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Rhode Island Juniors: Small State, Big Numbers

(by Steve Hopkins)

Rhode Island Table Tennis has been running juniors clinics (usually on Saturday mornings or Sunday afternoons) off and on for about 15 years.  Most years, these events have included 6-8 kids of varying ages – numbers that are on par with a small club functioning in the USA’s smallest State.

Things changed during the Pandemic – with recreational sports options limited and school sports on hold, the number of participants has increased.  Programs that ran in the 2020/21 winter saw enrollments into doubles digits.  Programs that ran in the Summer of 2021 increased to about 15.  The two sessions that ran at the end of 2021 exceeded 20 enrollments.  And we have set a record with the Spring 2022 group – 33 kids.  In fact, we have had over 45 different kids participate in Juniors Clinic Sessions in the last 6 months.

The clinics have been designed to bring in new players.  We have a small group of the more advanced – 6 kids who are tournament-ready.  They do more advanced drills.  We have placed them on the front table (or tables) so that everyone in the room can have something to aim for.  The other players are arranged by age – and placed with one coach per table.  Steve Hopkins is the head coach but has Murali Mani and Burair Kothari helping to coach and plan – and Abhi and Manny and Josh and Krystian all stepping in at different times to help out.  Managing 30 kids in a room (on six tables) takes some careful advanced planning.  We run a group warm up with everyone together – play a short game as a group (usually “around the table” rallies), and then we break up into small groups where each coach as a cheat sheet of drills for the day.

The breakdown of players that we have attracted includes 14 and 19 boys.  Only 3 of the players are over the age 14.  Most of our players are between 8 and 13.  The goal is to create an all-positive environment.  A great first exposure to the game.  And to do so with a small investment ($25 per student covers a 5-week session).

What’s Next?  Before the Pandemic, RI Table Tennis ran a juniors-only tournament once a year.  In 2022, we not only hope to restart that event, but we also hope to open for a Juniors Only Day at the club and to offer a Juniors League (or Ladder).  Combine this with our leagues, open play nights, and individual and small group coaching – and we hope to provide enough activities that we can capture many (or most) of the 45 kids who have sought out training.

…And then we’ll build from there.  The next generation of club members are already being introduced to the sport (and our club).

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