Coach Pilks is on top of the table

Coach Pilks is on top of the table

Coach Pilks is on top of the table

First published in Sport

DAVE Pilkington has trodden the familiar path that many parents have taken before him and no doubt a path many have taken since.

It is a tried and test formula; child shows interest in sport, parent takes child to sport, parent becomes involves in sport.

From fetcher and carrier to coach, manager and mentor.

Only Pilkington has taken it that one step further.

The PE teacher, as his job title may suggest, has always been interested in sport and, somewhat annoyingly, pretty decent at any sport he turned his hand to.

Table tennis was one such sport.

“I was pretty decent at table tennis as well as other sports,” said the St Bede’s High School teacher. “I played occasionally for one of the local teams in the Blackburn League. That is when my son started to show an interest.”

And when Pilkington junior, also called Dave, demonstrated a natural ability for the sport, it was Pilkington Senior’s signal to do something about it.

“David came along with us one game and decided he wanted to have a go,” added Pilkington.

“He was about six at the time and was a natural so I decided I wanted to help him improve. So I decided to get in to coaching and it has all gone from there.”

The pair flourish. Father and son, coach and player.

Old Dave became a town and county coach, young Dave a town and county champion.

Pilkington’s coaching ability was recognised at national level while his son became one of the best young players in the country, ranked in the top 10 for his age.

“Helping Dave become one of the best young players in the country was one of the greatest achievements and something I am very proud of,” said Pilkington.”

As is often the case, when the offspring finally lose interest the parent do to.

But not Pilkington.

Long after his son finished – although he still does play some local league table tennis – he has continued to flourish.

And next month, he will lead England Schoolboys in to the World School Table Tennis Championships in France.

It will be the second time he has taken the national team to the World Championships having guided them to fourth place four years ago.

This time, he will be looking to go one place better.

Looking ahead to France, Pilkington admits it is all about who finished in third place given the extreme talents of the China and Chinese Taipei.

“They are miles ahead of the rest of us and you can almost guarantee that they will finish first and second,” said Pilkington. “They will have full internationals in their teams.

“So it will be a case of trying to work for that third place, finish best of the rest.

“I am honoured are delighted to be entrusted with the English Schools National team and am eagerly awaiting the competition against the best young players in the world.”

At home, , Pilkington is doing his best to raise the profile and the sport in the borough and the county.

With the back and support of the current headteacher, Des Callaghan and the school governors, he has helped turn St Bede’s in to a real hub of table tennis activity.

The school has six teams that compete in the Blackburn and District Table Tennis League – a league Dave helps run with his good friend Steve Lyons – have regularly dinner time and after school table tennis sessions and has helped St Bede’s become a host for town, county, national and international tournaments.

“Table tennis is a way of life at St Bede’s and that thanks to the headteacher and governors who have fully embraced what I am doing and also supporting me when I am working with the county or national team “We hold town, county, national and international events at the school and it a great honour to be able to put Blackburn on the map. We are not a table tennis centre as such but we may as well be.”

While Pilkington is looking forward to working with the cream of the crop at the World Championships in March, he gets as much pleasure as teaching youngsters who have picked up a table tennis bat for the first time.

“I get equal pleasure of seeing someone pick up a bat for the first time to helping those become elite players,” he said. “And the beauty of what I do is that I can still work at both levels and get great pleasure from both.”

Pilkington has a knack of noticing talent the moment someone picks up bat – something he saw in his own son and helped nurture.

“I can tell from the moment someone starts playing whether they are going to be good or not. But it is not just natural talent. Table tennis is one of the sports that the more hard work you put in the more you get out of the sport.

“It was something I saw in Dave and I helped him become a great little player.”

Seeing his son get in to the top 10 in the country gives Pilkington as much pleasure as now being in charge of those top players.

“If someone asked me what my great honour or highlight was most would assume I would say be asked to take charge of England in the World Championships.

“That is a wonderful highlight but so was helping my son become one of the best young players in the country.

Pilkington’s dedication to his sport was recently recognised at the Lancashire Telegraph Grassroots Heroes Awards where he was named coach of the year.

“Winning the award was a tremendous honour and a great privilege,” he added.

“People still come up to me and comment about it and it just goes to show what sort of impression the awards make. I think they are a great way to highlight what goes on in local amateur sport and it was superb to be involved in them, let alone win an award.”

Pilkington is 59-years-old now but shows no signs of calling it a day just yet.

“If I had a pound for every time someone asked me when I was going to give up table tennis coaching or teaching then I would be a very rich man!

“My answer is always the same. I will continue to do both for as long as I enjoy it. I love coaching table tennis and I love to teach so I don’t think that will be any time soon!”

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