Net Gains: How table tennis improves pupils’ health and behaviour

schools-table-tennisChildren’s work, behaviour and even health is being improved by getting them involved in playing table tennis, but could the transformation seen in Glaswegian schools be replicated elsewhere? Table tennis, that most understated of Olympic sports, has been introduced in one of Britain’s poorest areas to give pre-teens the chance to lead a successful, fulfilling and healthy life.

Drumchapel, a sprawling housing estate on the edge of Glasgow, is blighted by poverty, poor health, gang violence and drug taking. But the local table tennis club has grown from a small group with only three shaky tables 20 years ago to being one of the biggest clubs in Britain today. In the process it has made a huge difference to the thousands of locals who have passed through its doors. A healthy living initiative has now extended the sport’s reach to 16 local primary and two secondary schools, with 60 tables now available for children to play on.

The impact of the club has been noted by the Scottish Government. Nicola Sturgeon, the Scottish Health Secretary is certainly impressed. “The club has rightly won plaudits for encouraging so many young people from the area to take up, and excel in, table tennis,” she says. “The club commands strong support in the community and is a shining example of how sport can change people’s lives for the better.”

Although table tennis was introduced into the schools to tackle from an early age the health problems endemic in the community, head teachers are reporting a wide range of related positive results. Anecdotal evidence suggests discipline is improving and parents are using the sport as a carrot for unruly charges.
First, pupils come in before the school day begins to play and in one school this has made the incidences of lateness a fraction of what they were. It also means pupils are also using the school’s breakfast clubs and getting something healthy into their stomachs early in the day.

as a rersult, teachers have noted that regular players are more alert in class and self-esteem has been boosted as they have found something they are good at. Improved communication is another by-product as teachers are seeing difficult pupils in a positive light for the first time.

“Drumchapel Table Tennis Club is a fantastic example of the part that sport can play in enhancing the lives of the local community,” says Louise Martin, chair of sportscotland, which has helped to fund the club and the schools initiative. “The drive and commitment of Terry McLernon, the coach, and his team of volunteers has made a real difference to the lives of young people in the area.”
When questioned about his success, McLernon is modest: “Some people say Drumchapel is an institution,” he says. “I think it is just a table tennis club.”

The head of PE at a local secondary who is desperate to get his department involved in the sport, said ”We have to get table tennis in our school, hundreds of our kids have come up from primary playing the sport but at the moment we can’t offer it’. “Table tennis,” he adds, “is bouncing out everywhere.”

The cost of the whole scheme, including supplying coaches and equipment, is just £20,000 a year and for engaging up to 500 kids, that seems loke pretty good value for money.

Source: The Independent

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