Losing young players in Table Tennis

The Ping Pong Show (excellent YouTube channel, go and check them out) had their fourth debate show and one of the questions was:

Why is the player retention from junior to senior so diabolical in this country?

I left a comment on this video touching on a couple of points – expanding my thoughts in a video of my own here:

However this covered more about who I am and where I’m coming from.

So in this post I want to address the two major factors again – as I find this subject can be talked about more. I’m also not addressing top level players, I’m talking about ‘grassroots’ level.

1 – ‘The Cool factor’

I’ve mentioned this before but adding to it I feel that the peer pressure of mates has a part to play in this. The love of the game is easy to see when you start hitting a ball and getting into some long points with people. You get to play against your mates, older teenagers and even adults and it’s still a relatively even situation.

However if you mates, at a young age, start dropping off then ‘the Cool factor’ drops off. You then can’t talk about it with them as much. It takes a special type of person to keep playing then and at a young age this is hard to do when you are turning up to practice or games with no one your own age.

Looking back at my own experience I flipped the negatively of not having any of my close school mates (from year 5 to sixth form, when I finally got a mate into the sport) into a positive.

I hated sports like football (loved watching Bath City every weekend, not playing), rugby and hockey etc as you were told at an all boys school to play and excel in these. It may have been my way to rebel in my teenage years against the ‘system’ I was placed in. So I wouldn’t talk about who I beat or what new technique I learnt (some would say no enough) so I was almost like a secret – which it shouldn’t be!

I’m forever asking mates (and now work colleagues etc) to have a game. The most resistance I have is that people are afraid – which is odd, but I get comments like ‘I won’t be any good’.

Maybe other players have had a similar experience?

2 – Coverage

In this ever changing world of internet technology now there is more need is instant gratification and highs of exposer to anyone that has eyes!

What can table tennis offer in this way? – my mind goes straight to the Olympic Games, not say the Blackpool GP or British League Table Tennis.

Looking back to when I was a kid, it wasn’t until I saw my Dad’s trophy haul on our shelves at home and what they were for (ok mainly skittles but a few table tennis). I didn’t think you received prizes or that there were four Bath leagues (back then and around 10 in Bristol).

I liken this moment to my young development as seeing Twerton Park’s main stand for the first time. My little 12 year old eyes were in awe seeing this grand old stand and opening my mind to multiple leagues outside of the Premier League (man I was amazed Bath have never been a Football League side, still am).

So table tennis is established and you can do well and be part of a team? That was awesome for me, gave me a small goal to look towards and role models outside of my Dad to look up to.

How would I have found out about this without my Dad though?

I was aware that is was in the local paper as I would look through the sports on my paper round – but again this was very hidden and often only the results with names of the players.

Nowadays you can google ‘Table Tennis in Bath’ and find a little more coverage. Yet crucially very little video coverage and not many people talking about it. This leads on to my next point…

3 – Age

I find that in most committees that I’ve sat on that I’ve been the youngest person in the room by at least 20 years – that gap closing a little with my advancing years now! This means that there is a very established ‘way of doing things’ and very strong opinions in the meetings.

Now this isn’t completely a bad thing as most organisations and leagues etc are living year to year due to increasing costs. So there are some increadible people in those rooms who put ungodly amounts of voluntary hours in keeping table tennis (football, rugby, cricket etc) clubs and leagues going.

There is a generation gap between them and younger competitors in these sports though. Something like a simple RT on Twitter or a tag on Instagram is lost on them as we are all living through unprecedented times of technological advancement.

I’m on the Bath & District Table Tennis committee looking after match reports for the local paper and our Facebook Page. Yet I feel that someone younger to join me in a small media team would improve coverage across multiple platforms even more.

Now this would open up a young players eyes to the possibility of media content production for table tennis – their sport!

Then they could develop a portfolio of content and possibly work with Table Tennis Eng in the future, or Table Tennis Daily, or the Ping Pong World Championships. Suddenly now you have options for a career in the sport in a job role which was unheard of back in 2005.

The other element of the age factor is in the players themselves.

It’s hard as a teenager to lose to middle aged man with a beer gut in the bottom league, or a retired man or woman who hasn’t moved around table, week in week out. It’s happened to me and still does now!

This is what makes our sport unique and great that anyone can play it. However when you are younger you need a strong mentality or to change the format that you play the sport (which would need it’s own video/article to explain).

You also need the right teammates around younger players – doesn’t have to be a team of kids – just the right adult to advise, encourage.

When I played local league in that kids only team the adult teams would try and hammer us. They would also complain about lighting, the floor, walls anything they could to try and put us off (although I know adults teams that do this now). They hated the early kick offs and didn’t have much patience when you got a score wrong. There wasn’t always an adult coach around to help defend us either and it folded after a year to two.

At Keynsham TTC we have started introducing teenagers into the local league via an established club. They get advice and training from me on a Friday and tips and advice from their captain that they report to in the week.

We also have a gent in his 80s that comes to our club and works teenagers who are willing to listen. He’s also a Bristol City fan so there is a lots of football chat which helps too! This means that our retention rate with teenagers is very high.

So having a place for kids and adults to mix is vital in my opinion to keeping them coming back. It breaks down any stigma attached to age when you get two people at one end of the table, with space and time to sit down and talk afterwards.

To Conclude

Why is the player retention from junior to senior so diabolical in this country?

It’s ‘the Cool factor’ – peer pressure, Coverage – awareness of leagues, and Age – social media and the players; contribute to why we haven’t got more young players in my part of the world.

Do you agree? can you add to this? Get in touch and lets spark a conversation about this great sport and get more eyes on it!