Table Tennis Players and Coaches Benefit From Our Challenge-o-Meter

12th April 2016

Guernsey’s aspiring young table tennis players recently received some special coaching from Guernsey Sports Commission’s Jeremy Frith and Rachel Sykes.
The session, which is part of the Brooks Macdonald High Performance Programme, focused on the theme of challenge and its relationship to learning and improvement.
The session utilised the Sports Commission’s ‘Challenge-o-meter’ which is now being used in both schools and sports as a tool to improve communication between young people and those who are supporting them.

The Challenge-o-meter allows players and coaches to describe the level of challenge at any given point in time and, importantly, then identify the various thoughts and feelings that can be associated with it. It essentially helps to develop self-awareness. It also gives the players the ability to recognise any unhelpful thoughts and to identify better ways of thinking about any specific task. The session began with players being given the opportunity to work on an aspect of their game which they felt needed attention, facilitating their own practice and utilising their coaches where required.

After a period of time practising the players were brought in to discuss the session that they had just taken part in. Players were asked to rate their session out of 10 (0 being low, 10 being high) under four headings: challenge, progress, enjoyment and effort. During this conversation there was a discussion around the importance of challenge, what it felt like to be challenged and what a challenging session would look like. Players identified that high levels of challenge presented the greatest opportunities for learning and improvement. At the end of this conversation players were given the opportunity to practise an element of their game, with the specific instruction of choosing something that would be at a nine or 10 on the challenge-o-meter. Almost immediately players reported feeling more engaged, stretched and noticing improvements.

As part of the plenary players were asked to rate all four areas again, the result being that by increasing the challenge within the session themselves, their progress, effort and most importantly their enjoyment of the practice session were improved. Table tennis player Daisy Kershaw said: ‘I realised how much I enjoy being challenged and how it links to me enjoying table tennis. It really motivates me when I see myself making progress on something that is really tough. The Challenge-o-meter is a great way to be able to communicate with my coaches to help them provide me with the sessions I need.’

Jeremy Frith, Performance Director for the Guernsey Sports Commission, said: ‘Helping players and coaches communicate about the level of challenge within any session is vital. What we are not saying is that we need to be at a high level of challenge all of the time. We actually need to get an even spread of time at all levels of challenge. When we learn something new it is likely to feel highly challenging, we’ll be making mistakes and it can feel uncomfortable. At a lower level of challenge we are really focusing on embedding and perfecting a skill, or preparing for competition. At this point we see lower levels of mistake making but real attention to detail. Importantly this all links to enjoyment; if sessions are consistently highly challenging, or consistently too easy, then we are not going to enjoy our sport and as a result we certainly won’t be making any progress.’

Table tennis coach Becks O’Keefe is now working with Jeremy Frith with a view to increasing players’ resilience, rate of development, openness to challenge and ultimately their enjoyment of table tennis. Becks is one of the selected coaches who have access to an individualised programme consisting of one-to-one mentoring and small group work, as well as access to leading figures from sport in the UK which is part of the Sports Commission’s coaching programme supported by Generali Worldwide.
This latest session saw Becks involved a series of role-play conversations as well as planning out an intervention delivered to parents and players by Jeremy Frith and psychologist Rachel Sykes over three evenings at the Table Tennis Centre.

Becks O’Keefe, Table Tennis Development Officer, commented: ‘We really wanted to open the players up to challenging themselves whilst supporting them to build their resilience in order to deal with everyday competition and training. ‘We sometimes see disproportionate reactions to losing or challenges which impacts negatively on some young people’s enjoyment of the sport. I really wanted to understand the best way of tackling this and get some support, which is where the Commission has been fantastic.’

Jeremy Frith added: ‘From personal experience I have always found having someone not as involved in the day-to-day hustle and bustle of our lives as coaches hugely beneficial, particularly when you hit challenges. I’ve been lucky to have some great mentors who have helped me take a step back and look at challenges from a difference perspective. I think it’s a key part of coaching, teaching and almost everything we do that we self-reflect. Sometimes some help with that process is really important. I am well placed to help Becks as I‘ve had plenty of experience in my own coaching and the challenge she described links to an area of my expertise. However, mentoring is definitely not about having all the answers. Generally the coaches have the answers themselves and it’s just helping them take the time and space to think it through.’

Jeremy Frith and Rachel Sykes delivered two sessions to the top two groups of players within junior table tennis and one to parents. Becks O’ Keefe added: ‘It was great for the players to have different voices giving them the same messages that I’ve been passing on to them but leaving us with a shared language and a framework for future conversations. From talking afterwards I realised there is plenty of scope for picking up on many of the themes and developing this with my players. I also feel supported and it feels like a team approach. I’ve got a lot from the Sports Commission’s support but also from the other coaches and development officers which I think is really important.’