Table tennis training can be very flexible and can satisfy a wide range of needs. Adding a warm-up and improvement of resistance skills, in addition to training specific skills, can give life to a complete routine that improves balance, coordination, mobility and muscle strength. Speaking of activities for rehabilitation purposes they do not necessarily require expensive materials and, with simple precautions, you can adapt the workouts to your needs. Orienteering is a very common sport in Europe and is increasingly gaining ground.
Table tennis - Who is it for?
Table tennis is a sport that lends itself to many types of disability, both physical and intellectual relational. For physical disability there are specific measures and regulations, developed by the high level activity, which cover practically the whole range of possibilities. Even for the most serious cases it is possible to find ad hoc solutions.
The most difficult case is for people with visual impairments. These limit the ability to see the ball, already small in itself, to make it impossible in the event of complete blindness. For this type of disability we advise against table tennis.
Why Table Tennis?
Table tennis can be interesting for a number of factors. Like all sports, it brings benefits to the physical condition that has already been stated in these guidelines. Specifically, it is very challenging in the eye-hand coordination skills and in the ability to perceive one’s own spatiality, that is, to manage one’s movements coherently with the environment around us.
However, the greatest benefits are in terms of integration. In many institutions, especially for youth, you can find a table tennis table, bats and balls. This gives the opportunity to have the tools available to play, without having to purchase expensive materials. In addition you can play in the same places and schedules of able-bodied boys, by reacquiring the disabled boys their qualification of athletes in all respects. Joint training and integrated activities between able-bodied and disabled people are to be encouraged and can also be used to create real tournaments (for example in double).
Accessibility of table tennis tables in common areas will help to integrate the boys socially. They will be able to practice table tennis even outside of training facilities, public gathering centres, parks...
How to adapt the activity
The table tennis practice does not discriminate against age and gender. Indeed, it is easy even in high-level federal tournaments, to find athletes of very different ages in the same category.
For wheelchair athletes (category 1-5 according to the criteria of the international federation - ITTF site citation) or with other types of motor disabilities (6-10) there are minor regulatory adaptations, which do not specifically affect our rehabilitation activities.
Obviously athletes with amputations, paralysis or similar to the upper limbs, have the possibility to use special bats. They may use velcro bands to secure the racket to the hand or to the prosthesis.
For athletes with intellectual-relational disabilities (class 11 according to ITTF classification) there are no particular general adaptations, we will proceed to train progressively, reacting to the specific needs of children.
For all three groups, preparation is necessary before moving on to the actual practice.
In the case where athletes have difficulty coordinating and hitting the ball in flight, you can proceed as follows. Mount the side barriers to the table, lift the net, and use soft rubber balls (of decreasing size depending on the skills) with special bats (or even the hands). In this case the ball will be slid on the surface of the table, rather than bounced.
It is an exercise that can be quite challenging for some types of disability (those with the greatest impact on the abilities of the boys), but also a good exercise of introduction to more advanced training levels.
To proceed with the activity of table tennis we need: a table, a net, bats and balls.
TABLES: Approved tables can be costly and heavy, but offer the possibility to train at the highest level and to be able to organize competitions approved in the future. From that point of view all the intermediate solutions are possible, with non-approved tables (lighter and cheaper), up to adapt to alternative solutions (see chapter nets).
NETS: There are different types and prices. Almost all of them consist of two clamps that hook to the table and support the net. Those approved by the international federation are of very resistant material, they allow to control many variables (height of the net, tension, length), obviously they are more expensive and do not always adapt to any type of table. Other cheaper solutions are based on the same principle, varying only the reliability of the materials. They are specifically created to adapt to any type of table, even kitchen tables, desks etc.
BATS: the costs vary a lot. In this case, however, we suggest the economic solution. The benefits of high-cost bats are not understood by the athlete until he/she has developed some experience. In addition to each frame and each rubber correspond some specific characteristics. These are used by coaches to support the athlete’s type of game at a higher level. Therefore, for the bats, you can easily use the cheaper solution. Different specifications for the various disabilities that affect the upper limbs. Those who have difficulty in shaking a bat can use special accessories (extended handles, velcro strips...). These are solutions that must be evaluated on a case-by-case basis, almost tailor-made for each athlete. The general rule is that adaptations do not interfere with the part of the bat covered by rubber or increase the surface.
BALLS: There are also different types and prices. It makes no sense to start with the expensive balls of competition grade (which could become useful only after a certain technical level acquired by the boys). The most economical solution is valid, especially taking into account the fact that many will be broken during training.
To decrease the breakage of many balls it is useful to give only one / two to the table, or have a supervisor to help you collect them.
Photos: Center Naprej, 2018