It was a weekend of fast-paced practice sessions for 2023 Arctic Winter Games (AWG) table tennis participants to ensure they were on their toes and prepared for competition.

Among the agile table tennis players recently were AWG hockey goalies, who were learning the skills used for table tennis as a way to sharpen their movements while in the net.

“Two years ago, we started a pilot project to try and increase eye-hand coordination and reaction time with hockey goalies,” said Thorsten Gohl, executive director of Table Tennis North, a table tennis coach and a physical literacy coordinator.

As a result of the cross-training exercise, Gohl said the players develop better reaction time, better reflexes and eye-hand coordination — a definite advantage when between the pipes.

It was a learning process and good skill enhancement for the hockey players, he added.

“We just did plain table tennis where we explained how to hold a paddle. We did some racquet skills, bouncing the ball and then some fun activities. Then we took them to the table and explained to them the basics of table tennis and did some exercises,” he said. “We built the exercises at the end to adjust to them being a hockey goalie. For example, we did a forehand where then they need to catch the ball. A similar idea for a hockey goalie is doing blocking with one side and then catching with the other side. So, we did those kinds of exercises.”

Such an activity is a way to bring athletes from different sports together for a greater cause and to help by sharing resources, Gohl said.

“The athletes are all part of Team NT and we want to enrich the team and their experiences and we want them to become the best versions of themselves.”

Excited players

All the practices for the Games participants were going well, according to Gohl.

“We are two weeks out (from the Arctic Winter Games) and so it is about getting the nerves out of the way and creating team bonding — that is the main focus.”

Gracie Brennan, 17, was one of the players who will be competing in the Canada Winter Games singles team event, and doubles and mixed doubles events in P.E.I. Those Games run from Feb. 18 to March 5.

“We should have a really good time playing against people from all over the country,” Brennan said.

She said she first started playing table tennis when her family bought a table and she really began to enjoy the sport.

“I think it is a really good thing to play with your friends and it is great for people with all different skill levels. It can be really fun or it can be super competitive,” Brennan said. “I find it is really good for hand-eye coordination and it translates well into everything.”

For 11-year-old Kathleen Cai, she will be a first-time Arctic Winter Games table tennis participant. She said she has been practising every day.

“I like that it is nice and fun and active, and you have to move around a lot. It is exciting and fun,” Cai said.

It’s all about table tennis for Sarah Gallsworthy, Griffin Jones, Nate Harris, Kamilah Gohil, Ellie Loutitt and Emilia Cabrera during practices leading up to the Arctic and Canada Winter Games. Photo courtesy of Thorsten Gohl

A role model coach

Arctic Winter Games head coach Emelia Cabrera was also at the weekend practice, providing technical, physical, psychological, and tactical advice. She also offered support to the players.

“I don’t only identify as a coach. I am working with kids and answering questions, so I want to be a role model for them and work with them as best I can,” Cabrera said.

The 19-year-old Cabrera started playing table tennis at the age of three and began competing at only six years old.

She said it’s a sport she thoroughly enjoys and she looks forward to the upcoming competitions.

“Because there are a lot of players and styles and you can do many things with the ball — spins, effects, speed. And it is very interesting to meet many people from different cultures when you travel — and you meet many different people of different ages, and I think that is great.”

Gohl said that overall, the players are “doing amazing. Everyone is eager to learn.”

“We did our trials only a few weekends ago, so we just got the team together and now we are preparing every weekend,” he said.

He said he looks forward to the events.

“It will be a great competition for our kids, too, because it is the highest standard competition every four years in Canada, and I think that is really exciting.”

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