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Sports Management
Nov Dec 2017 issue 134

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Leisure Management - Growing table tennis

Growing Grass roots

Growing table tennis

It may not be a mainstream sport, but table tennis is something that can be played almost anywhere, by anyone. Table Tennis England’s Paul Stimpson discusses how the body plans to attract new audiences and grow the sport

Table Tennis England’s Paul Stimpson
Denise Payet (L) is a member of Table Tennis England’s youth squad
Ping! is an initiative that takes table tennis tables into public spaces
Table Tennis England wants to encourage everyone to pick up a bat
Table tennis players competed at the London Youth Games © Paul Harding/PA Archive/PA Images
The body is aiming to introduce junior leagues to retain young members © shutterstock/JJ pixs

What’s the history of table tennis?
Table tennis originated as a parlour game in late Victorian times and became formalised worldwide by the creation of the International Table Tennis Federation in London in 1926. This year, the sport created history when it became the first in which every nation of the world was officially a member of the international federation – a total of 226. It has been an Olympic Sport since 1988.

What’s the current level of participation?
We’ve seen a gradual increase in participation numbers in England over the past five years. According to the most recent Sport England research, the number of regular participants is 448,700 – however, more than 3 million people say they play at least once a year.
How are you growing the grassroots of the sport?

Our most recently launched programme is ‘Be TT’, an initiative which is all about working with and supporting our existing clubs, leagues and volunteers to make sure the experience we’re offering as a sport keeps people coming back time and time again.

The key focus areas from speaking with our participants, clubs and leagues include: recruiting and retaining volunteers, developing junior leagues and shorter format leagues, training our volunteers and coaches and introducing more adult coaching opportunities across our clubs and leagues. These are all areas requested by participants and that our own insight tells us will help attract more young people and females into the sport.

How are you encouraging more young people to get involved?
The next year is more focused on developing the opportunities clubs can provide for young people, so those who start the sport get hooked and keep coming back. This will mean that, in as many areas up and down the country as possible, clubs will be able to support kids when they’re a complete beginner, then provide competitive opportunities for them and lead them to stay in the sport for many years. This may be done through the development of our coaches, as well as by introducing junior leagues to ease the transition from starting the sport into our existing local league structure.

Moving forward, we’ve also just entered a very exciting period for the sport following a merger with the English Schools Table Tennis Association. Part of the reason for this merger is to look at how we can increase the number of schools offering table tennis and progress to holding schools competitions. We’re also introducing a junior development programme that can help bring more young people into the sport at all levels.

What’s the pathway from grassroots to elite competition?
We have a network of Talent Development Centres (TDCs) around the country where talented youngsters can get regular specialist coaching. To feed into those, we’ve launched the Performance Club Programme, so clubs can work with TDCs to develop younger players.
We also have a National Talent Academy based at Ackworth School in Yorkshire and we run an England Youth Squad where the most talented youngsters can begin to prepare for life in international competitions. The age range in the squad is 14 to 18. TDCs cater for youngsters aged from around nine and there are plans to create a younger England development squad.

How are you attracting different audiences to try the sport?
Our ‘Loop’, ‘Ping!’ and ‘Ping Pong Parlours’ initiatives are designed to bring the sport into everyday spaces, offering it in a relaxed, low commitment, accessible way.

The Loop initiative is a range of subsidised ping pong table packages that include everything needed to be able combine fun and activity into the places people already spend time. The packages are aimed at workplaces, community groups and venues, university campuses and sports clubhouses.

Ping! brings the game to public spaces all over England. In its eighth year of delivery, an unprecedented 24 towns and cities have welcomed our table tennis tables this summer, providing free-to-use equipment to the community and encouraging everyone to grab a bat and ball and get playing!

Ping Pong Parlours are ‘pop-up’ spaces, usually occupying empty retail space, which are filled with table tennis tables, providing drop-in opportunities for passers-by to play ping pong for free. These pop-up parlours provide a fun, accessible venue for passers-by, as well as brightening up empty retail spaces.

What are the biggest challenges to growing participation?
The biggest challenge is getting more volunteers and coaches involved and accessing affordable facilities. Many of our clubs are at capacity and are really keen to grow their participation levels further but are unable to.

Over the next 12 months we’re focusing on engaging more young people in volunteering and coaching through our network of clubs and leagues. While we don’t have the resources to invest in building new facilities, we’re supporting clubs through our recently launched Be TT programme to create sustainable business plans around the use of facilities.

Do you partner with any other organisations to grow the sport?
We work in partnership with many traditional organisations, but over the past seven years we’ve also worked with the Jack Petchey Foundation to develop table tennis across London and Essex, with more than 500 schools and youth clubs receiving tables and equipment and over 40,000 young people benefitting. We also work closely with Greenhouse Sports to support their work bringing table tennis to schools across London.

You recently lost funding from Sport England for a short time. How did that impact the sport?
It caused a period of uncertainty for clubs, leagues and the rest of the sport because we were unable to commit to programmes and were unsure how we would be able to support the sport going forward. It resulted in reputational damage and potential cashflow problems.

What reforms have now been agreed?
The main reform that was passed at the EGM (Extraordinary General Meeting) was the ability for the Board to appoint a Chair, rather than it being one of three positions elected by the members. However, we’ve retained three elected directors on the Board, any of whom are eligible to apply to be Chair, in order to retain the democratic voice of the members.
We’ve also committed to a wide-ranging and thorough review into our governance and structures to see if there are improvements that can be made which are still compliant with the government’s Code of Governance. That process is just beginning.

Originally published in Sports Management Nov Dec 2017 issue 134

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