Coach Corner

Interview with Andrew Baggaley: John Wood, Sunday Times 28/09/03

First Published in the Sunday Times www.sunday-times.co.uk

Take the chance to turn the tables on football
Andrew Baggaley is Britain's top table tennis player.

How did you get involved in table tennis?
I started playing with my mum at the age of five on an old table in my back garden. All my family play, and it was my brother, Steven who taught me. At 13, I played in Belgium becoming the youngest ever professional in the process, before competing in the German and Swedish leagues.

Why did you become a table tennis player?
Rather than work in a standard 9-5 job, I wanted to do something different. I enjoy the travelling, training and winning. And besides, I have put so much time and effort into it now that I couldn't do anything else.

What is the secret?
Table tennis is all about wrist action. It is the world's fastest racket sport, and considering the different tactics and strokes used, players need fast wrists to generate spin and speed.

What equipment does a beginner need?
A standard bat (costing between 30-100), a decent set of table tennis balls and a pair of rubbers to attach to the bats (about 30).

What is the first thing a beginner should learn?
Beginners need to develop their own playing style. Some people play very aggressively, while others adopt a more defensive approach. Having the right coach when you are young is essential, because if you are taught incorrectly at a young age it will be difficult to change that style as you get older.

What is the hardest thing for a beginner to learn?
Coping with the constant training, and making breakthrough to the next level of competition.

To become a decent table tennis player, what should a beginner remember?
Concentrate on playing technique, footwork, balance, stance, building a solid overall game, moving bodyweight correctly forward, learning not to rely on just one playing strength, and anticipating the bounce of the ball.

What makes a decent player?
Competitive mentality, quick reflexes and reactions, a desire to train and practise hard, quick, agile legs, and strong stomach, forearm and chest muscles.

How common are injuries?
Injuries are extremely repetitive. Players regularly get injuries to their back, shoulder, knees and elbows.

Do you have a fitness regime?
I spend about 30 hours a week training, either on the table, in the gym or running.

Are there any disadvantages to your sport?
Football dominates everything in this country, denying table tennis the TV coverage it deserves. In Asia, the sport is massive - people play everywhere, and there are more opportunities for them to become better players.

How often do you compete?
My season is similar to the football season - starting in September and finishing in May. I play almost every week and regularly travel around the world for big international tournaments.

Can you earn a living from the sport?
The top players in the world are millionaires. I used to receive lottery funding, but that stopped a few years ago. My income is now supplemented by my club and through sponsorship.

Whom should I contact for more information?
The English Table Tennis Association's website, www.etta.co.uk has direct links to clubs and information on divisional leagues.

Why would you recommend table tennis as a career?
The life of a table tennis player is exciting. Every year there are many different tournaments to look forward to, such as the European and World Championships, the Commonwealth Games and the Olympics.