Coach Corner

"A Life-long Sport for Everyone"
Coaching Active Retirement Groups

by Owen Kelly ITTA Tutor

Table tennis can be played at any age and to illustrate this during my average coaching week, my youngest student is just 4 years old any my oldest is over 80. Somewhat surprisingly they have actually been playing the game the same amount of time and they are even learning the same skills, however I do approach their respective coaching sessions in a differing manner.

I have worked with a number of Active Retirement groups over the past years providing "introductory sessions" on activity days, organised by the regional health boards. Recently I started working on a weekly basis with a new group in a small village about an hour from where I live. They have a group of over 30 members, all women, who meet in a good-sized hall, where they meet to socialise and organise a number of events including some physical activities. In short I have a two-hour session on one home made table and 30 beginners to cater for. I have run sessions in National Schools with similar facilities and it can quite simply be a nightmare! But thankfully for me a number of things are very different when it comes to coaching the older player. For anyone who might consider offering to coach in their local Active Retirement Group I intend to outline the structure and content of just one session and maybe pass on some interesting ideas and observations.

A Service Session: I set up my own net and the catching net from a "robo-pong." The robo-pong catches most of the balls for me without having to ask the ladies to collect their own balls. I also use a number of Batskill targets like the soccer goal, horse jump and basket ball net. I put a number of targets out on the table and put about 30 balls in a box to feed the students.

The group starts around 2.30 with the ladies drifting in at different times. I generally start by asking if two would like to start first. This enables each student to gain confidence by approaching the learning experience with a friend. It also means that neither are the only centre of attention, which can also be off putting. The rest of the group sits and socialises together in the hall. Try this with a group of kids and the noise level would be through the roof in no time!

Warm Up & Review:
I start by checking grip and demonstrating the shot. The first goal is for the payer to "put ball on bat," then we move onto "over the net," and then "at the target." I alternate feeding between the two players one doing forehand and the other doing backhand (if they are both right handed). I move on to give each student five balls in a row, a requirement in the ITTA 1 Star Award. After a couple of minutes the students switch and change to either forehand or backhand.

I then introduce or re-introduce the service skill. The first goal is to make contact with the ball directly from the toss and not from bouncing on the table. I place a small box on the other side of the net and a box of balls between the two students, they then have to try to bounce (serve) the ball into the box, by hitting it so that it bounces on their side of the table first. The service is a complicated skill and I would attend to both students individually as they practice.

The session with just two players lasts for around 5 minutes and I do this with three pairs (15 minutes). When six players have done the service practice I remove the catching net and I bring them back onto the table for a game of noughts & crosses. Using the Batskills Grid the table is divided into 9 squares, the players divided into two teams of three have to serve alternately into the grid. One team scores noughts on a piece of card and one team scores crosses, the team that makes a line of three wins. This puts the service skill into a more pressurised situation and focuses the players on accuracy, as well as being good fun for the students. The length of time the game takes is dependent on the skill level of the students. I was able to get through the whole group in 2 hours and still had time for a cup of tea and a biscuit.

A couple of thoughts I try to keep in mind when I am coaching is that many of the older payers are just dusting their existing skills rather than as in kids trying to learn a completely new one. Secondly, older people do need as much encouragement as younger ones and most important of all "keep it fun."