Innovative Table Tennis Foundation and the future

It is not very often that we have the opportunity to commend an initiative in sport development in St Vincent and the Grenadines. However, recent events have given us cause here to engage in a review of an initiative that could redound to the benefit of sport in the country and could serve as an example of how we might want to approach sport development in some critical areas.

Development of National Sport Structure
The St Vincent and the Grenadines Olympic Committee (SVGOC) has long been involved in the business of development in the nation since gaining membership of the International Olympic Committee (IOC) in 1987.
One of the most important sport development programmes that features annually on the SVGOC’s calendar of activities is the Development of the National Sport Structure (DNSS) of a particular Olympic sport practised in St Vincent and the Grenadines.
It should however be noted here that while there are many sports practised in St Vincent and the Grenadines the funding the SVGOC receives from the IOC via its development arm, Olympic Solidarity, is intended for use in the development of Olympic sports; sports that are actually featured on the programme of the Olympic Games.
This is also the reason why the IOC insists that when voting on matters relating to the Olympic Games and on the election of officers on an NOC, the majority of voters must come from Olympic sports.
The mandate of NOCs is essentially to promote the values of the Olympic Movement through sport and guarantee that the best athletes of every country that is affiliated to it attend and compete at the Olympic Games.
The DNSS programme is an extended programme valued at $30,000 USD, that allows the sport in receipt of an award, the opportunity to have its international federation (IF) collaborate with Olympic Solidarity and the requesting NOC to provide an expert that would spend time on the project. The intention is that at the end of the DNSS the particular national sport association would have a systematic approach to the development of the sport under its charge, enough to produce Olympic standard athletes for future editions of the Olympic Games.
One of the recipients of the DNSS programme in St Vincent and the Grenadines in the past quadrennial was the St Vincent and the Grenadines Table Tennis Association (SVGTTA). The assigned expert as Georg Silberschmidt of Switzerland.
During his tenure in St Vincent and the Grenadines Silberschmidt showed an eagerness for the sport and engendered an approach to its introduction at the most basic level, always ensuring that the children had fun in being engaged in the game.
He showed the local coaches and PE teachers that it is not necessary to have the full range of expensive equipment in order to start a programme for the sport in schools and community centre or any hall for that matter.
While some may have seen the lack of a proper table tennis board as a hindrance Silberschmidt used anything he could find that was flat to engage players. This brought scores of children to the sport and his interest was in having the SVGTTA sustain their interest.
While here Silberschmidt received permission from the International Table Tennis Federation (ITTF) to conduct coaching certificate courses that led to several local coaches being duly accredited.
Vincy Table Tennis Foundation (VTTF)
Having spent several months in St Vincent and the Grenadines Silberschmidt came up with the idea of establishing a foundation for the sport he loves so very much.
Consideration was given to the abundance of talent seen as he moved around St Vincent and the Grenadines and the relatively low cost involved in getting into the game.
He has been working assiduously on this project ever since. The foundation has now taken shape and is based on Bequia where a significant amount of work has already been undertaken even as the legal requirements for registering the institution is going through this nation’s Parliament.
The rationale for the foundation states…Physical literacy is a relatively new concept and already St Vincent and the Grenadines, through the National Olympic Committee, has opted to embrace this concept. The understanding is that physical literacy is as important to human development as is literacy and numeracy. Everyone has a right to have access to physical literacy and by extension to the benefits of an active lifestyle.
Table Tennis is an activity that facilitates the holistic development of the individual. It caters for individuals of all ages, ethnic, religious and social groups. It is relatively cheap and allows for the honing of a wide range of skills. Like all sports Table Tennis engenders a range of values critical to the development of the human condition.
Silberschmidt understands that… The school is the nursery of all sport and it is important that much emphasis is placed on getting the fundamentals right at the early stages of the child’s introduction to the sport. The community is the closest institution to the family.
