A former boiler room at a specialist sports college in Stockton has become one of the largest table tennis centres in north-east England.
The table tennis club at Northfield School holds recreational competitions at lunchtimes, serious coaching sessions after school and numerous inter-school and club matches. Every weekday, after lessons, it is used by a host of schools, clubs, feeder primaries, community groups, and the local Stockton and District League, which boasts more than 20 teams. Table tennis has been introduced as a compulsory six-week curriculum bloc as well as a GCSE net-and-wall-game option. It is not surprising that the school has been succcessful in local, regional and national competitions.
PE teacher Steve Burge, a keen player and coach, has raised the game's profile at Northfield. He says that participation levels have boomed because table tennis really is a sport for all. "It's not reliant on the weather, and there are few preconceptions about who should and should not be playing. People of any age, ability, gender or ethnic group can enjoy a game of table tennis and you can have lots playing at the same time in a relatively small area," he says.
A typical coaching session includes fitness work, skill development and competitive simulations. Initial warm-up might include jogging, stretching and basic hand-eye co-ordination work - later intensified into a focus on a specific skill, such as serving or backhand. Players also learn tactics - how to set up favourable situations and play under pressure. Lessons cater for a wide range of needs, with an emphasis on decision-making and basic skill development.
Attaining specialist status has meant that the college could put more resources into sports development. An old boiler room was converted in 1999 to provide a dedicated table tennis space with new equipment. The centre now has 18 tables in full-time use, and a specialist coach - last year's national veterans champion, Jane Durham. Jane is already active in many of the area's primaries through the Northfield sports co-ordinator programme, and she hopes to set up more primary schools competitions.
Steve Burge says table tennis has made its mark beyond the school gates:
"Not only has it had a positive impact as a sport in its own right, but also as a way of developing positive relationships between the school and its community."
The game's social and educational benefits have also become apparent at Edgware School in north London, where half of the 1,202 pupils have free school meals, one third are on the SEN register and more than 60 different languages are spoken. Table tennis was introduced last year as an after-school activity and deputy principal Steffan Hastings believes that the sport has influenced the general ethos of the school. He says: "Being connected to a structured and enjoyable activity brings a sense of identity, pride and more positive attitudes. We are also witnessing participation by individuals who do not usually involve themselves in PE and sport."
The English Table Tennis Association (ETTA) helped Northfield and Edgware develop their activities and is keen to work with other schools. Tel: 01424 722525www.etta.co.ukThe ETTA has also collaborated with governing bodies of other sports and the Youth Sport Trust to produce a new set of TOP sport cards for net and wall games (see page 25). Tel: 01509 228293www.youthsporttrust.org