Member Associations | 16 May 2020
PITCHFORD and DRINKHALL, have been taking part in Zoom sessions with the young players to share their experiences
Finding positives and opportunities in difficult situations is common practice in sport, and that is what is happening in English table tennis during the Covid-19 lockdown.
Individual athletes have had to adapt as they try to stay fit and healthy ready for when they can play again.
And Table Tennis England has been trying to find creative solutions and using technology to help clubs, coaches and players during recent weeks.
For the two leading male players in England, Liam PITCHFORD and Paul DRINKHALL, the stop in activity was at a bad time, after landmark performances at the Qatar Open in early March. In Doha, they became the first pair English pair to reach a World Tour doubles final and PITCHFORD reached his first singles final – beating XU Xin in the semi-finals before losing to Fan Zhendong in the final.
With the Olympic Qualifying Tournament originally scheduled to happen in April, both players were in good shape at a good time. Now they are at home in England and have different challenges to meet.
PITCHFORD said: "It (lockdown) came at a bad time for me, but it's also given me time to reflect on what I've been doing right and how to do that better for the next tournaments.
"At first, I was only doing physical work because I did not have a table at home. But Victas sent me a table and sorted out a robot from Bribar and I'm really grateful. Although it's not ideal, I can do some specific things that I couldn't do before and that can help me take the next step.
"You lose some specific muscles when you don't play, so it's good to get those firing again. I've still got my physical programme too – I was doing two sessions a day but now I'm generally doing one table tennis and one physical session, with sometimes two physical because there's only so much you can do with a robot."
For DRINKHALL, the opportunity to practise does not exist because he has no table at home. But he is enjoying spending time with his family – his wife Jo, son Douggie and daughter Bonnie.
DRINKHALL said: "On the training front, it's hard because I've got zero access to a table tennis table – I'm going to have to find my bat after this has finished!
"I'm keeping on top of things physically. I think I was in very good shape ready for the Olympic qualifiers but we'll eventually get our time again and we'll have to be in shape then.
"The problem at hand and people's health is a lot more important. The positive that we can take is spending a lot more quality time with the family that we would never have had.
"It's been six weeks every day being at home. That's never happened before and won't for a long time – and hopefully never again in these circumstances.
"We've got two fairly young kids, so there's not too much stress with school work – it would have been a challenge having to be a teacher as well but Douggie's enjoying the work when we do it with him and Bonnie's only in nursery."
For Table Tennis England, technology has been important to keep in touch with thousands of members and also to reach new players who are starting to play the sport at home – because table tennis is easy to play at home, sales of equipment have soared and many businesses have sold out.
Table Tennis England has created a special section on its website to provide information and videos about basic skills for new players.
For those already involved in the sport, many things are happening to help them:
A series of webinars has been arranged so coaches can extend their own knowledge by hearing from the best coaches in the country.
There have been a lot of webinars for clubs also, so important information and knowledge can be shared to help them come through the difficult time.
England Technical Director Alan COOKE (former world No 27 player who played in the Olympics in 1988 and 1992) recorded a video exercise programme to help club players to remain fit and active while they are staying home.
TT Kidz, the programme for new players aged 7-11, is running a weekly live session on Zoom. Last week, England No 2 woman Maria TSAPTSINOS joined with that.
The players in the England youth squads have been given programmes to carry out at home and are talking to their coaches regularly on Zoom. In addition, the leading England players including PITCHFORD and DRINKHALL, have been taking part in Zoom sessions with the young players to share their experiences.
Table Tennis England Chief Executive Sara SUTCLIFFE said: "It has been a challenging time for everyone around the world and our main objectives have been to keep communicating with our clubs, coaches and members, to provide as much information and support as possible to them and to embrace technology to help everyone remain active and ready for when we can play again.
"What is most important is that everyone stays well. We are continuing to plan for next season, although we understand of course that it will take a long time for things to return to normal. It is our job to make sure we are in the best condition to help everyone involved in the sport, at all levels, on that journey back to normality."