The Malta Independent 13 June 2024, Thursday
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David Pace - A journey through his achievements in table-tennis

Sunday, 9 June 2024, 09:32 Last update: about 5 days ago

Q: David, when where you first introduced to Table Tennis?

Like many accomplished National and International athletes my first experience in Table Tennis was at home when I was 8 years old. My dad had constructed a table in the washroom at the top level of our house. I would play with my father for hours on end.

From such a young age my Dad would challenge me to compete and play matches ( in those days a match was till 21 points, best of three sets ) I would lose but the defeat made me hungry to practice more and play more competition matches against him.

I quickly understood that it was a sport where if you win you take all the glory and if you lose you need to study yourself and learn from the defeat without faulting anyone else but yourself. Besides taking an immediate love towards the sport I welcomed that it was me and only me who is responsible when competing for points.

Moving on, by the age of around 11, I began winning matches against my Dad who by now realized that if I had some coaching guidance then I could potentially be a better player. In those days Alex Anastasi and Table Tennis were synonymous so my father contacted Alex who in turn asked me to attend his coaching sessions back then at the Tigni Barreks in Sliema.

I used to cycle from Savoy to Tigni Barreks along the Sliema seafront to attend coaching from Alex, I would also remain for the senior’s coaching session. At the age of 12, I won my first Malta National Title, Boys U13 National Champion, in that year I also won the Maltese best improved boy in that category.

At the age of 16 I was chosen to represent Malta at a European training camp held in the UK where I was exposed to the best boys and girls of Europe at that time. So much so that the likes of Jean Michelle Saive from Belgum went on to be a World Legend. Since then it’s been a 45 year continues journey without ever stopping. Even now at the mature age of 55 I play for a Club in Enna, Sicily called Virtus Enna, serie C2. I also play for my Maltese team, Sharp Shot Table Tennis Academy Xiom.

 

Q: What is your role as a coach?

I appreciate and thank you for this interesting question. My first reaction is to say that in such a role I find myself wearing multiple hats. Being a father allows me to wear such a hat and relate well to parents who entrust their children to me as their coach.

I understand their day to day problems, like for example, not able to attend training because of a school exam, or, not practicing at their best because of a family situation. I am not in any way suggesting that to be a good coach one must be a Father or a Mother. I know excellent coaches who do not have children of their own. I am relating from my stand point.   I am a proud father of Jessica Pace and Sacha Pace, both of whom have always been under my coaching regime and both who have more than proved themselves in our beloved sport of Table Tennis.

I will always cherish the year and moment when as a coach I led them to be the Malta Mixed Doubles Champions. An “all in the Pace family affair”.  My role, besides following a coaching / development program also extends to wearing the hat of a mentor where possible. Especially when dealing with youngsters who are all different in characters and ages, I feel responsible towards their overall wellbeing and lifestyle, offering my help, advise on a personal level when this is required from time to time. As a coach I am also an ambassador, I promote Table Tennis at every opportunity I get (“hey Chris why don’t we organize a tournament just for sport Journalists !) In my position I am asked many questions about Table Tennis equipment. It’s part of my role and responsibility guiding students to purchasing the right equipment suitable for their standard and playing style.

As a coach I also involve myself in sourcing new individuals to take up the sport. This may be by means of school exebithions social media promotion, corporate events and private promotions with local sport businesses. While I have various International recognized coaching certificates I strongly believe that my role as a coach must allocate space for my own personal development, be it theory or practical.

Therefore, I always welcome an opportunity to keep learning and more so to pass on that experience and knowledge to my students and peers. From the practical side I work very closely with Hungarian and Italian coaches, while from the theoretical side I keep myself up to date by reading and research.

Since I am still an active player my role as a coach also requires that as much as possible I am a role model by means of my actions both on the court and off the court. Having said that I am always prepared to eat humble pie should I make a mistake, strongly believing that mistakes may be converted into learning opportunities if approached with a positive attitude.

My role also requires that I maintain good and positive relations with other Maltese and International Table Tennis coaches. I take this opportunity to salute and applaud my colleagues.  As a coach my job is not limited to the practice hall alone. I study footage of other local and foreign athletes to help me when it comes to my work as a tactician.

A good coach may not be a good tactician and vice versa. I try to be proficient at both jobs so when I am in a competition environment I am able to talk strategy to assist my players from the bench.  My role as a coach also requires that at any given moment I may be assigned to leading a National Squad, be it male or female. Such a situation calls for other sets of skills such as interpersonal, organizational, my evaluation and leadership skills. So as you can see my role as a coach is not a stagnant status but an ongoing dynamic process which once upon a time when I decided to take it seriously had a beginning but does not have an end!

 

Q: Can you tell us something about your accomplishments?

Chris, you are testing my memory ! but luckily besides having the trophies inscribed since I was young boy I have kept a track record of most of my accomplishments.  I shall answer your question by listing here most of the National Table Tennis titles which I clinched together with other related information about my profile.

U13 Malta Champion twice / U15 Malta Champion once / U17 Malta Champion twice / Men Seniors Malta vice champion twice / Mens doubles Malta champion –  partner Mark Azzopardi Twice / Mixed doubles champion –  partner Jessica Pace and Ingrid Lanfranco twice  / Over 40s Malta champion eight times /   National League First Div title over ten times / Italian Teams League Champion Serie C2 - Malta Knights / Maintained Malta top 8 position for over 15 years / Sicilian team champion Serie C2 for Pol Sporting Club Catania.

