The huge positive impact of table tennis in social care settings is detailed in a new report by Table Tennis England partners Community Integrated Care.

We have been working with the charity since 2018, helping the organisation embed table tennis in social care settings including specialist dementia care to community projects for people with learning disabilities.

In the past two years, since the pandemic brought restrictions across the UK, the two organisations have worked together on a programme to use table tennis as a socially distanced sport to maintain physical activity in care homes.

This initiative saw more than 200 of Community Integrated Care’s services receive table tennis starter packs, enabling thousands of people to remain active during the pandemic.

The charity went on to create table tennis hubs in 27 of its larger services, benefitting almost 1,500 people, and creating a number of bespoke activity clubs.

In addition, it created, a unique training guide to promoting table tennis in social care which its workforce could tap into to help them effectively deliver the sport. This resource was made freely available to the public and care sector and has since been adopted by several other care and NHS organisations.

During the programme, Community Integrated Care has been assessing the benefits of table tennis across a comprehensive range of client groups – including people with learning disabilities, autism, mental health concerns, dementia, acquired brain injuries and other complex needs, representing a true cross-section of the social care sector in England.

The insights gathered have been collated into a new impact report which is published today and can be downloaded by clicking here.

The report finds that table tennis offers a uniquely inclusive platform for physical activity, with significant adaptability for people who have complex physical and learning disabilities.

The charity has seen that table tennis can be used in many innovative ways to enhance support – including being effectively used with talking therapies in mental health services.

Importantly, it highlights the fun and excitement that it can bring to care services, as a low cost and low-complexity sport – helping to combat isolation, form friendships and promote a positive culture.

The impact of the sport as a social and adaptable game is a recurring theme across all care settings – from support for young adults who have learning disabilities, through to engagement with people in the later stages of life.

The charity’s specialist for Positive Behaviour Support, Vickie Martin, states: “During the pandemic, I spent extended time in one of our most complex autism services, where we have 12 people living together with complex needs. Nobody could go out and do their usual planned activities, and there were times when people were very upset and frustrated.

“Table tennis gave them something positive to focus on in their day. It gave people time for themselves or with their support workers, and through the Care To Play training, our colleagues knew how to adapt the activity depending upon the needs of the individual.”

The report finds that table tennis has a unique adaptability, as both a group or individual sport. Vickie highlights: “Table tennis can be very social, giving people a reason to come together, or it can be enclosed and more solitary if that’s what you need. Simply hitting the ball against a wall and using a repetitive action is very soothing for some.”

It finds that the sport can help promote a friendly and welcoming culture, bringing fun and friendship into social care settings. This has proved particularly beneficial in mental health services, helping people to find the confidence to integrate with others and supporting their recovery.

Alan Howells, a specialist Mental Health Nurse for the charity, explains: “Dealing with complex mental health issues can be a solitary experience and people can get quite isolated. Table tennis is another tool to help people to develop their confidence to build bonds with others.”

The report provides examples of how people have felt it easier to open up and share their feelings, during a friendly game – providing a novel alternative to more traditional mental health assessments. Alan says: “When dealing with complex mental health issues, people can lack motivation, and find it difficult to engage in activities, or indeed with others. Table tennis has helped counteract some of those issues.”

Growing Momentum

This momentum for the sport continues to grow within the charity, as hundreds of people it supports are set to enjoy special ‘ping pong parties’ during upcoming The Commonwealth Games. The charity’s partnership with Table Tennis England has also recently been shortlisted for the ‘Sporting Chance’ honour at the National Learning Disability and Autism Awards.

John Hughes, Director of Partnerships at Community Integrated Care, says: “Table Tennis has proved to be an incredible addition to so many of our services, promoting fun, friendship and physical activity, in an accessible and inclusive way.

“Our Care To Play report shares several profound examples of how this simple sport has positively impacted people’s lives – both during the worst of the pandemic, and now as we look to happier days ahead.  We hope that this report inspires others to replicate and build upon our successes.

“We are grateful to our partners Table Tennis England for their incredible vision, in being so open to exploring the potential health and social impact of their sport in social care. Our thanks also go to Sport England, who have been instrumental in our efforts to expand physical activity options for people who access social care.”

Colin Eley, Partnerships Manager at Table Tennis England, says: “We’re well versed with the benefits table tennis can have on a person’s well-being. What we haven‘t necessarily been able to establish previously is the extent that the sport can benefit audiences who have complex physical or learning disabilities.

“Working with Community Integrated Care, we have not only been able to establish a wealth of insight and information to support our theories, but also positively impact the lives of people who typically may not have opportunities to engage with the sport.

“Social Care as a sector is where we know our sport can thrive and make an impact. This was powerfully demonstrated when lockdown hit, and the sport continued to support people’s physical and emotional health.

“This is just the beginning of what we hope will be an embedded culture of the sport within Community Integrated Care and the social care sector as a whole. Special thanks to the charity‘s teams who shared our vision to take Ping Pong to the people!”