Learning table tennis helps hockey goalies, NWT pilot suggests

Table tennis lessons sharpen hockey goalies’ performance on the ice, a limited experiment involving Northwest Territories youth suggests.

Table Tennis North partnered with a range of groups to establish a pilot program where seven goalies from Hay River minor hockey teams, aged nine to 15, took six weeks of table tennis training to improve hand-eye coordination and reaction time.

The Sport Information Resource Centre, which evaluated the program, reports participants’ off-ice hand-eye coordination and on-ice save percentage each improved, as did off-ice reaction time to a lesser extent.


“I thought that it would slightly improve my hand-eye coordination and reflexes, but it helped a lot, actually,” one participant is quoted as saying in the centre’s report.

The findings are preliminary in nature. Ordinarily, research to firmly establish a benefit such as this would involve a much larger pool of participants and a control group over a longer term.

However, the Sport Information Resource Centre said the initial study showed promise.

“This program offered a unique opportunity for young hockey goalies to develop their skills in a fun, creative, and supportive learning environment,” said Veronica Allan, the centre’s manager of research and innovation, in a news release.

“The findings of the evaluation put a spotlight on the early successes of the program and showed support for its expansion.”


Thorsten Gohl, Table Tennis North’s executive director, said: “Mixing games like table tennis and hockey is the quickest way to improve hand-eye coordination and reaction time in children and teenagers.”

Increasingly, sports scientists recommend that youth engage in a number of sports rather than focus exclusively on one.

Jessica VanOverbeek, executive director of the Mackenzie Recreation Association – which helps to fund access to sports in a range of NWT communities, and backed the pilot program – said the program demonstrated that “a multi-sport approach is the best way to enhance and develop physical literacy in individuals.”

Table Tennis North said the program would return in 2022 and expand to more northern communities.