Coach Corner
The following article, reproduced here, originally appeared in the Sept/Oct Issue of Table Tennis News

Batskills Website
BATSKILLS - 'The Fun Way To Learn'
also BATSKILLS A REVIEW - "In Ireland"

Reviewed by Ken Muhr

In July I visited a school, Ryelands Middle, in Northampton to try out for myself the new range of Batskills skills games that have been devised and introduced, 'not only to improve skill level while having fun, but also to attract and retain players in competition with more popular sports'. I was following an illustrious path because 5 times national women's champion, Nicola Deaton, had already been to the school to coach and to test the games.

First, a bit of history given to me by the inventor of the games, Dave Rees. Dave qualified as a table tennis coach in 1997 - he is now Northamptonshire County Coaching Officer - and in order to provide enjoyment and to hold youngsters' interest in competition with other sports, he constructed a series of on-the-table targets based on other sports: a football goal, a basketball net, rugby posts, an archery target, a golf green and flag, cricket stumps and finally a horse jump. He also introduced a separate game of 'Noughts and Crosses', in which two teams, each with a pile of noughts or crosses, competed to return his serves into the appropriate box [of nine boxes] on his side of the net in order to complete a line of three noughts or crosses. The children were clearly motivated by the games, and their control in serving or in playing basic strokes improved the more they concentrated on hitting precise targets.

In 1999 Dave contacted Ryelands Middle School Head of PE Peter Austen, who was having considerable success in table tennis, and tried out the games on his pupils. The games were so successful that Peter introduced a skills circuit in which the pupils played all eight games, a scoring system being devised for each target, and the winning team being the one that achieved the highest aggregate number of points. A teacher could occupy 50+ children at a time in the circuit! With the commercial possibilities of the games becoming apparent, the Head of Design Technology at Ryelands, John Francklow, produced attractive prototypes which were taken to various companies with a view to bulk production, whilst together with Dave's son Andrew, an expert in website design - see - Dave, Peter and John formed the company Batskills Ltd.

And so on Sunday morning 21st July, I met up at the school with Dave and Peter, both bubbling with enthusiasm for table tennis and justifiably proud of their products, to see and try out Batskills for myself. I was impressed! The 'other sport based' targets are eye-catching and very attractively produced, and, with Peter serving to me and insisting I start from a ready position, I found myself, motivated and fiercely concentrating, trying hard to hit them.

Target Equipment There were two ways you can try to hit the ball into the Football net target, either straight in before/as the ball bounces, or (when the target is at the end of the table), on the second bounce, as with a short (touch) push or service. With the Basketball hoop, the ball can go straight into the hoop, or in on the rebound from the board behind the hoop: either way, it is easier (but not easy!) if you push. The challenge (for me) with the Archery target was to drive the ball through the (hollow) middle but you might just as well serve through it. The task was similarly to drive the ball between the high Rugby posts but here touch in addition to accuracy is required, as the ball must then land on the playing surface. Good touch is also necessary to push or drop shot the ball gently over the Horse jump bar and onto the 'grass'. Pushing or driving the ball onto the Cricket stumps or the Golf green flag demands accuracy, as does pushing the ball onto the right squares of the Noughts and Crosses game. The latter game is such a simple but ingenious concept! The 9 targets are also very valuable for practising service. Indeed, practising hitting to all the squares (except the middle one) would be useful for a range of shots.

That is really the point about these targets - they can be used flexibly. As the blurb on the Batskills brochure says, "Changing the position of the targets on the table can provide a challenge whatever your level and careful positioning of the targets develops accurate placement of strokes. Each of the targets has been designed to encourage accuracy with a variety of strokes, and the variety of different targets available allows a large number of players to be meaningfully occupied whilst developing skills in a coaching or teaching situation."

photo copyright Davies Sports 2002 I said that the Noughts and Crosses idea was ingenious, but even more so are the Rally Games accessories, which could be invaluable for coaching. By raising the Rally Net (which is a second, height adjustable net placed above the table tennis net) to its highest position, the player can learn to keep the ball low by hitting it between the two nets. If the Rally Net is dropped lower still, the player is forced to keep the ball even lower. By placing the Rally Net in its lowest position, the player then learns to be able to hit higher over it, as with a high topspin loop or roll. The Rally Posts are two vertical posts, which can be placed wider or closer apart to increase control in directing the ball in services or in returns to the feeder.

The Rally Lines - fully extendable and adjustable lines that can be placed anywhere on the table - can be used to mark off/limit playing space (the part of the table that the player is allowed to hit the ball to), so that precision of placement can be further improved. For example, by excluding the rest of the table, players can be encouraged to angle drives wide of the table corner. The playing surface of the table can also be reduced, say to two thirds, so, for example, only forehand strokes can be played in games to improve mobility and anticipation. Batskills are also marketing Spots as smaller targets that can be placed on the table to increase concentration and thereby control in training exercises.

Batskills are working closely with the Youth Sport Trust to ensure that the games can be used by people of all abilities, and some of the targets can be used alongside Polybat equipment. Each relatively inexpensive game is approved by the ETTA and comes with a coaching card, on Top Sport lines, suggesting teaching points and differentiated skills practice ideas. In fact, I see Batskills as something of an extension of Top Sport, and I know that Dave and Peter are constantly dreaming up new innovations.

Batskills are official suppliers of the ETTA.

Batskills products and philosophy can be viewed on their website:

For further information, contact Batskills Ltd, 90 Martins Lane, Hardingstone, Northampton NN4 6DJ, Tel. 01604 762771 E-mail.

However, the best way to judge how good they are is to see them in use, and if a cluster of 5 or more clubs can come together, Batskills say they will provide a demonstration/training session. It would be well worth taking them up on this. For further information contact Ken Muhr, ETTA Information Officer, Tel. 01424 722525, Fax. 01424 422103.

Quotes from the Professionals

Matthew Syed
Table tennis is a fast and uniquely fascinating sport - but when new players are developing their skills there is always scope to introduce innovative and exciting features. Batskills products perfectly fit the bill. I have seen young people become enthused when introduced to the special demands of the many and varied games on offer. They give the coach an extra dimension. And they have proved very popular with TTK Greenhouse, a project which is taking sport into deprived inner-city neighbourhoods.

Gail McCulloch
The games have been well thought out by professionals who understand the needs of young players. They are a useful addition to the repertoire of all teachers and coaches and having used the Batskills games with many groups of youngsters, I have yet to find a player who has not benefited and enjoyed using them.

Judy Rodgers, National Equity Officer
"Batskills and Polybat offer wonderful opportunities for both disabled and able bodied players to gain hours of fun whilst participating in a sporting activity and developing skills and coordination."

English Table Tennis Association
"The Batskills activities are exciting, purposeful and fun! The English table tennis association believe that they provide a novel coaching aid for skill development and that they will foster the enjoyment of Table Tennis"

Ken Black
Australian Sports Commissioner "Batskills targets may also be use with Polybat equipment. Polybat is an adapted bat and ball game which has been adopted by the English Table Tennis Association as part of their development program"