This time last year the team was looking ahead to the Paralympic Games in Tokyo but looking back now on 2020 it has been a very different year to the one that everyone expected. While life was anything but ‘normal’ and so many plans were put on hold it has nevertheless been an unforgettable year.

In the words of the Dalai Lama: “Through difficult experiences, life sometimes becomes more meaningful,” and 2020 has given everyone the chance to take a step back and reassess their priorities. So, what are the lessons to take from this year and what has the team come to appreciate the most?

Will Bayley: “I’ve learned a lot about my mental game and ways to improve that. I’ve come to appreciate actually being able to play the sport I love – maybe I’ve taken it for granted in the past.”

Ashley Facey Thompson: “What I have learnt over this year is to be self-aware. It is only you that can make decisions and at the end of the day life is too short. Live life to the full, enjoy it and live in the moment.”

Sue Gilroy: “I’ve learnt that however difficult things get in life good things do happen when you are least expecting them. With everything happening in the world today it has made me treasure the little things and appreciate life much more, especially my family and friends. I have found it is better not to rely on others and be totally dedicated and self-motivated with everything I do to get through each day and achieve my goals in life.”

Jack Hunter-Spivey: “This year has been a tough one but I’ve come to realise how much I appreciate everyone who supports me on and off the table. I’ve learnt to adapt to different situations and try to make the most out of everything thrown at me.”

Paul Karabardak: “I have come to appreciate the people who support me and can take confidence from qualifying for my fourth Paralympics despite a serious wrist injury, which thanks to my physio is in much better shape now. It’s great to finally have that!”

Tom Matthews: “I have learnt to understand my body more – when it needs to rest or when I can push that little bit harder; this will hopefully keep me injury free in the future and help with my performance. I have also learnt to appreciate how privileged I am to be a full-time funded athlete as I get to do something I love every day and when that was taken away due to COVID I missed the feeling of being on the table and being around my teammates.”

Aaron McKibbin: “I’ve learnt that while there are more important things in the world than sport, like health and the wellbeing of your loved ones, sport is a real blessing and to do what we do daily should never be taken for granted. I’ve come to appreciate everything a lot more be it small or big, inside sport and outside. This pandemic has shown us that at a flick of a switch everything can be very different and it’s key to enjoy every moment.”

Martin Perry: “I’ve learnt to have more patience; something I was guilty of in the past was being very impatient and I feel like this year has taught me the value of time. I’ve always appreciated that we get to play sport every day for a living, but having it taken away from us for a long period of time this year was very difficult. It’s made me appreciate so much more that we are in such a lucky position.”

Fliss Pickard: “I’ve learnt that I am very self-motivated and driven in my personal goals and am able to train effectively on my own and can cope with change much better than I expected to. I’ve really appreciated being back home with my family and friends. This has made me feel settled and provided me with the consistency and support I need daily to allow me to be at my best.”

Megan Shackleton: “This year I feel I’ve learnt a lot about just appreciating what you have in the moment. As athletes we are always following an intense schedule and pushing forwards to the future whilst trying to better ourselves. This year, whilst challenging, it’s been nice to just stop and reflect on what I’ve achieved so far. I’ve come to appreciate this time to catch up with my family. I’ve spent a lot of time away from them while I was growing up for competitions and training camps etc – so it’s been nice to be in one place for a while and just spend as much quality time with them as possible.”

Billy Shilton: “I’ve learnt to be patient this year and I’m grateful for having the opportunity to still get on with training day-to-day as many people don’t have the option to get on with their usual daily routine”

Joshua Stacey: “I’ve learnt that nothing is a given and over lockdown I think I came to realise how privileged I am to be in the Performance programme. Although the past year has been very challenging in some ways, I’ve realised that being around loved ones and family helped massively and I feel as though I should appreciate the privileges of being in a world class programme and make sure I’m around loved ones and family more often.”

Dave Wetherill: “I’ve come to learn that I should dedicate more time to the things that matter and what I care about the most and therefore I’ve come to appreciate those things more. It’s a thing called life.”

Ross Wilson: “I’ve really come to appreciate my family and the people who are close around me who have supported me while I’ve been on this journey. I also value the team a lot because they have been very supportive through such a difficult year and without that a lot of the team would be struggling with things a lot more. I appreciate how much the team supports each other and we have helped each other through such a difficult year.”

