Welcome to Andy’s Diary, the first of a monthly blog for Expert Table Tennis. My name is Andy Couchman. I’m an overweight, semi-retired ex-pilot… and now a table tennis nut!
Each month I’ll be reporting on my activities and how my table tennis is progressing. This first blog post is an introduction to my background pre-table tennis and also a review of my first ten months in the sport.
I started playing table tennis on 20th March 2015, mainly as a form of exercise for my medical condition which, like most, significantly improves with increasing fitness. I suffer from a condition called ankylosing spondylitis, which is basically arthritis of the spine which leads also to spinal curvature. However, what started as an interesting form of exercise, fairly quickly turned into an obsession!
I’ve always had an obsessive personality, never being able to have loads of hobbies undertaken for fun now and then. If I do something, I have to be totally focused upon it and be better than everyone else. This was the case when I started playing golf at the age of 6, turning professional at 16 after attaining a handicap of +2 at 16. I spent four years as a teaching professional, before joining the RAF, where I became a rather obsessed pilot then flying instructor.
Unfortunately, a flying incident re-triggered my ankylosing spondylitis. After the RAF, I joined the airlines as a Training Captain & Simulator Instructor. Sitting on my bum enjoying airline food piled on the pounds and exacerbated my condition.
I hit the rather heavy heights of 20 stone, with what seemed to be as far as I was concerned, an allergic reaction to exercise combined with suffering from the ‘sticky sofa syndrome’! Then, I was having coffee one-day last year and got chatting to what turned out to be a very keen table tennis player, who invited me along to their Friday morning practice session. Initially, it just seemed a good idea to exercise without the boredom of a gym!
The table tennis begins
From that first day of playing onwards, I was totally hooked! My experiences as a golf professional had taught me to learn the right way, so I had lessons from the start as I wanted to avoid a coach, later on, having to try to get rid of lots of ingrained bad habits. Over the next few months, I was having regular lessons and was progressing fairly well but then reached a bit of plateau.
I decided it was all or nothing and to give me more of an incentive, I gave myself a charity challenge. I decided to aim to achieve a UK table tennis ranking (top 600) within three years of starting to play and alongside that to try and raise £100, 000 for the UK ankylosing spondylitis charity.
About six months ago, I met up with Ben Larcombe for a coaching session for him to evaluate how I could progress more quickly. The distance between us for regular sessions was too great, but Ben put me in contact with a more local coach, Marc Burman (who was Ben’s coach when Ben was a young boy). Marc has taught several England international players including the current UK No. 18, Emma Torkington. Marc and I immediately hit it off and my progression started to escalate again.
My first competition
I played (although ‘played’ might be a generous word) my first competition in October 2015; the VETTS Midlands Masters. This was a real shock. I’d been playing against good league players for the previous few months but most players in the Masters were on another level. I literally only managed to win a few points in each game.