign country new sites, sounds and tastes that has led me all over and the common factor in these adventures has been table tennis. This was my 4th trip to Hasselt and for all its faults it is a great event, both team and singles events as well as the social side of things.
This year I took two teams one boys’ and one girls’ team from West Cork. We are no great power-club and have no pretense to be one, we promote enjoyment over medals and trophies but we still celebrate the achievements of our players whether local, regional or international and I still qualify everything by the fact we are centred around a small area the countryside of Ireland without the population of the city. So when we go up against a club based in Cologne, Brussels or a region in Holland and we are competitive and even victorious I can’t help having a good feeling.
I was so delighted that the players all played well, they were so motivated and focused, the atmosphere was excellent and the interaction between themselves was supportive and encouraging . We don’t get enough opportunity to play team matches so much is based around individual competition, the schools events are always eagerly anticipated but the level of competition is not really that high but it was in Belgium.

U15 Boys Hall
U15 Boys Hall

I once again have tried to encourage Munster to send players. They spent over 2000euros this season to send 3 players to the Junior British League, which is an okay event but it seems like a lot of money to spend. I would love to see Munster sending 4 or 5 teams to Belgium, even more! There is no qualification and we can choose to play at club or elite level. Mair playing in elite got to play the No.1 & 3 in Belgium while Niall played club cadet and won 50% of his first round matches, it caters for many different players.

Antwerp
Antwerp

As is my want I decided not to travel from Antwerp on the last day to finish off the team event. If any of them had made the semi finals in the singles we would have but it looked like they would have just one maybe two more matches in the team event. The sun was shining and we had the opportunity to travel into Antwerp for the morning before we caught the plane back to Cork from Brussels. Some might criticise the decision but I asked the players and took into consideration how much effort they had put into the event. The trip into the city was a reward not only for how well they played at the event but for the commitment they have put in over the whole of the season.
Antwerp is a very attractive city and the central cathedral is well known. We went to a smaller Jesuit church with a couple of beautiful Ruben`s paintings on display and had a brilliant tour guide who made the history of the church and the city come alive. We also found some gorgeous waffles on the street and listened to some talented buskers. A quick visit to a Belgian chocolate factory was a must and we wandered the streets looking at the old roof tops, statues and shops.

Shane & Kit with their medals :)
Shane & Kit with their medals 🙂

I have to thank the Barrett family for all their help. They used to live near us and our kids are good friends. Ana and Oisin made up the West Cork Team and have joined a club in Belgium. We miss them as they were so much fun and enthusiastic, it was great to meet up with them and the rest of the family, thanks guys you made our trip even more special.
The table tennis was important and I think from their feedback they have learned a lot about the sport. I have been lucky enough over the years to have been away on a lot of trips and those players are now adults some with kids of their own. When we meet up we have often reminisced over trips to Portugal, Slovakia, Sweden etc but the talk has mostly been memories of what happened away from the table. The loses, the victories are still recounted but the stories are more often about the friendships, the sites and the time spent together. When dealing with children as coaches I think we should always remember our priority is about nurturing and developing our players as rounded individuals not just counting their worth in the currency of victories.
I sometimes wonder if I would be a better coach if I was more focused on winning everything and I am quite willing to admit to parents (and players) that I don’t have the desire to be a coach that drives their children or them to the top. I do try to help a player become self motivated rather than reliant upon me and if that player then expresses the desire and ambition to reach the top I will work as hard and commit as much of my energy and skill as a coach to help them but I am far more focused on enabling a player to develop as much skill as they can and become as proficient as possible at table tennis, the winning side of things is very much their personal achievement. If winning is the only thing that makes them happy and they are only happy with their performance when they win then I don’t feel I’ve done my job properly. They can do that when they are an adult but I feel as a coach dealing with children I also have a responsibility to develop them as a well rounded individual and I don’t think someone who is only happy about what they do when they win is a well rounded person. Being the best you can be is not always about being the best.

waffles

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