I have represented the Malta National squad  multiple times as a Junior and as a Senior. Over the years I have represented the Malta Table Tennis National team in World, European and Mediterranean championships with my last appearance being the World Championships in China 2008.

Over the years I have also attended and organized over 30 International training camps. As a coach I have led squads both Nationally while the same goes for individual athletes.

For the past fifteen years I have also been the Director of Sharp Shot Table Tennis Academy  who all Malta and Gozo know about. My responsibility is also being in charge of six teams who compete in the Maltese league and who at the time of replying to your question hold 1st, 2nd, and 3rd positions on the forth division classification table. I have been Vice President of the National Association for three years and previously for seven years sat on the same Board.

Recently I was appointed to the International Commonwealth Table Tennis Federation, here I shall be doing all possible to contribute towards the sport on an International level. The Academy I run is also a partner with the Italian Federation when it comes to the new Table Tennis outdoor  concept activity called TTX. Malta through our hard work has already participated in International TTX events which also included the participation of our students parents. In 2022 my colleagues on the National Board nominated me as “ official of the year “  to be represented for the Malta Journalist Sport Awards.  

 

Q: How popular is Table Tennis in Malta?

In Malta, from what I see is happening around me I can say with confidence that Table Tennis is gaining more and more popularity year after year. I also go on to say that the Maltese taking up the sport come from various backgrounds, walks of life and more interesting a wide variety of ages. I believe it to be a great mix given the advantage that it is not a contact sport.

During National League encounters, a girl as young as 12 years may compete with a man in his 30s. This is possible because our sport is based on skill and opponents are never in contact with each other.

Needless to say when National Championships are held then everyone is categorized. More proof of how popular Table Tennis is becoming are the various categories one may compete in. We start from U11, U13, U15, U18, U21, Seniors and Vetts.

I attribute the growth and popularity towards the sterling work being undertaken by a handful of people in Malta & Gozo. These individuals invest personally in equipment, pay rent for premises, allocate time, build websites and social media platforms, organize International Training camps plus much more.

So while I am saying that popularity is growing and while in my opinion the growth is mainly if not only attributed to a handful of Maltese coaches / players, I also say that Table Tennis has always been popular and a household name. It’s easy to encounter at recreational level, in Schools, at Muzew, in hotels while on a weekend break, on cruise ships, in man caves or family home basements. I would say that if we were to ask ten people if they ever at one point tried Table Tennis? My estimate is that six would reply yes…. That’s pretty good when comparing the same question put for other sports. My love, passion, commitment, dedication is all towards table tennis but I respect all other sports so while I shall keep striving to grow Table Tennis in Malta & Gozo I augur the growth and success of all other existing disciplines.

 

Q: David, Tell us something about the National Table Tennis League?

I am pleased to say a few words about the Maltese National Table Tennis league. I begin by linking your question to your previous about popularity. For the past five to seven years the League consists of between 40 to 50 teams each season. The number of teams registered each season is on the rise, this gives positive indications of the increase in popularity. Each team must register a minimum of at least 3 players but it is common and wise that teams register 4 and sometimes even 5 players per team. So on average we are looking at around  168 players. The teams play in four divisions, 1st and 2nd Divisions compete on a Monday while 3rd and 4th Divisions play on Friday.

It is played on two rounds and normally takes up the whole of the seasons calendar with occasional breaks at Christmas and Easter plus pauses to include individual Ranking Tournaments and National Championships.

A typical encounter is played best of seven matches and in the event of a 3 - 3 score the last match to determine the winner is played by a doubles encounter. Our league is open so male and female athletes play each other. In Sicily for example, because the numbers are higher, they actually have a Ladies League.

Some years back I was the coach of the Pol Sporting Catania Ladies team leading them to victory alongside Maltese female athlete Jessica Pace.  I safely say that the National League is the showcase of our sport, open for free to the public to watch at the University Sports Pavalion you are greeted with a layout of twelve to fourteen courts and spoilt for choice to follow matches where on occasions some are very exciting and nail biting to the last minute.

 

Q: David, What does your future in Table Tennis look like?   

Based on my past my future is surely to remain highly involved, as a player, as a coach, as a Director of a leading Academy, as a promoter, as an organizer and as an administrator. Of course I have control over myself and my actions but to contribute in other areas depends on the sports politics scenario at a given time, which in the case of Table Tennis can be extremely fluid in my opinion. For Table Tennis to take the leap forward it needs there must be a genuine meeting of the minds between a few dedicated driven people. The common goal must be National and not individual gain.

I do not see this happening anytime soon unfortunately. Nevertheless, as I look back it’s a success story so therefore more success in various areas of Table Tennis surely shall be on my agenda.     

 

Q: Your final words to our readers who are interested in Table Tennis?

For those readers who are interested in Table Tennis my message to them is to come forward with confidence. Regardless of your age or sex, your ambition or ability, you will defiantly find your place within the community. Moreover, you will be doing yourself a favour in respect of your well being  because of the physical and mental benefits reaped. 

These days you have easy access to try out and follow up by enrolling to one of the Academies on our Island. From North to Central and South locations there is currently enough supply to meet individual demands.

Browsing on social media will take you to various local platforms such as Sharp Shot Table Tennis Academy where one can acquire loads of information, see images and also watch videos. Keep in mind that for aspiring youngsters the set up of these Academies provides various coaching days and times, opportunity to compete locally, opportunity to play abroad, International camps plus much more. However do not be discouraged if your desire is to be a more lay backed recreational player. The local set up welcomes everyone and I end my comment by quoting the ITTF slogan “ Table Tennis for ALL for Life “  

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