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Q&A – Hampton table tennis coach Jane Barella

Words: Vishal Saha, Photos: Toby Davis

Though Hampton gains plaudits for its successes in mainstream sports, table tennis is very much on the rise. School coach Jane Barella caught up with HSC.

How long have you been coaching table tennis – and how did you get into coaching?

So, I passed my first coaching qualification just over 30 years ago, when I was 18. I got into table tennis and coaching in my secondary school – I used to swim a lot and had issues with my ears, so I wasn’t able to swim all the time: therefore I started playing table tennis. I enjoyed coaching and helping people, but I didn’t do lots of coaching until I was probably, 25.

As a coach, what ingredients do you think are most important for a table tennis player?

It would have to be their attitude. And their commitment. I like a player who has a desire to work, to train hard and to win. If players aren’t prepared to work, then, they aren’t going to put in the time and they aren’t going to improve.

Can you tell me about your experience with coaching elite players?

Well I’ve coached some very good players at regional level, when I was a regional coach – mostly London regional squads. Also, I’ve coached a few national squad players at England training camps and also abroad in competitions.

Interesting, have you ever coached major players who have playedin the Olympics?

Yes, I was actually part of the Paralympian setup. This is where I coached the Paralympian team in European, World and Paralympic competitions – I’ve been lucky enough to go to the Paralympic Games and coach there! So that was definitely a great experience.

Jane in coaching action

So, what’s it like coaching these very talented players?

Well, that’s a good question. It’s really about motivating them and trying to spot something they haven’t because these players are already very knowledgeable and skilful. Therefore, when you are coaching players at this level, it’s not so much about technique, it’s normally about their mindset, trying to motivate them and look at their positives in their game.

Finally, as a coach, you also focus on planning their tournament season, planning what training they should be doing and organising players to play against them.

What has been the top moment in your coaching career?

I would say when I went with the Paralympic team and we got 3 gold medals and a silver medal at the European championships. I suppose being a coach at the Paralympic Games was a great achievement, opportunity and experience. Also, I have coached Surrey County players and some have won County Championships – it is very pleasing to see them do so well and see that they have a huge amount of potential to become very good at the sport.

What would be your top 3 tips for an absolute beginner?

Good question, I think my top 3 tips would have to be:

  1. Have the correct grip
  2. Learn how to move without actually hitting the ball – the ready position and the stance.
  3. Just put in the time – with time and many hours of practice you will improve.

And what equipment would a beginner need?

I’d say a bat which is comfortable and that’s got enough grip on, so you can spin the ball. Therefore, when you are taught to spin the ball it’s much easier. Obviously, sports gear and a strong case to keep your bat safe. Finally, if you are able to have access to a table tennis table, that will of course help you succeed in the game.

What do you love about the sport the most?

I think it’s very dynamic, it’s exciting. I like that the ball is played at very, very fast speeds and that there’s such complexity about the spin and how you can make the ball move. I really find the dynamic and spin side of the sport really fun and exciting. Finally, I do love that the sport is so inclusive – you can play at any level, young or old, beginner or pro, which is really good.

Can you describe table tennis in three words?

Exciting. Fast. Inclusive.

Do you have a favourite table tennis player?

Well there’s quite a few good players out there, but I do particularly like watching Timo Boll and Ma Long. They’re very impressive players to watch, since their reactions and speed are incredible. You can find them all over the Internet and YouTube if you want to see them in action. Both players are very high ranked – if you watch them, you can see why…

Which countries are dominating table tennis today?

Well I think although China have been, Germany and Korea are also doing quite well. Recently, the Europeans have been much more successful, especially a few of our England players. However, as a country I believe the Germans, Koreans and Chinese dominate the sport nowadays.

It has been said that table tennis is an ‘underrated’ sport.What’s your opinion on that?

Yes, that can often be the case. I think because it is a fast game, it detracts from people able to watch it sometimes. Therefore, there aren’t many long rallies – it doesn’t encourage sponsorship because less people may watch it on TV. If the sport gets less sponsorship, then it won’t be on TV, so not many people will watch it – it becomes a vicious circle. I think if you raised the height of the actual net, it would result in longer rallies and a slower game – that’s just what an average viewer would like to see.

So then, how can we raise the status of the sport in schools?

I think just getting more people involved. Maybe, having some different types of competitions: we could have doubles, singles, even handicap tournaments. Also, talking about it in newsletters and inviting people to have coaching sessions. So really just encouraging people to try the sport and maybe do doubles or team events.

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