Visually impaired girls train in table tennis in Pune
Visually impaired girls in Pune get trained to play table tennis by a couple of former players
Considered a game of hand-eye coordination, can one imagine visually impaired persons playing table tennis? Even as cricket for the visually impaired is taking off in the country—with balls being rolled on the ground and not bounced—40 girls in Pune have been trained to play the sport with the help of former international players based in the city. The visually impaired girls, from Jagruti School in Alandi, are now aiming to play against sighted players in a competitive format next month.
The initiative has been started by Bhushan Thakur, 41, and his wife Aarti, 38. Both, ex-national players visited the school for a Rotary event in June 2018. While interacting with the students, Thakur asked if anyone would like to play table tennis. Several hands went up. With cricket being the only sport they play, this was a welcome offer.
Restless with enthusiasm, the Thakurs spent time wondering how to teach the visually impaired the game. The biggest factor was to understand the bounce of the ball. It had to be light but heavy enough to be heard. Says Aarti, "The ball would have to allow the girls to locate its position by the sound. Despite researching and searching, we didn't find a ball that would be appropriate. Then, we took to experimenting by shutting our eyes and playing the game. We modified the ball by inserting lead balls or but then, the height of the bounce was not appropriate. We continued to experiment with other materials and finally settled down with lightweight pearls."
The girls will soon compete against sighted players
The Thakurs run a non-profit Love All Sports Foundation. With the core aim of developing sports and sportspersons at the grassroots level, the foundation helps schools and academies better their infrastructure and also help talented sportsperson avail finance.
Aarti adds, "Being able to listen to the ball, locate it using their sense of hearing and swing at the precise moment is not an easy task. But we were amazed at the girls' skills. They quickly grasped the idea and confidently started playing. They even learnt how to serve and return the ball, within a few sessions."
Bhushan said, "Another difficulty was ensuring that the ball stayed within the reach of the players. Before playing, we taught them how to toss the ball. It's easy for sighted players to pick the ball up if they miss while tossing. However, for visually impaired players, it's an added task. We wanted to make sure that they didn't lose interest if all they did was spend time searching and locating the ball on the floor. To overcome this issue, we came with a simple but effective idea. We glued a string to the ball and tied another end to player's fingers. Then it became easier for players as they just need to pull the string and get their hands on the ball."
The Thakurs also tied the ball to the table so that the players didn't have to rely on others to hand over the ball. They could just go to the side of the table, locate the string to which the ball is attached. The training classes are now conducted every Saturday.
Radhika Kadav, 13, from Karad says, "All we used to play is cricket. We are fascinated with games like table tennis, badminton thanks to the big names in the field. Initially we found it difficult to hit the ball but managed to do so within few sessions. I too want to represent my country and play for India." Playing a sport that others play as well, is a big boost to self-esteem, says Washim girl, Vaibhavi Gawali.
Ravi Kapoor from the Rotary Club adds that the club will support four schools in sports activities. Two of them are for specially-abled kids, one is a rural school in Shirur taluka and one would be an established school in Pune. "We want to promote the sport in every segment." The school's spokesperson, Sakina Bedi, also visually impaired, says, "The girls have improved a and their appetite for sports has increased."
No. of girls who are currently being trained
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