I’ve been carrying out a series of ping lessons via zoom over the latest lockdown. It’s not ideal, but as the old saying goes; ‘necessity is the mother of invention’. Despite the obvious technical limitations and the usual technological blips, I think the students rather enjoyed themselves.
The sessions were designated ‘skill based’ to be followed by a fitness session. The students were Yr 7 and had little or no prior table tennis training. For the skills bit, I devised ten levels of bat on ball exercises, which seemed to immediately captivate their innate enthusiasm for a challenge. When they had more or less mastered the ten levels, I invited them to invent their own ‘higher’ levels. This is where things got really interesting. Their creative powers showed no bounds. In front of my screen I witnessed no end of new bat and ball permutations, most of which I would struggle to have dreamed up myself. By the end of the six week slot the students had designed a completely new set of levels that were a clever cocktail of bat and ball exercises that could easily be applied to any racket sport. Those that did not have a bat to hand were astute enough to use any hard surface object; a book a frying pan and of course, the ubiquitous mobile phone. Some of the more adventurous students started to employ squash-like exercises where the ball would bounce off two or more walls. Not easy, I can assure you.
Then came the invitation to play some games. That of course, under current Covid restrictions, could only be carried out within the family bubble. Not every student managed it, but for those that did it was a joy to watch. Mum, dad and siblings were all drafted in to the lesson, videotaping it as they went. From the kitchen table to the grandeur of the dining room table, London Ping was in full flow.
There is an educational moral to this little story. And it is a moral that extends far beyond the zoom era. It’s a moral that we teachers and coaches continually need to remind ourselves of. It’s this: Don’t be too prescriptive. Let your students be free to explore. Let their imaginations come out of the straightjacket that we endlessly create for them. Then sit back and enjoy the results. We don’t have to control everything. In fact, we don’t really need to control very much at all, other than their immediate wellbeing.
So it’s congratulations to the students for their creative powers and it’s hats off to the school concerned for daring to keep their sports sessions flowing throughout the current lockdown. And when outdoor ping resumes in a couple of weeks, remember, we don’t necessarily need a table to play ping. Any hard surface will do including the floor itself. And the net can be any improvised object: a piece of wood, a length of rope or any such item. In fact, the net and the table can be entirely imaginary. Only a ‘bat’ and ball are essential. And of course, the imagination and enthusiasm of the participants.
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