Table tennis has been found to improve the psychological, social and physical wellbeing of prisoners in a study carried out by a leading academic on behalf of Table Tennis England.

Professor Rosie Meek, Professor of Criminological Psychology at Royal Holloway University, undertook the research after Table Tennis England received a grant from Sport England to fund the project, to enable us to understand the impact our sport could have in prison settings, where it was already a popular sport.

Professor Meek evaluated the impact of table tennis in an open male prison in the north of England, a women’s prison on the south and a Young Offenders’ Institution in the south.

Evidence was taken from interviews with prisoners and reflections and submissions from prison staff and a community coach delivering sessions in prison.

The funding was originally awarded before the pandemic, but was delayed by the period of restrictions and has only recently finished.

The project found that table tennis in prison settings is important for psychological, social and physical wellbeing, particularly post-covid.

The sport was also found to be beneficial in working with children who have had traumatic experiences, and as an encouragement for prisoners who would not normally engage in physical activity. Provision of good-quality equipment was found to result in increased uptake of table tennis, while the social aspect of the sport was found to be particularly valued in the women’s prison.

The infographic below sums up the project findings and a full evaluation report has now been received by Table Tennis England.

Table Tennis England is now looking at how we can work with the prison sector more widely now this evaluation has finished. This could include table tennis provision at more sites and/or upskilling prison PE staff to deliver the sport.

Table Tennis England Data and Insight Executive Jade Griffiths said: “Through this project we have been able to engage an audience in table tennis who we otherwise would not have had access to.

“Table tennis is already a popular sport within the prison sector, with previous research showing the various benefits it can bring. We’re proud to have been able to provide more opportunities for people to access table tennis.

“We would welcome a future partnership with prison or YOI sites looking to introduce or expand their table tennis provision. The specifics of that partnership would need to be discussed, as since this project began, we have launched our Table Tennis United strategy, and any partnership would need to contribute towards the aims and objectives of the strategy.”