September 2015

Here I am at the beginning of September, I should have my weekly time-table sorted out but I had an added complication this week with my wife Kate away working for a Women’s Cycling Team up in Co. Clare. Her sister-in-law is racing with 3 others and her brother is the team manager. It was an opportunity not to be missed as she is very keen on cycling and with the team coming over from the USA and it being one of the most important races on the Women’s Irish Cycling calendar, it is great experience for her but it does mean I had to delay my coaching schedule with 4 kids to look after and having to be available for school pick-ups etc.
The race is the Ras Na Mban (www.rasnamban.com) and the team is the QCW Team from USA. Her sister in law Kristie Nichols James took a very nasty fall yesterday, ended up with stitches at the local hospital after a crash in the leading group but races again today, thankfully table tennis is not quite so dangerous!
Enough of cycling but just an indication that juggling family life along side table tennis coaching is a tricky task. Last year my eldest Mair was doing her Junior Cert. at school and this brought its own challenges, she had to priorities and work out just how much time she could commit to the sort against her studies for school. There was loads of pressure, mostly what she put herself under, but after she got her results on Wednesday and remaining competitive at table tennis it looks like she managed to do a good job. This year she has transition and she is looking forward to all the new experiences she has lined up along with the opportunity to help gaining some coaching experience during some of her “work experience” program. She is also doing a project on adolescent female participation in sport for the BT Young Scientist competition and I am looking forward to what conclusions she comes up with.
James has started the Junior Cert. cycle this term and even though he has consistently achieved high grades he is already concerned about the amount of study and work he will have to do in order to keep up with what appears to be a very fast learning curve. We have talked a lot about organising his time between school, table tennis, social life and his many other activities. I think it is really important at this stage to have good communication and planning otherwise you can get swamped and the player can get disheartened. Setting goals, agreeing on a training program and supporting other activities will hopefully insure that a player doesn’t get to the stage where they feel they have to just give up on something. The choice basically coming down between school-work (not an option), table tennis or a social life, it is not surprising that often it is the sport that gets benched completely. Even though I think being involved in a sport, especially at a high level, gives students the opportunity to learn skills like time management, working under pressure as well as a number of other life skills, it is unsurprising that it can be considered unimportant. The sacrifice a player has to make in regards to a social life is extremely tough especially when dealing with adolescents.
I have the same concerns over some of my other players but I would feel uncomfortable discussing them in a public forum as they are not my kids but the balance for underage players is a continual problem. I don’t know if national selectors and underage coaches consider the athletes they deal with on national squads in a holistic sense, taking into account the various stages they are on but I hope they do it has to be crucial element in developing players for the long term. I suspect we as a country would lose out on a significant number of players, especially our “B” players if we don’t take these things into account.
In my experience it is easy enough when a child is at primary school level to commit so much of their time to one thing as there doesn’t seem to be the same amount of pressure on them at school but the jump from primary to secondary is very significant and with a child undergoing both the physical and emotional changes at this age as well it can be a bumpy ride. For me I also have to add in the extra travelling required and the transition from a small student body to a much larger student body where table tennis becomes an insignificant activity in comparison to the sports given more prominence at secondary level.
Looking to the future I think we need to do much more in regards to our players who leave junior levels and move on to senior at 18yrs old. The opportunities for U21s are pretty slim on the ground and unless a player can also make significant inroads to the senior level quickly I see a major decline in participation. Players making the transition from secondary to third level and those that will go straight into regular work must find the demands of carrying on table tennis very difficult. There appears to be a growing number of players who are trying to bridge the gap between amateur and professional play, joining club teams abroad but as far as I understand it the financial rewards are pretty small and it will only be the very few that will take the risk. With so many withdrawing at this stage from the national scene the consequences appear to restrict the growth of the sport and in turn without this “depth” we exasperate the problem. This seems even more apparent in the women’s’ game, with “junior” players dominating the senior rankings at present.
