Novice's guide to table tennis: A five-part series to help you on your table tennis journey.
Updated: Apr 8
Table tennis is an easy game to pick up and play at a beginner and social level but what happens if you wish to take it more seriously and start playing competitively? There may be many questions that you have, and I will attempt to use this five-part blog series to pass on some advice to make your entry into the sport a little less nerve-wracking! Points I will cover include:
Is there a table tennis club near you? How do I find a club? How do I know it is the right one for me?
How much practice does it take to become “good”? How much will it cost? How to find a coach and what should I be looking for in a coach? Group coaching or 1 to 1 coaching?
What equipment do I need? What type of competitions can I play in? Is there a pathway to elite performance?
This guide is aimed at adult players who are new to the sport as well as for the parents of youngsters who have just taken up the sport.
In this episode we will look at the player pathway to elite performance level.
No matter what age that someone first starts playing table tennis there is a recognised "player pathway" for someone who is wishing to develop and improve their playing standard. However, it is much more difficult (but not impossible) to reach elite levels the later in life that someone starts to learn the sport. Table tennis is often described as an early specialisation sport but it is beneficial for people to play a wide range of sports at an early age to improve their overall sporting development and get a solid grounding on the fundamental movements in sport as these movements underpin almost every sport. You can think of these as the foundations of sporting development and as we know, if we want something to last for a long time then the foundations are of critical importance. With many skills transferrable across a wide variety of sports, playing a mixture of sports when young before specialising in any particular sport when reaching secondary school age can be more beneficial in the longer term than focussing solely on one sport from a very young age. At some point in a player's development (usually at secondary school age but no later than 12 or 13) they are likely to have to make a decision as to what their goals are within table tennis and if they truly want to reach elite or world class levels and if so, then their focus would have to switch almost solely on table tennis with other sports just being played on a social and fun level.
For those that don't want to or can't commit the time and money (sadly the financial side of reaching elite levels in sport prices many people out-I might blog about this topic one day), there is still the opportunity to play at and reach various levels and be "the best that you can be" given your own unique circumstances, opportunities and goals. Very few people will ever reach elite level in whatever sport they choose to play after all! This diagram player pathway.pdf gives an idea of the various playing opportunities and standards. These opportunities and standards are not necessarily as linear as the diagram suggests but hopefully it provides the novice player with some idea of the competition pathway, starting at schools or social play and working up through local clubs, County, Regional, National, International and finally World and Olympic level.
Table Tennis England (the governing body for table tennis in England) have their own infographic relating to the performance pathway which can be found on their Performance Pathway page: Performance Pathway— Table Tennis England Their website also goes into more depth than this short blog can go into regarding what their aims and objectives are and how they support players, coaches and clubs on the performance pathway. They talk about the PAC (player, athlete, competitive) skill framework and provide more detailed definitions are these three attributes. They also mention the "trademarks" that English players are renowned for having.
There is an attachment on the Table Tennis England website titled "lifecycle". Here is the link: TAC Framework (tabletennisengland.co.uk) This document again goes into much greater detail than this short blog could ever go into in regards to the demands and expectations placed on an athlete who is serious about reaching national standard levels at the very least and perhaps going on to become a professional table tennis player and making a living from the sport. As you can see, for those at the "foundation stage" which is generally seen as those in the 9-13 age range they are likely to be training 2-3 times a week for between 8-12 hours in total. Those in the next stage of their development (preparation stage-usually aged 13-16 years old) this progress to 4-6 sessions per week with 10-16 hours per week of training. For those in the final stage (high performance stage-usually those aged 16-18) the demands are that these players have at least seven sessions per week and are training for 15+ hours per week.
So as you can see, to move up fully on the player pathway and become an elite player, you have to become very dedicated to your own personal development. Do you have that determination, dedication and opportunity to reach the peak of the mountain? And if you don't, that's ok. There are still plenty of opportunities for you to improve and reach your own goals and level on the pathway.
I hope you have found this blog helpful and it has given you some understanding regarding the player pathway to elite performance level. This episode was the final one in this five-part series but stay tuned as I have several other topics in the pipeline including volunteering in sport, safeguarding in sport, and is coaching given the professional status and acknowledgment it deserves. And as always, please feel free to contact me with any questions.