Coach Corner

Author Owen Kelly (ITTA Tutor / Head Coach Munster Special Olympics)

The new ITTA National Strategy has been published and some of it proves to be very interesting reading. It gives the impression that the ITTA is the National Governing Body for table tennis in Ireland. However there are a number of sections of society that don't appear to get much of a mention within the future plans of the organisation. This is maybe unsurprising, as the same issues do not appear to be taken on board by a number of NGBs, but is that an excuse for table tennis?

ITTA Mission Statement
The ITTA is committed to providing opportunities for people of all ages and abilities to enjoy the sport of Table Tennis and to be able to reach their full potential.

The Mission statement quite clearly includes every one of all abilities but how is that inclusion going to take place? In my original submission as part of the National Strategic Planning Committee towards the structure of table tennis in Ireland the work of the Special Olympics, Paralympics and Wheelchair Associations was acknowledged and included. Other bodies including the Deaf Association could potentially be encouraged to participate. If you take the numbers of players involved in these organisations as well as the Community Games and Youth Club structures I believe that the ITTA only represents a small fraction of those playing and participating within table tennis in this country. As for the elite standard Paralympic, Wheel Chair, and Special Olympics have achieved World, European and Olympic success at far higher levels than that of the main stream.

The only direct reference made to the inclusion of any of these other representative bodies (physical disability) can be found within the ITTA Marketing Goals

ITTA Marketing Goals: Table tennis has many strengths, which need to be harnessed in an organised fashion; popularity, cross-gender, cross-age, cross physical disability, ease of access…….these are all positive things for table tennis. There is a downside also, as it is this same ease of participation that in many cases damages the perception of the sport at a more advanced elite or participatory level. Participation levels can be expanded exponentially, however this work must be done in conjunction with a clearly defined presentation of the sport as a whole.

I also hope that the clearly defined presentation of table tennis includes the ease of access and cross physical and mental disabilities without damaging the overall perception of the sport. I believe the inclusion of Paralympic, Wheelchair and Special Olympic athletes and organisation is fundamental to an organisation that promotes itself as the National Governing Body for the sport of table tennis in Ireland.

A number of initiatives have taken place already without being included in any national policy or strategy and these should be commended. The ITTA assisted with the training of athletes as well as the training of many of the umpires and officials for the World Special Olympic Summer Games 2003.

In Munster the CTTA as well as the Branch has actively supported and helped with the organisation of coach education (Level 1 Courses), athlete training as well as assisting with equipment and organisation of the Munster Special Olympic Games. All the organisations involved in delivering table tennis have benefited from the shared experience in many different ways. The presentation to all the Munster Special Olympic Table Tennis athletes of their Official Munster Colours by the Mayor of Cork on behalf of the Munster Branch in 2002 and special achievement awards at the Munster Open in 2003 to the Munster members of Team Ireland. There are plans to make a further presentation at the Munster Open 2004 to the athletes who all performed so well at the games.

A Unified Doubles event was held at the mainstream West Cork Open in 2000 and a second event is due to be held at the Cork Closed in 2003. The Unified Doubles event pairs Special Olympic Athletes with mainstream players of similar ability in order to promote inclusion of players of all abilities.

I am not aware that any athletes with physical or mental disability that are directly excluded from any ITTA competitions and that wheelchair athletes have participated in league as well in a small number of mainstream tournaments. I do feel however some pro-active steps towards this should be considered. The proposed ITTA Club Mark Scheme would be an ideal way in highlighting and acknowledging the need for increased access and inclusion of players of all abilities. There is a need for this to be dealt with under a national policy.

The independent Table Tennis Ireland website has tried to include news and articles on all aspects of table tennis and features and interviews on Paralympic and Special Olympics have been a prominent feature of the site, which also includes information on Community Games and the All Ireland Youth Clubs Championships.

With a number of major tournaments being regularly hosted at the Irish Wheelchair Association Sports Centre in Clontarf there are some very good opportunities for the ITTA to take an active part in promoting this aspect of our sport. A short exhibition in 2001 by 8 time Paralympian Michael Cunningham and Irish No.1 Junior Sean Brady showed how much in common the mainstream could have with the Paralympic aspects of the sport.

The Munster West Region launched their new PINGIS Programme in 2003. The programme has been designed to incorporate the ITTF TOPS Scheme, the ISC Buntús Programme and has been adapted to be inclusive of all participants of all abilities in an adapted physical activity programme.

The PINGIS Programme has been designed to accommodate all athletes of all abilities and ages within a training and competition programme where players are provided with opportunities to complete their ITTA Proficiency Awards as well as compete with players of similar ability.

The PINGIS Programme provides for three levels with the first level being an adapted physical activity programme based around the various skills elements of the sport. Level 2 introduces players who have developed the necessary skills to play the game, with Level 3 being the pre-competition phase for those who show the ability to progress into the main stream competitions. The PINGIS Programme is delivered once a month in various venues around the region. Each month the programme is alternated between a training phase and competition phase, providing equal opportunities towards improvement through technical tuition and graded competition. The programme in its first year has already provided for players of all ages as well as those with learning difficulties as well as a coach education programme giving coaches an opportunity to experience coaching with players of all abilities. The profile of players have already included mainstream Junior International players, Provincial Senior and Junior players, club players, primary and secondary schools players and Special Olympic athletes. Athletes aged from 7yrs - 60+yrs participating and all being able to train and compete in suitable competition within the same venue at the same time to the benefit of all.

This has been achieved by emphasising the development of personal achievement goals rather than by direct competition and by the pooling of facilities and equipment. The programme is still being adapted and has recently included the new Batskills coaching equipment sets, which have provided the scheme with specific adapted equipment to provide interest, focus and inclusion for all levels of ability.

Potentially PINGIS can accommodate all levels of ability and more organisations involved in table tennis are being approached with a view to broadening the profile of athletes taking part. The Deaf Association, Active Retirement Groups and local community based sports schemes have been invited to participate as well as the usual target groups.

The question whether the ITTA are interested in providing access and inclusion to all involved in table tennis and how best to proceed needs to be asked. If you are interested in discussing this further please contact me at, I would welcome your input.