Six weeks after the launch of BPTT Future Stars, the new online recruitment initiative to find new players who have the potential to become future Paralympians, Pathway manager Shaun Marples has been delighted with the response.
“We have had 21 enquiries from potential players as young as nine, which has been excellent,” he said. “We have had young players who have been playing for a few years, older experienced players and some people who are totally new to the sport. It has been refreshing that a variety of people are getting in touch to try and have that career through table tennis.
“The first few people who got in touch were all based at a club but have a disability and this has been a nice way for them to make contact with British Para Table Tennis to find out if they are eligible and if so, how they can get involved. They want to compete internationally but we have had a few other enquiries from people who just want to play domestically and want to know how they can get involved and find their nearest club.”
Although COVID-19 continues to restrict opportunities for training sessions Marples has made the most of online chat platforms to communicate with applicants.
“Zoom has been really good for communication,” he explained. “When someone completes the consent form I can then have that initial conversation via Zoom. It is nice to put a face to the name and give them an introduction and welcome to BPTT and go through the classification programme with them. I have had a couple of people who have never picked up a bat before and so during the Zoom call I take their post code, go on to the table finder and give them details of their nearest club there and then.
“The original plan is to try and get all the athletes to our training centre in Sheffield at some point to see them play but that is still some way off unfortunately. So we are looking at ways to be creative and plan to have some open days on Zoom to bring all the group together, go into a bit more detail about BPTT and the different classes, watch a few matches online. Just basically keep them in contact with us.”
The success of the British team in recent years has undoubtedly raised the profile of table tennis and the appearance of Will Bayley on Strictly Come Dancing last year has encouraged more people to try the sport.
“The success of the team has definitely had an impact,” agreed Marples. “The players who are already involved in table tennis have been inspired by the Performance programme and want to find a way to get involved. Even the ones who haven’t been involved in table tennis know Will Bayley from Strictly so you have another avenue which is refreshing to see. The majority say table tennis looks a fun and exciting sport. I spoke to a female athlete who has been involved in another individual sport and table tennis is something she wants to move into because of the opportunities that are there. Future Stars has been really good at opening its arms to find as much new talent as possible.
“When we’ve had the Zoom calls one of the things I’ve asked them is ‘what do you want to get out of table tennis?’ I’m just trying to get a knowledge of their background, whether they are hardworking, determined etc. There is a lot of drive out there from athletes I’ve spoken to about wanting to succeed in sport; they feel strongly that they can do that in table tennis and hope that the Future Stars programme can offer as much support as possible.”
Marples believes that the support of the Performance athletes is important to the success of Future Stars and is delighted that World bronze medallist Tom Matthews, European team champion Martin Perry and World and European team medallist Megan Shackleton have agreed to be ambassadors for the programme.
“To give the Future Stars a bit of extra support it is good to link in with the performance players, especially those three who have come through the Pathway programme. They have been there and understand that journey. I also think it will be a nice way to connect BPTT and the home nations so we can use different avenues to get the same message out. The athletes are all very supportive and want to help so that is really positive.”
After such a promising start Marples is conscious of the need to maintain communication as well as explore additional avenues for new talent.
“The next step for me is to keep the momentum going with this programme,” he explained. “Those that have been playing are in good club supporting structures at the moment so I’m encouraging the coaches and players to work closely together and keeping involved as much as possible. It is about creating that foundation for the athlete to thrive on and if you already have it, enhancing it further.
Hopefully we can get them to Sheffield as soon as possible but the most important thing is to keep that communication going. I’ve been very encouraged by the reaction to the launch and the word is continuing to spread and continuing to grow.
“The programme is ongoing. Tokyo will create another audience and then we’ll have Birmingham 2022. Future Stars is pivotal to the BPTT programme going forwards – not only trying to maintain our success but also focus on new areas where we haven’t got athletes to grow those classes as well. Looking forward to the Paralympic Games in 2024/2028/2032 it is a long journey and I think this programme will unearth a lot more new talent.”
Information on BPTT Future Stars and how to apply is available at www.bptt.co.uk