Greg Baker – head coach: “What I have learnt this year is that we all need time and space to breathe and to appreciate what’s really important in life. I’ve come to appreciate that family, people around you and individual wellbeing are significant factors in having a happy and productive life.”

Mat Kenny – coach: “I’ve learnt that the players and staff in our team can really embrace a challenging situation and make the most of it. We have all become more resilient because of what’s going on in the world at the moment and that’s going help us most of all to grow as individuals and become better versions of ourselves to achieve even more great things. Another thing that I have learnt to appreciate is that learning new things and having a hobby outside of table tennis can spark new ideas and inspiration for the sport we all love.”

Neil Robinson – coach: “This year has been a time to strengthen relationships and discover a strong sense of community; enjoy and appreciate the simple and important things in life, more time to enjoy nature and wildlife, gardening and cooking.”

Andrew Rushton – coach: “The thing that I have learnt most about myself this year is that if I plan and have goals for each day I can get through anything. It has been a tough year but during the lockdown it really gave me time to reassess and look at what I needed and wanted. From there I planned and had goals each day while in lockdown and that helped me to grow while in it. The thing that I appreciated the most this year has been to see the perspective of my partner’s side. When you are doing the job that we do you get caught up in the tournaments and training camps, going from country to country and you are very goal focused and looking to win at every tournament you can, then it’s on to the next one. This year, as there haven’t been any tournaments it really gave me a chance to see what my partner goes through with the children on a day-to-day basis and I really do appreciate the chance to understand and get the perspective from her side.”

Shaun Marples – Pathway manager: “I feel I’ve learnt that slowing down, giving myself time to breathe and think, has allowed me to be more efficient. Getting outside and going for walks, has allowed me to appreciate this even more. What have I come to appreciate the most? Spending quality time with my wife. It’s been really nice to share small moments together, have lunch, go for walks and we are looking forward to our nice surprise in early 2021.”

Jill Crompton – Head of Performance Support: “I have learnt to live in the moment and adjust to life with the unknown ahead of us. I have come to appreciate how important friends and family are and staying connected with them despite not being able to meet up. I’ve also really appreciated more humble family time with my husband and daughter, going for walks and bike rides etc. “

Andy Hill – psychologist: “I’ve probably learnt a few things about myself over lockdown. I think one of the main things is that I now have a better understanding of what keeps me in a good place, what causes me stress, and what to do when I’m struggling a bit. I have a tendency to need to be ‘doing’ stuff so that needs managing – doing enough so I don’t get frustrated, but not doing too much so that I can enjoy my time a bit more. I also learnt pretty early on in lockdown that I don’t have the temperament for home schooling.

“I think one of the things I’ve come to appreciate most is my family. It’s a pretty obvious thing to appreciate more given that I was spending a lot of time travelling to and from work, but the pandemic has actually given me a better work-life balance in many respects (although I do miss being in the training hall every day). One of the other things I’ve really come to appreciate more is where I live. We’re extremely lucky living near the Lakes and the coast, and we spent a lot of family time walking and exploring where we live. It’s probably why we only moved 150 yards when we moved house.”

Nuala Deans – Performance Lifestyle Advisor: “I’ve learnt that, being an introvert, it is important for me to carve out time to myself each day by going for a walk or run alone, for instance. I have come to appreciate the importance of a daily routine, structure and a change of scenery.”

Louise Larcombe – Performance Operations Co-ordinator: “I have learnt how important other people are for my own happiness, and that I enjoy crafts. I’ve come to appreciate the support from my family, friends, colleagues… and my cats!”

The last word on 2020 comes from our very own NHS hero Kim Daybell, who put his table tennis career on hold to work on the frontline against COVID.

“I think I have learnt a lot as a doctor and an athlete and a person. I’ve learnt how resilient I can be and the community can be and to be honest I’ve learnt how much the support and structure of sport means to me. Having those people around me and the team means a lot more to me than I’d realised and I can rely on it a lot more. The thing I appreciate most is just being able to see people that you care about and spend time with people that you love. That was taken away from us for a long time and it has made me see just how important that it.”

Happy New Year – here’s to 2021.

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