Can England have a professional Table Tennis League?

I’m writing this article after (the quite excellent) The Ping Pong Show’s episode featuring Matt Porter and his first draft of a National League. I reached out to Matt and he’s emailed me his Powerpoint presentation – which is a lot better than pausing the YouTube video, so thanks Matt!

Don’t worry if you don’t want to read a rather long article – I’ve put a couple of my key thoughts in a very wind swept YouTube video – feel free to watch that instead or first and there is a comments section under the video!

In the spirit of this being a draft presentation I’m going to read though it and react as I go – so this won’t be a most polished article that you’ve ever read. I want to do it this way though to enable you (yes you the reader) to start thinking about your own views and get them down on my socials channels. Let’s keep the conversation going about this issue and start to help flesh out the bones of this idea.

The first thing I notice is that Matt is a very prominent member of the English Table Tennis Community. He’s bought into the English system from (assumingly) a young age and worked for Table Tennis England (TTE). So the thought that has gone into his finds can cover ‘grassroots’ table tennis all the way up to elite and even a corporate level.

Why is there a proposed change from the current system?

League numbers dwindling, no natural progression, image to young players, media product and awareness all resonate with my experience.

I play in the Bath and District Table Tennis League and at 33 I’m still a young player when you look at all three leagues – how is this possible?

Thankfully at my club, Key Centre TTC, we have bucked this trend a little. We introduced a C team last year which is made up of two 16 year olds from my Keynsham TTC club, alongside some more experienced players. Both lads have performed well in their debut seasons and proved that raw talents (both players have only picked up at a bat for around a year or two) can compete in Division Two.

Bathford TTC have also put younger players in their Division Two team which is great to see and juniors have moved up over the last few years to their Premier teams.

What is the next step for these players in the Bath Premier League? We don’t really have one. If their parents can afford it (and school work allows it) then they could play county level or for Bristol/London based national league clubs – but ultimately leaving the Bath system.

The image to young players is a tricky one as you can make enjoyable if you have the right team mates around you. If there was a ‘break out’ area or a spare table where you can have a little knock and chat then this would help. Having said that though it’s also fun to watch the games and encourage your team mates.

The worse thing to see as a player is no one in your corner as everyone is on their phones. I personally like playing in front of people and entertaining them, having a few words between sets or even points.

A product for the media and awareness go hand in hand. I’ve never ever seen anyone from TTE at a presentation night for the Bath Leagues, I think that should be a minimum requirement from the South Rep. It adds a more important or ‘official’ vibe to the occasion, then pictures and comments can be added to their social channels.

Last season I joined a Bristol League team and I won my first couple of matches for this relegation threatened team. After the first week of trying to find the write up I asked the captain where the reports were – I was told no one writes them! Seriously there wasn’t a write up for each league, yet it’s the biggest (I think) league in the country.

Then in regards to a pyramid (next couple of slides) this would be great for players and fans alike. I had absolutely no idea that Grand Prix’s existed until I wrote my ‘break out’ article in 2014 – I had to actively seek out knowledge as there wasn’t any coverage anywhere about it.

The touched upon pyramid system like the football leagues would be fantastic to see and would bring pride to those teams (and areas) promoted into it from a local level.

On the next slide Matt explores player retention in this new system. This is where top teams locally will be promoted into a higher pyramid system, which would ensure a new opportunity for teams to complete for the title. Players will also be playing at the correct level for them and set new challenges against a new set of players.

Training time between games is also limited at a local level.

One of my team mates actually touched on this in a conversation I had when he told me he’s leaving the sport. It is just games at the Key Centre, we don’t have a night of the week to train or play against better players (although my B team finished higher than the A team). Producing and developing a progressive club can ideally have training nights and those who aren’t at those clubs can then transfer to them, as I appreciate this might not be for everyone.

Then there are three points that for me go hand in hand – Geographic location for higher tournaments – the limited tournaments – cost.

Now if I was going in with the GP circuit to compete in the lowest banded events and try out the Open to get the experience of playing much better players then it gets very expensive…

Upgrading my player licence, book time off work, travel to the event, stay overnight and travel back for around what 6ish games of table tennis over the two days (that’s a guess, feel free to correct me).

However if there were more events in my area then I’d be more inclined to play but the format would have to be shorter. My wife would kill me if I spent the whole weekend playing table tennis and a lot of that would be sitting around and waiting in the current format.

The objectives proposed (on the next couple of slides) are:

  • A professional league structure which encourages player development and aspiration through a clear and visible structure including prize money.
  • A structure that will encourage club development – bigger multi faceted clubs offering something for everyone Social to Performance.
  • A structure that will encourage player retention at all ages
  • A structure that provide access to matches at a suitable level on a regular basis with lower cost.
  • A more accurate National ranking list with all players listed with all results added.
  • A marketable product that all table tennis player’s feel apart of no matter what level.
  • Easier two communications with TTE 
  • Improved image and awareness of the sport. 
  • Using the pyramid structure to have a clear and progressive tournament structure to match the league level of play.
  • Less calendar clashes
  • Clearer easy to understand calendar – people coming into the sport at all levels
  • Increased sponsorship and awareness opportunities’ for clubs
  • Increased income for clubs – more sustainable and tangible clubs

These are all elements that I’ve touched on above apart from the club development.

Now this is the most ambitious part of the whole proposal and it will take years to achieve. It’s talking about getting a club with a permanent (ideally owned) venue with everything from social play right the way through to multiple local league and national teams. Top table or tables with a viewing platform/area, sponsors, refreshments and a multitude of other income streams in order to have a 24/7 business.

It really excites me to that image in my head and it would be great to see. Then employment opportunities (other than just coaching) within the sport won’t just be limited to TTE, Matchroom or Table Tennis Daily. Is this too ambitious though?

The next few slides go through a snap shot of what is could look like. I won’t touch on it all, make sure you watch The Ping Pong Show, this slide caught my eye and looks good:

The next slides look into this proposal in more detail but one of the key elements is the idea that you only play for one club.

So I couldn’t play Bath and Bristol, I’d have to make a choice – which I don’t have a problem with, however this would drastically reduce the number of clubs up and down the country. It wouldn’t sit well with some players either as I know certain individuals who play around 3-4 games a week in multiple leagues.

I think in time (if this ever came to be) then it would work well. In your club you would have a clear pathway for more competitive table tennis and the players would improve through more focussed training.

I would propose though that you allow players to play local league in as many leagues as they wish, except for the Premier division. At the Premier, one step below County then the increased training to progress will be very beneficial and encourage a real club culture. That way, lowly social players (hobby players if you prefer) like me, can continue to play as many different people as possible.

To conclude (feels like Uni), what do I think of this proposal?

I really like it and I think it will solve a lot of problems that I’ve seen over the years that I’ve been competing (yeah ok, trying to compete). It is ambitious as hell and I think that’s the most exciting thing for me – having that crystal clear pathway for clubs is the best bit.

I’d only change the local league one player rule (barring the top division). I do think it will spark a mass debate and I look forward to it.

Going back through some of my older articles nothing has seemingly changed locally for me since 2015 – Underground Table Tennis – I thought this article adds even more weight to the topics discussed here.

Now over to you guys on social media – what do you think?

Make sure that you tag Matt and Table Tennis England in your Facebook and Twitter responses too. The more people debating this in an open forum can only improve the sport we all love and enjoy!