17-year-old table tennis starlet James Vella Vidal has returned to the UK’s Grantham College Table Tennis Academy after five months away due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The National Youth team player, who took part in the European Youth Table Tennis Championships in Ostrava, Czech Republic in July 2019, is said to be one Malta’s brightest stars and is combining his education with his love for the sport at an academy which gives youths the right balance between coaching and academic qualification.
Vella Vidal who is one of a growing number of young Maltese athletes, all making a name for themselves overseas, is also a product of the Malta National Sports School.
His move to the UK – after gaining experience with local club Malta International Table Tennis Centre (MITTC) – back in September 2019 was cut short with the Covid-19 crisis in March and he was forced to return to Malta as sport was suspended. However, speaking to the Times of Malta, Vella Vidal said he is now back awaiting the continuation of his training.
“Last year was scary in the beginning obviously, but after a month it was amazing, like living a dream,” Vella Vidal said.
“When Covid-19 came into the picture unfortunately, I had to go back to Malta in March.
“Competition in England is postponed to mid-season, but exactly after quarantine, I’ll be going to school and training full time at Grantham.”
Before his move abroad, Vella Vidal had managed feats like placing second in the Under-21 singles and Seniors doubles categories of the second ranking tournament of 2020, organized by the Malta Table Tennis Association (MTTA). His best achievement so far, however, has been winning 3 bronze medals at the 2018 COJI Games in Sicily.
Like many other athletes who aim to grow in their sport, competition has been an issue for the young international and he explained that it was one of the main reasons, he took things overseas.
“The whole point of going to England was because there wasn’t much competition in Malta, and I would play (competitively) only once a few months.”
Asked about the effect of covid-19 on his game, Vella Vidal said he saw the positives and managed to improve other areas which we tend to put to a side.
“Even though I had no training, those 5 months (away from Grantham) were used to improve my technique and mentality with the aid of the Grantham coaches online,” he said.
“The pandemic was the same for everyone around the world, so I need to do what I can to get as much of as an advantage as possible.”
Another issue related to youth athletes taking the big step abroad is, of course, the transition itself. With Malta being a comfort-zone for most of its athletes, many find it hard to adapt and stay on course.
“I thought I would be prepared for it with ease but a week before the flight, the big shock finally struck,” Vella Vidal explained.
“It took me a good month to get used to the new lifestyle but with very supportive parents and coaches, the transition was made much easier.
“Now hopefully, after another successful year in a Grantham, I’ll try to continue studying and training abroad for University.”
Being in the UK full-time, Vella Vidal will now be looking to get accustomed to the British game and will be competing in the First Division of the Junior British League and the Seniors League after completing his quarantine period. He also looks with optimism towards, COVID-19 restrictions permitting, Four-Star tournaments and Grand Prix – tournaments which he had gotten a taste of last season already.