Over the last few years, a lot has happened with table tennis on the national level. There was a $500,000 deficit, the entire board of directors stepped down, seven staff let go and a global pandemic.
Luckily for the north, the table tennis community has been keeping busy and “amazing” table tennis has been played.
On the national level, two northern coaches, Thorsten Gohl in the Northwest Territories and Kevin Murphy in the Yukon have been very involved at the national level.
Murphy became the Members Council Chair while Gohl was elected to the board of directors.
Having the two northern voices at the national level has contributed to positive change both at the national and grassroots levels of the sport.
Gohl said it’s “really cool” that two northern voices are at the top level. With two northerners sitting in positions nationally, Gohl believes that will help the sport grow in the Yukon and N.W.T.
“We haven’t seen many N.W.T. or Yukon players over many years on the national level and I think with us being more involved nationally we can bring more kids and youth to national championships,” said Gohl.
“We can connect them with other provinces and territories and I think it’s opened a whole lot of opportunities. It shows you can go down south and play in training camps or participate at national championships or try out for the national team.”
Gohl wears many hats in his position on the board including coaching development. Having lived in the north for six years now, Gohl said he can bring a northern perspective to influence positive change.
One of those changes was two pilot projects to change current coaching programs from in-person into a blended learning experience.
Over a weekend, an introduction to competition course was held virtually with the facilitation happening out of Ottawa with co-facilitation happening from Gohl and Murphy in the two territories.
“I don’t think that would have happened without the involvement of Kevin and myself on the national level because we are flexible,” said Gohl.
That flexibility comes from being in the north and having to provide the athletes with enriching experiences in the sport that are more accessible to players in the south.
This creativity led to a national tournament during the pandemic with five teams made up of 13 players from each province or territory competing against each other in the region.
“It’s trying to think outside the box with the big country that we have here in Canada,” said Gohl.
Gohl has big dreams about what is possible for table tennis in the north. In the coming years, he has his sights set on bringing up national and international tournaments to the territories.
The Members Council that Murphy chairs comprises all jurisdictions with a table tennis organization — which is all provinces and territories in Canada.
Murphy has been in the table tennis world for years and said it’s good to have northern voices at the highest levels of the sport.
“It’s always been a battle to have the recognition that you are an equal participant,” said Murphy. “Of course the territories didn’t have the numbers that some of the provinces do in terms of activity.”
Having two northerners in high positions, said Murphy, will help table tennis grow from the grassroots – even after it got knocked back because of COVID-19.
“It’s been a challenge,” said Murphy. “But, I’m glad that we’re back to being able to do what we love. I’m hoping it will yield some results. I’m optimistic but there is work to be done.”
During the pandemic, Murphy said coaches across the country had to get creative to keep kids engaged. In the Yukon, he said the work is on getting kids re-engaged.
“We have to reactivate the base we had prior and expand upon it and get a little more people out to the sport again,” said Murphy.
With two northerners leading the charge on the national level, the grassroots growth could happen quicker than you’d expect.
Contact John Tonin at firstname.lastname@example.org