He understood the NOC’s emphasis on the development of community-based multisport clubs and therefore stated… The idea of establishing community-based multi-sport clubs around St Vincent and the Grenadines affords a very good opportunity to utilize sport as a vehicle for community development.
In the rationale therefore Silberschmidt declared… The Vincy Table Tennis Foundation is intended to play a major role in facilitating grassroots development of Table Tennis around St Vincent and the Grenadines with the school and community working in tandem.
Silberschmidt observed that the Vincy Table Tennis Foundation has a very clear purpose …To make Table Tennis accessible to as many Vincentian children as possible in the schools and communities ushering them onto a sustainable development pathway in the sport.
Programme plans
Grassroots sport development is an important feature of the work of national sports associations. The NOC can only assist minimally in these programmes given the expensive nature of funding participation of the elite athletes in preparation for and participation in qualifying competitions around the world.
The VTTF therefore pitches its focus on finding the requisite resources to aid in grassroots development of the sport, an important foundation if the sport is to grow and sustainable itself.
Silberschmidt started his programme in Bequia and in this zone he has already found a coordinator for the organisation’s work.
The coordinator ensures that the schools and communities are contacted and encouraged to have people attending training sessions with great regularity; adequate equipment are available for the training sessions and that frequent contests are held to evaluate growth and development of the skill competencies of the players.
It is a well-established fact that practice makes perfect. The more players practice under supervision the more they learn the intricacies of the game and improve their skill competencies.
While on a recent visit Silberschmidt followed the zones being used by Team Athletics St Vincent and the Grenadines (to locate track and field equipment and promote the sport’s development) and established programme contacts in Layou and Sandy Bay.
The schools and communities involved in the project must undertake a commitment to care for the equipment and guarantee usage for the intended purpose only. This allows for equipment to be appropriately cared for and their longevity guaranteed.
If all goes well, Bequia, Layou and Sandy Bay would together soon play a leading role in the development of the sport of table tennis.
It should be noted too that in the aforementioned areas the distractions of the youths are significantly less than occurs in urban areas of the nation and this may well account for the enthusiasm the programmes have generated.
Over the next several months we can expect an explosion of participation in table tennis all over St Vincent and the Grenadines following the impetus in the three aforementioned zones.
Silberschmidt is committed to seeking funding from a variety of sources just about everywhere in the world. He understands the state of the Vincentian economy and the intense competition for limited resources here.
Already he has been utilising his vast international contacts to assist with accessing funds and procure equipment for the foundation and Vincentians would be the beneficiaries.
While the local economy is under immense pressure it is nonetheless the hope that some funding can still be generated to assist the foundation.
VTTF and SVGTTA Relations
The governing body for any sport that is recognised by an international sport federation (IF) is the national sport association. In the case of table tennis, the local agency of the sport in the SVGTTA.
The SVGTTA is expected to plan its annual calendar of events and administer the sport in accordance with the rules of the IF.
It is nonetheless in the interest of the SVGTTA to ensure that it has a harmonious relationship with the VTTF.
On the one hand the VTTF would facilitate the introduction and expansion of the reach of the sport through its own funding sources and the provision of equipment and training. On the other hand, the SVGTTA must seek training opportunities for persons interested in becoming coaches and technical officials as well as administrators of the sport.
It is the responsibility of the SVGTTA to organise national competitions that are used to evaluate the state of the sport in the country and to select the best athletes to represent St Vincent and the Grenadine sat regional and international competitions.
The VTTF would ensure that the SVGTTA benefits by having access to an ever-increasing pool of players from which to select different level teams for national representation.
It must be remembered that foundations are by definition independent organisations. They work with national and other organisations to aid in development work but are not answerable to these national governing bodies.
If the SVGTTA maintains a good relationship with the VTTF we are sure to reap a table tennis harvest.
However, we must caution that it takes at least six years to produce a really competitive champion.
Let us therefore be patient as we aggressively pursue national development in table tennis