Over the years the Big Island Table Tennis Association has tried to develop programs to offer the sport of table tennis to the youth of our community, but each effort has petered out, the kids bored and the volunteer teachers frustrated. We’ve developed a solid foundation in teaching principles but we’ve lacked a system by which our club players can all contribute effectively to the introduction of table tennis to a large number of children simultaneously. Thanks to Ryoko Kimura we finally have a program that works.
Despite the enormous popularity of table tennis in Japan, where Ryoko learned the sport, it is not common to have professional coaches at schools or in after school programs. Most schools had table tennis clubs supervised by teachers, as we have basketball or volleyball clubs. At her school Ryoko was fortunate to have a teacher who was an adept table tennis player as well as senior students, some of whom had taken classes with professionals, who also mentored juniors until they learned the basics of the game. This was the background for the mentorship project she created at our club here in Hawaii.
Ryoko designed and spearheaded a program at the Boys and Girls Club of Hilo which is a model for “How to do it right” without a professional coach. For individual kids who are highly motivated, an accomplished one-on-one coach might be appropriate, but for a large group of novice kids with time on their hands, and little focus, a different plan has worked for us. Coaches Len Winkler, Clyde Young and John Ramoa helped provide the backbone for “what to do” with the kids, but Ryoko figured out how to do it.
She divided interested kids into two skill levels working separately on different days. The first group was very young and completely without experience. A dozen kids arrived at the gym and were registered with a volunteer. They stretched for five minutes and were sent in groups of three, to one of four stations set up for a variety of activities; multi ball, one-on-one coaching of simple skills, ball bouncing or free play for those capable. About every ten minutes the kids rotated to another station. The one hour program concluded with an amusing game like hitting balls into a box, or a demonstration. The activity engages the kids, is fun for the adults and most importantly, has resulted in real improvement in table tennis skills of kids we’d struggled to even entertain previously.
The older kids in our second group had the ability to hold the racket correctly and hit the ball. A rotational time frame reflecting their greater spans of attention was used, as they rallied with volunteer players from the club to build skills in a simple additive sequence gradually improving their quality of shots, and then rotated to coaches for multi ball, service practice or work with the robot, to develop new skills. These more able kids volunteered to help out, hitting with the younger beginners.
We don’t try to teach too much; just the basic grip, stance at the table, and making solid contact with the ball. Each station creates a level of difficulty where the kids are challenged but not frustrated. If they succeed in mastering a skill, then we raise the level of difficulty. If they cannot manage, we make the task easier. When the timer goes off the kids rotate to another station. They are entertained by a stimulating environment where a new person introduces new activities every few minutes. They stay engaged as do the adults who work with three different kids at every change. Any shortcomings an individual volunteer might have are mitigated by the next, and the kids are much more likely to find someone they enjoy learning from. Once individual children have mastered sufficient skills to play games, free play is encouraged between the kids, and the more motivated students graduate to one of our more experienced coaches to train one-on-one, or just join the adults in playing during open club times.
Table tennis in our country has not yet risen to the level where school sports or even after school programs can afford paid coaches for the general population. Until that time, the mentorship program Ryoko has designed for us here in Hawaii is offering a model foundation for the development of youth in our sport. Skills are seeded and the joy of the game is experienced by dozens of young people who will become the future of table tennis in our community.