Well I have taken on the thankless task of Participation Director for Munster Table Tennis. A job nobody really wants. Thankfully it should be pretty easy to do better than any previous Participation Director as no one has really done anything before in this position, even though there has been a lot of work done by individuals like are current Chairperson Alan Hurley down on the south coast of Cork, but as Participation director I can basically make up my own job description within reason! In fact at our first Munster Branch meeting I was able to present my definition of a Participation Director and it was lucky I did as it was proposed that I would work with a development squad of players to support the Performance Strategy. Not what I had in mind!
So I’ve defined my role as one that is there to encourage participation and in that regard I have drawn up some ideas towards developing an Introduction scheme, where I will go (or another coach) to an area and introduce the sport with a view to encouraging a school or club to start getting involved in table tennis through the Munster Branch. The session will be free so I am giving up my time which doesn’t really make economic sense but it is a voluntary position.
I am trying to put into place some funding, firstly through the Branch, who don’t have any money and if they do usually spend it on performance related stuff. Last year’s participation budget was €0. I have managed to raise €185 with the help of Tony Higgins’s wonderful photographs he took at a camp I held with a former Chinese National Coach. It won’t get me very far but it is a start.
I looked at the map of Munster and saw that both Co. Limerick and Co. Waterford have no clubs or schools participating in Munster and thought I would make a start to try and get something up and running. I contacted both the Local Sports Partnerships (LSPs) in those areas. I have worked with Cork County LSP for some years and they have an extensive contact list and connections all over the county, so I hoped Limerick and Waterford could provide me with some of that. I also hoped that they may want to roll in behind my idea and could even provide me with a venue and some tables. At least they could point me in the right direction.
I got a great response from the Waterford LSP Development Officer and I looked up an old friend of mine who assisted me at the Special Olympic World Games in China who is based in Waterford. I have contacted a couple of schools and I am hoping we can co-ordinate something and deliver a couple of Introduction Session on one day. I don’t fancy too many trips to Waterford as it is about a 4 hour drive for me.
In Limerick (3hrs away) I didn’t get much initial response from my inquiries with the LSP but I got in touch with a coach Nigel who went on a Level 1 Course I delivered a couple of years ago and he is based near Limerick. He seemed keen. I did get one lead in Limerick City from the LSP to try out a new fitness venue which had a couple of tables but Nigel told me he had been to it and it would be difficult to organise a proper club there. When they had done a meet and greet session it had too many in such a small room. The old St. Michael’s Club that had been used for many years has been closed for some time I gather. The University of Limerick has 8 tables and it has been used by the ITTA for a number of events but without anyone co-ordinating the club there it has petered out.
I rang round all my contacts and sent out an email circular asking anyone if they had any contacts in Limerick and it was through this I had a chat with Jimmy Hayes who is a coach based up on the north Munster boarder. He suggested I contact James Collins. James is the father of a youngster who played in the Munster Rankings last year and went to a couple of West Cork training camps I held. They live in Adare so I set about getting in touch with them. As luck would have it they came down for a couple of days to a West Cork training camp and we were able to discuss some plans about starting a club. There is a local hall and the possibility of getting hold of a couple of tables but they lacked a coach, so I rang Nigel and I am hoping he will be able to get involved. They are still talking about how best to go about it and I will wait and see if we can get a club in Adare up and running this season. I hope to run one of the Introduction Sessions in Adare and invite in the two primary schools, one girls’ and one boys’, as well as the secondary school.
I also found out that Jimmy’s daughter Amy Lou is going to UL this year and she has helped Jimmy coaching in his clubs and while Jimmy was ill she took over the coaching duties. Amy Lou was a promising junior and I have seen her looking after players from the Cloughjordan Club at our Munster Rankings. She has tried doing her ITTA Level 1 coaching certificate a couple of times but the courses have been cancelled due to lack of numbers. I am hoping to get a level 1 course this season in Munster as I know of a couple who are in similar situation and we need coaches if we are going to make any impact in developing participation through club development.
I also made contact with a James Meaney who has a son going to a secondary school in the Limerick town of Hospital. He had rung the ITTA Head Office looking for information on how to get table tennis started there. I rang the office the same day he did! So there is another link in the chain and he is working with the St John the Baptist School to see if we can’t get something started.
Another contact came up by chance on the golf course with a teacher at Charleville CBS. Charleville is actually in Co. Cork but it is right on the boarder of Limerick and has a close association especially in school sports. The teacher Denis lives in Co. Limerick and seems very keen on getting table tennis started not just at school but within some of the small community halls dotted around the countryside. This might be harder to co-ordinate but if he is enthusiastic and we get a couple of connections a small community league might be possible. He also had a couple of teacher friends in two schools nearby in Co. Limerick and they might well be interested in starting something. It would be ideal if we could get a couple of secondary schools up and running at the same time, otherwise getting a school to travel to Cork City might be a lot harder and if they start at the same time the standard should be competitive between them.
I have also contacted a Community Development group Ballyhoura who cover north Cork and east Limerick. Table Tennis is a great community sport as it can cater for such a wide demographic and is relatively inexpensive. It is also great for small communities you can look to what has been achieved around here in West Cork. Often the small communities have less of a choice of activities than a larger town or city and it is harder to get teams together.
We also have one very experienced coach who lives close to this region Conn Higgins, he is currently the National Performance Chairman and a very busy man but he has agreed to come on board and will deliver sessions if he is available.
There are a load of strings and they all have to be brought together but I am hoping at least a couple will prove strong enough. I did manage to have a meeting with the Limerick LSP Development Officer Phelim as I had the chance to go to the University of Limerick as I was organising the World Medical Games at the beginning of this month. We have had a bit of contact since and I am hoping that the LSP will organise a table tennis session during the season.
If all goes to plan I will have at least 8 Introduction Sessions and I am applying to the ITTA on behalf of Munster under the participation funding. If we manage to get that then we will be able to pay the coach €20/hour and the Munster Branch will cover the cost of travel. With all the extra expense, phone calls, meeting etc. I don’t think anyone will make any money but we might just be able to break even and even if we can get a minimum of at least one school and one club up and running I think it will be a major step forward.