When Edinburgh table tennis player Craig Howieson talks about getting the people of Scotland to support the Glasgow Commonwealth Games and Team Scotland, he has two agendas.
The first, as you would expect from an athlete preparing to compete, is hoping for a boisterously partisan crowd and the lift that will give.
His second is the opportunity a home Games will create for Scotland to introduce more people, particularly children, to sport.
Perhaps it’s unsurprising as Howieson is a PE teacher and he takes seriously his part in making the countries young people healthier and more active. And the prospect of a captive audience means to him exposing more people to the thrills of a minority sport like table tennis.
“You see a lot of people taking up the traditional sports and if they don’t really fancy it or they aren’t very good at it they often end up giving up”, says the 23 year old.
“You never know, if you bring kids along to the more minority sports such as table tennis then they might take a fancy to it.”
“The Game’s legacy is really important and the more people we can get involved and get interested in a variety of sports the better it is for Scottish sport. Just think of the benefits it will have for us as a nation in the long-term.”
Since competing in the 2010 Delhi Commonwealth Games, where the men’s team finished ninth and he reached the last 32 in singles and 16 in doubles, Howieson has experienced some hard times. The sport lost its national coach, leaving the squad largely to organise its own training. Fortunately last autumn a new coach, Hungarian Marton Marsi was appointed and things are on the up.
Marsi’s arrival coincided almost to the day that Howieson started his first job as PE teacher at Edinburgh’s Broughton High School. The combination has been somewhat life changing but Howieson has adapted well to the strictly 20 hours training regime and believes he is now in a far better place than post Delhi.
“Getting Marton is a huge boost for us”, says Howieson. !I admit it was pretty tough juggling a new regime and a new job but it was simply a case of being organised, getting my head down and working hard.”
“Now I’m feeling like I’m improving and I’m definitely a better player than I was in Delhi.”
Good form has come at the right time with the Team Scotland table tennis selection period opening this May. The sport’s biggest events fall in May with the Commonwealth Table Tennis Championships in the now-familiar Delhi, followed straight away with the World Championships in Paris.
“In Delhi we’ll get an opportunity to qualify for the team event straightaway by finishing in the top eight”, says Howieson, who is ranked No.2 in Scotland out of a training squad for Glasgow of six.
“At the moment we’re ranked eight but we believe that we are better than our ranking and hopefully in India we can prove it by getting a top eight finish. And if we get to the quarter finals you never know what can happen.Â So that’s a huge opportunity for us.”
The prospect of revisiting Delhi next month rekindles memories of competing there at the 2010 Commonwealth Games and the boost a fiercely patriotic crowd gave his Indian opponent in the qualifying round. Come Glasgow he would like to see the exact same fervour, more if possible, from Scottish fans.
“The Delhi Commonwealth Games was an awesome experience, with a real buzz and a crowd that was absolutely crazy”, he says.
“But there’s definitely room for improvement and space for Glasgow to better it by a long way.”
“It is important that there are plenty of spectators at all the sports and it would be great if we could fill the arena, get the crowd behind us and give us a massive boost.”
“As a home player in a home games that’s something I’m looking forward to.”
Then, as the PE teacher talking he can’t resist adding: “It’s a great opportunity for people to come along and support us but also bring their children along and see the different variety of sports and get more people involved in sport in Scotland.”
You can follow Craig on Twitter @CraigHowieson
Photo Credit: Alistair Devine