Over the past six months, Graham Spicer Table Tennis Club has been working closely with Table Tennis England to support the delivery of more women and girls-only sessions within their club’s weekly delivery programme.

The club applied for Table Tennis England’s Level the Table Funding which aims to tackle inequalities within table tennis. As most of the club’s membership consisted of males, the club recognised that they needed to look at delivering different opportunities to attract females to the club and so the funding received was to focus on women and girls.

The club set about tackling this inequality by bringing together three qualified female coaches at the club, to plan and deliver a new female-only session. They decided that they would market the session initially for both women and girls to see how it went and if there would be no interest, then they would review this and change the promotion and delivery of the session to women only or girls only.

The coaches liaised with the Community Centre manager, to programme the new session and to help with marketing and promotion. The club also promoted the session via social media sites, word of mouth and through local community groups.

The project started in May 2022, with eight females signing up to attend the new session which was great news. It has steadily grown over the months, with more and more females hearing about the new session and joining.

Women and girls with coaches at one of the sessions

When asked what wider impact the project has had on those women playing in the new women and girls only session, the response from one of the clubs’ female coaches Jane Barella was: “The project has helped women feel comfortable to play sport in a friendly, relaxed environment. This is particularly helpful for those who are less active and lack confidence of playing sport and being active.

“It is also having a good benefit on social interactions and females building more social contacts. The women playing realise they are getting good exercise even when playing for a short length of time.”

The coaches

Other positive benefits have been that not only has Graham Spicer TTC seen an increase in the number of females joining the club, but also the other local Table Tennis England affiliated PremierClub, Rosehill, has also seen more females joining their club as well.

At the recent Surrey trials, 19 girls attended, which is considerably more than usual. The club was also able to attract sponsorship, with Bribar getting behind the project and sponsoring the coaches’ kit, which the club are most grateful for.

Over the past weeks, the club has noticed the women and girls have become more confident and relaxed while attending the sessions. Their mental health and wellbeing have improved significantly, with some of the ladies commenting that they are feeling less anxious and are sleeping much better.

With regards to linking the female session to the club’s evening sessions, there are still some barriers to overcome, which head coach Jane Barella has highlighted.

She said: “With regards to the females joining Graham Spicer TTC, they were keen to come if I got some tables where the ladies could play together. But when I mentioned from 6.30pm – it was a ‘no’. The reason being is they don’t want to come out when it is dark. A lot of the ladies either walk as they are local or come on buses/ trains and don’t want to be out travelling in the dark. This wasn’t just the older ladies either.”

The next focus for the club will be to look at improving its connections to the local schools, as they see gaining access to a bigger facility, that will be available for more usage, will help the club to deliver a wider programme of table tennis activity for the local community, helping them to be able to accommodate more female sessions, at a time and place that the females will be confident to attend. The club also wants to set up a local Table Tennis England coaching delivery course site, so that they can look to upskill more local female coaches.

Top tips to help clubs increase women and girls’ participation:

  • Relate the session to having fun, meeting friends, socialising, learning new skills and improving health and wellbeing
  • If your women and girls’ session isn’t attracting any participants, look to design and promote your session to a specific audience ie girls only, women only, intergenerational
  • Keep the session separate to male sessions if you can in your facility unless it is a dads and daughters session or intergenerational session
  • Think about what time you are having your session and where your club is located. Females need to feel safe and may be reluctant to go to a facility that is away from public transport, remote and dark
  • Be patient, at first there may be only a few attend your session. Once females know there is a session just for them, then they will tell their friends and it will gradually build up