So back to my little patch down in West Cork and trying to get my weekly time-table sorted out! I sometimes envy those coaches who only look after one club. I imagine what I could do if I had a club in an area with a higher level of population and one that I didn’t have to do all the administration! I know working for a committee has its problems as well but a club with 3, 4 even 5 session a week where I just could concentrate on my coaching sounds like a dream! If I could only transplant the hall and the equipment to somewhere with a larger population. I am delighted that we have managed to regularly produce players of a high standard in Goleen but we do lack depth. Goleen is a small village with a resident population just over 100. I am unlikely to move, for awhile anyway, so I just need to stop dreaming and get on with it.
The Sports Centre in Skibbereen has re-organised itself and in order to increase their capacity for their fitness area we were asked to move the tables into the main hall at the end of last season. This actually was much better as we had more space and we were off the carpeted floor and on to a wooden floor with good lighting. However now I would like to start again this season because we are in the main hall and basketball training is on we do not have a venue on the regular Tuesdays I have had a session on for the last 15 years. There is a possibility of moving to a later slot on Mondays but as I already work in Skibbereen on Tuesdays it would mean an extra journey and cancelling the secondary school session on Mondays. Trying to fit a square peg in a round hole and I can’t seem to find a way to adjust. I have found another option and that is to coach in the Abberstrewry hall in Skibbereen. I discovered they already have a club session there on Tuesdays at 6.30 till 8pm and I rang up to see if they would like a coach. They got back to me yesterday and I start on the first Tuesday in October with 20 kids on 3 tables (wish me luck!).
I hope to back to a regular weekly schedule next week with Schull Community College on Mondays, CoAction Skibbereen on Tuesdays, the club in Bantry on Wednesdays, Goleen on Thursdays and Fridays. There is the possibility of an after school session at the girls secondary school in Skibbereen on Tuesdays as well but I will have to wait and see.
This weekend we have the Munster Club League and we are putting a team of Mair, Niall O’Driscoll and Erik Olsson. Hopefully this will give them a chance to prepare for the Irish Junior Classification the following weekend. James was going to play but after his results at the Irish Senior Classification he has been called up for an Irish National Squad training camp on Sunday. He had to think long and hard about whether he was going to take up the invite due to all the issues outlined in the earlier paragraphs. It is unlikely he will get any kind of team selection this season as a first year junior but he has agreed to put in an appearance. His training and competition program didn’t include any Irish Camps and I think it might well be unproductive for him to spend so much of his time and budget on going up and down to Dublin rather than competing abroad, but we will wait and see.
Mair and James will be joining Ael Y Bryn TTC with Beth and Kate Roberts for the Welsh Team Championships in Cardiff, with the first leg on the first weekend in October. They are playing in Division 1 and the event is for mixed teams and for junior and senior teams. Mair will have a busy October as she will fly out to the UK on the 16th October to play in the Junior British League Premier Division with a Munster representative team from Kinneigh TTC of Kerry O’Mahoney and Shelley Tobin. With at least 7 of the players entering the first Munster Ranking on the 26th/27th September we have a pretty full schedule ahead.
The last thing I wanted to talk about was coaching the very young. At my last training I have a lad who is 6yrs old and who came fairly regularly last season once a week. He took a place at the summer camp this year and I was a bit worried as his concentration and ability were both on the low side of things. That first session was great, as something must have clicked with him, maybe it was the summer camp and maybe it is just he is now older but rather than hitting 50% of the shots and not able to adjust his technique under instruction he was hitting 80/90% and adjusted those things I asked of him. It is a real buzz for me to see things fall into a place, especially when it is so frustrating when they don’t! I have no idea if that was just a once off but I am looking forward to seeing if we can build on that at the next session. I think it is instances like that which define me as a development coach. I do enjoy the intensity and challenge of high performance training and competition but helping a youngster to experience our sport for the first time by playing rallies and hitting targets gives me just as much a sense of joy as the higher end of the sport and maybe due to the innocence of it, a little bit more.

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