This is an article to try and help parents support their children to get the most out of their table tennis experience. Most people consider the sport as an “individual sport,” however in my experience it is better thought of as a team sport. The members of that team are the player, the parent, the coach & the club. The player maybe the one who actually plays the sport but without the other members of the team they can only go so far.
Find a suitable session. Clubs often run different sessions for different standard of player and with different age groups. Most players start off with a 1 hour session or in the case of school table tennis this is sometimes shorter. These sessions introduce the basic shots, the forehand, the backhand and the service and they can spark the initial interest in the sport. Bats can be borrowed and they are often large groups with fun games a priority.
The next step is to find a session that has fewer players and the child can spend more time on the table. Table time is a crucial element to developing your skills. I would suggest if possible that the child continues to play in the introduction session as well. This provides an important social aspect and the player will be able to see their improvement. The introduction session was what originally provided interest in the sport and this will provide the player with a 2 hour session per week. It is at this stage that the player will benefit from having their own bat. The bat is a crucial element to a player, every bat has different properties and qualities. Ideally I feel an all round bat that has good control and can produce spin. In order to do this the bats rubber surface needs to be slightly sticky; this will help the player to produce spin which is the next stage on from just putting the ball back on the table.
Unfortunately most of the bats that can be bought in the local sports shop are not suitable. I always find it hard when a player comes into the session with their “new bat” usually a present from a well meaning family member and I see that it is totally unsuitable for that player. Selecting the right bat needs input from a coach. There are many options and I try and simplify it by coming down to budget. I will outline the two options I usually give.
- A made up bat costing around €30, I have for some years suggested the Tibhar Volcano which can be bought on line from Celtic Table Tennis (www.celtictt.com). This is a good basic bat that a player can learn the techniques of topspin and backspin as well as spin serves. In order to keep it in good condition you also need a bat case which can be bought depending on your choice for €5-€10.
- A bat that is custom made. The elements of a bat are the rubbers and the blade (the wooden part). There are thousands of varieties of blades and rubbers on the market today many of which would be suitable. I look for an all round or all round plus blade that costs in the region of €25. The Tibhar P.Chila Offensive has been a favourite of mine for a number of years and more recently I have been suggesting the Gewo All Round Classic (this is the blade one of my kids plays with). As for rubbers I suggest the Tibhar Rapid Rubbers which are around €16/sheet. This means this bat comes in around €60 with postage. The advantage of buying a custom bat is that you can change the rubbers to suite the player as they progress and keep the same blade for many years.
As a note a bat case is an important piece of equipment, rubbers can be very easily affected by light and heat. If you leave a bat out in sunlight, on the seat of a car or by a window sill it will only take a few minutes for the rubbers to lose their stickiness and be useless. Another thing to remember is to mark your bat with a name, do NOT write on the rubbers but put initials or some other mark on the handle or wooden part of the bat.
I am aware that €60 is not an insignificant amount of money to be spent but it is a fairly normal amount to pay for a pair of football boots and there is a good chance if looked after it will last longer as children’s feet grow so fast! Rubbers will need to be changed, probably after a year but this can be staggered one sheet at a time.
In West Cork if you join one of our coaching schemes in either Bantry, Skibbereen or Goleen or are involved in one of our school sessions you can come along to our main training session in Goleen on Friday evenings (7pm-9pm €3). We have 14 tables available and a couple of training robots. The sessions in Goleen are the backbone for our Elite Squad and we can do a lot of worthwhile work during these sessions. We have a number of players who play on the Irish National circuit as well as the Munster Provincial Squads and players who show an interest are well catered for. Having players of a good standard to train with is important and with a 2 hour session players get much more opportunity to learn quickly.
We already have players traveling in from Drimoleague, Skibbereen & Durrus and there is the mini bus that comes in from Ballydehob (€2 return). We used to have a group coming in from Bantry and if there was interest we could organise that again. Goleen is around 40mins from both Bantry & Skibbereen and if a lift share was organised then there would be less journeys for a parent. The hall is fully equipped with a kitchenette for making tea & coffee; there is free Wi-Fi and even a wide screen television for any parent who wanted to stay for the 2 hours. We do run a policy that any parent who brings a child can play for free, so you could even learn a thing or two about table tennis if you so wished!
The WCTTA organise a series of West Cork Rankings during the season (September-May). These are ideal for any new player. Players are divisioned by their level of ability, they are not divisioned by age or gender, so you get a mixed group, usually of 5 players and the players then get 4 competitive matches in around 2.5hrs (€5 entry fee). Players who win their division move up to the next division for the next event (usually monthly). This enables players to try and move up the rankings, all players receive ranking points and these are published with an overall ranking at the end of the season. Players and coaches can then monitor the player’s improvement and this is where players can learn to use and develop tactical skills as well as develop their “mental” game in a safe and fun atmosphere. The events usually start around 11am and finished by 2pm on Sundays in Goleen.
The WCTTA also organise a number of schools events including the Team event and the Individual schools events. It is hoped to have a number of inter-club matches next season.
The next level up are the Munster Challengers. These are run along similar grounds to the West Cork Rankings except there is a divisioning process in the morning and then players play in divisions in the afternoon. They are longer affairs played in various locations including Kinsale, Tralee and Cork with an entry fee of €10. This gives players an opportunity to play different players and in different venues.
The next level up from that are the Munster Rankings. There are 4 of these events during a season and they are held in various locations, Cork being the main area and we hold one in West Cork every two years. These events are for different age groups, U11, U13, U15 & U19 and are usually played on a Saturday. Players can enter two age groups, their own and the age group above. These are serious competitions but the U11s is also a proving ground for new players and is considered slightly separate as the Munster Branch quite rightly feel that players of this age need extra supervision.
The age criteria can be slightly confusing for some as it is taken from January 1st in which the season started. This is easy enough before Christmas but some find it odd as the season is spread over two years. Next season it will be the 2015/2016 season and U11 will have to be born on or after January 1st 2005, U13s 2003, U15s 2001 & U18s 1998. There are separate events for boys and girls. Players are put into groups for the first stage with each group having a “seeded” player. Two players progress from this group into the main competition while the others go into the “Plate” or consolation event. Most of the opening groups are groups of 3 sometimes 4. If there are small numbers in a category (sometimes the girl’s events) then a “Round Robin” event is played where everyone plays everyone.
The Munster Rankings can be a tough event and I think players need to be assessed by their coach as to whether they have the ability to cope with the pressure of this type of competition, but I have seen a lot of players learn a considerable amount about the game and make serious improvement after playing in an event of this nature.
The next level up from that are the Irish National Rankings which are played all over Ireland with each province host an event. The Munster Open has both juniors and seniors playing with some players coming over from abroad to play. It is a major table tennis spectacle and if a player can get the opportunity to watch or even play in this event it can be very exciting.
If you are reading this article then you have found our website and I hope this is a good source of information. We also have a Facebook Page where lots of news and upcoming events are posted. My email address is email@example.com and my mobile is 083-1372013. I am always willing to talk about table tennis (probably too much be warned!) and I am very interested in giving you any information to help you or your child get more out of our sport. If you want to chat then please come to me at the end of a session, rather than the beginning! Or we can organise a time to suit us both.
The Munster Branch has an excellent website with loads of information, results and photographs http://munstertabletennis.weebly.com/