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September 10, 2014

Ping pong stars

We heard a lot about legacy and community sport during the Commonwealth Games. There seems to be an inextricable link in elite sport between investment in facilities, coaching and sporting success (medals).  But elite athletes all have to start somewhere, and no amount of money can buy the kind of dedicated volunteer commitment that underpins grass root community provision. Notwithstanding the thousands of young people that Drumchapel Table Tennis Club has helped over the past 25 years, it’s produced its fair share of champions too.




View a short BBC Get Inspired clip on Drumchapel Table Tennis Club

Key factors in the success of the project

1.    The drive and enthusiasm of Terry McLernon has been a very important factor in the club’s success.  For many years, he has provided much of the coaching and inspiration for the young players; he has also been instrumental in seeking out grants and other sources of funding for the club’s activities.  In recent years, the more senior club members have taken a much greater role in the management of the club and Terry has become involved in West of Scotland and national activities.

2.    The club has a strong emphasis on ‘Fun’ throughout all its activities.  It is not just simply focused on competitive singles and pairs games.  Youngsters are introduced to a wide variety of games including table-top variations of ‘football’, ‘cricket’ and ‘basketball’.  Many sessions end with round-the-table table tennis.  There is a strong belief that the club needs to be enjoyable for all its players if

3.    This approach extends to visits to other clubs and competitions, both at home and abroad.  Rather than being regarded as simple journeys, each is turned into an event.  Teams enjoy extended weekend visits often staying overnight in a new cityand learning something about these different locations and cultures.  The club offers a way in which young people from a disadvantaged neighbourhood can learn about the wider world.

4.    The club deliberately creates a safe and organised environment for its members.  There has been almost no trouble within the club because the members themselves exercise an informal yet disciplined approach.  Care is taken to ensure that young children and those living outside the area are transported late at night and avoid any threat to their personal safety.

5.      Finally, through the enthusiasm of the club’s main driving individual, there is a very pro-active approach to generating media interest.  Numerous articles have been written about the club and the achievements of its individual players and teams (including case studies such as this one!).  Terry and others have deliberately built contacts with the local media. Others may accuse them of being “brash” but the result has undoubtedly been to put the club ‘on the map’ and paint a very different picture of Drumchapel.  For the individual players there is a sense of kudos and recognition for their achievements, and for the club as a whole, a definite sense of national recognition.

Problems and issues

As a sport, table tennis tends to have an attraction for the younger players.  In Drumchapel, many youngsters have risen through the game during their teenage years and reached a peak as a national player at 17 or 18.  Then as adult interests of clubs, pubs and relationships arise, they suddenly leave the game.

The club has sought to counter this trend by providing opportunities through coaching for the more experienced players to retain their interest in the game.  This has tended to be more successful with the ‘reasonably good’ players, rather than the elite individuals.

Developing the fun and social aspects of the club has also been an important element in retaining interest.  Visits to competitions held elsewhere in Scotland, the UK or Europe have become social trips where members have time to experience and enjoy new locations. This has led to some very successful trips to Aberdeen, Paris, Newcastle, Budapest, Ostend and other cities. 

Finally, buying team strips and competition equipment is expensive, as is the cost of travel and accommodation at other venues. Many individual club members could never afford these costs and in many cases, their families may have only limited resources.  The club is engaged in extensive fund-raising activities to support its members and this requires both ingenuity to develop new schemes, and energy to sustain the effort.

Key outcomes

•         Around 250 youngsters playing table tennis regularly from three centres in Drumchapel.

•         A diverse range of fun activities offered around the game to attract and retain young people’s interest

•         Players attracted from across west and central Scotland to play regularly at the club

•         A strong emphasis on coaching at all levels

•         Support and encouragement for more experience players to acquire a recognised coaching certificate

•         A disciplined and organised environment that requires a minimum of rules and formality

•         Very regular success in regional leagues, national championships and international events across all the various age groups.