Alan Cooke is stepping down as GB and England Head Coach, bringing to an end 40 years of continuous association with Table Tennis England.
Alan, who made his first England appearance in 1982 and is one of England’s most celebrated and decorated players and coaches, feels he can no longer give the full commitment the role needs, especially the many weeks spent abroad or away from home.
He said: “I first played for England in 1982, when I was 16 years old, and my first senior event was in 1983. It’s been non-stop since then – I played full-time and then went straight into coaching.
“There was a crossover around 1997 to 2006 when I was doing both and then in 2006 I went into coaching full-time. At no point did I stop being involved with England and GB.
“I just can’t sustain that commitment, particularly the travelling abroad to the competitions, which these pathway athletes need.
“I’ve not changed any feelings around the sport. I feel I’m as good at my job as I’ve ever been, and loving it, but I just can’t sustain the number of days required on-task in the hall and abroad. It’s been relentless, the last year in particular.”
Alan will leave the association at the end of December, and says he plans a period of rest, after which he will coach privately and may still help the pathway players on occasion.
He said: “I’ve no regrets whatsoever and I like to think I’m leaving the pathway in a pretty healthy state. We’ve got the world No 1 under-17 doubles pair, and the No 3 under-19s, in Anna Hursey & Sophie Earley.
“Both of them, and Connor Green, are making significant progress because of the backing they’re getting. There’s a lot of hard work ahead for them and the people who work with them, no one’s under any illusions about that, but I’m really proud to be working with these young people now and it’s nice to leave on a high.
“I wish everyone at Table Tennis England, particularly all those in the performance team, the very best of success in the future.”
Alan’s career has been packed with highlights, as detailed below, and he admits it is hard to pick one out.
“There’s so many things that, when I look back, I’m proud of,” he said. “It’s the variety of the journey which stands out, and being able to go on the full journey as a player and as a coach.
“I worked with the women’s team, with the juniors when Gavin Evans and Liam Pitchford were at that level, and then worked with the seniors all the way to finishing fifth at the Olympic Games (in 2016).
“Amazing things happen, but people don’t see how many battles you have to fight on and off the table to make them happen, especially as a coach. As a player, the answer was in my hand – my bat – but as a coach it’s not that simple.”
Gavin Evans, Interim Head of Performance Development, said: “On behalf of the coaching team and athletes, and Table Tennis England more widely, I would like thank Alan for his tremendous contribution, unwavering commitment and professionalism he has given to our sport. Whilst it is with regret Alan will be stepping down, I want to wish him all the best in the next journey of his life.”
Alan reached a high of No 27 in the world, received the Victor Barna Award for outstanding international performance by an English player in 1988 and 1989 and became an ETTA Vice-President in 2006.
He won 18 national titles, a total bettered only by Desmond Douglas and Paul Drinkhall, comprising six men’s singles, nine men’s doubles and three mixed doubles.
As a coach, he was at the helm for the memorable World Team Championships bronze medal in Kuala Lumpur in 2016, the same year he was runner-up to China’s Liu Guoliang as Coach of the Year at the ITTF Star Awards.
That is in addition to the following playing and coaching accolades.
Olympic Games: 1988 and 1992. Best singles performance 17= and best doubles performance 9=
World Championships: Seven appearances, best singles performance 9= and best doubles performance 5=
Team World Cup: Bronze (1991)
World Veteran Championship: 2006 gold medal as the first and only British player to win the over-40 singles title
Commonwealth Championships: 5 x gold (including men’s singles in 1989); 6 x silver; 3 x bronze
European Championships: Eight appearances, team silver x 2 (1988, 1992); team bronze x 2 (1990, 1994); best singles performance 5= (1990); best doubles performance 5= (1990)
Olympic Games: Women’s coach 2012 (9=); men’s coach 2016 (5=)
World Team Championships: Women’s Championships Division gold (2008); Men’s Championship Division gold (2014)
Commonwealth Games: Mixed doubles gold, silver and bronze; men’s team silver; men’s singles bronze; men’s doubles bronze (all 2014)
European Championships: Women’s team bronze (1998)
European Youth Championships: Cadet boys’ singles gold and bronze; team silver; doubles silver; mixed doubles silver (all 2008)