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The Mind Game of Table Tennis

by Tom Veatch

Okay, the story on match thinking is this:

There are some things you can think about and other things that you cannot think about if you want to perform at your best during high-pressure matches.

High Pressure

High pressure can occur when people are watching, at the US Nationals, or even when there is a bet on it. (Money is an effective way to simulate a championship match pressure.) One can put high pressure on oneself, just through routine daily anxiety and unrealistically high standards for oneself. Most people have some of this going on: it's normal. The issue is not how to avoid high pressure but how to manage it. Accepting some stress, we have to discover how to respond to it. If you have faith or are able to experience inner surrender in some way, then get in touch with that. Can you win the Olympics through the power of egotism? No, so let go a little, but also stay your ground a little, and get on top of your thinking process. You don't want to spiral downwards by thinking about the wrong things.

What you can't think about

Do not think about the points score in the game. Do not think about the games score in the match. Do not think about your being a star or a flop, winning or losing, proud or shamed. Do not think about the outcome of the match.(This instruction comes straight out of the Bhagavad Gita, by the way, where it is called being attached to the outcome - don't do it!)

But you can think about winning the next, single point. How can I win this one point? You can think about that.

Do not think about stroke mechanics. Do not listen to advice about how to move your arm. That will get your conscious mind, the neocortex, involved in interfering with the sub-conscious mind, all the rest of your system. That is fine during practice, or when you're learning and your coach is showing you something. But not during a match. Let it go for now. The conscious mind needs to stay out of the way and let the rest of the system do its work.

What you can think about

You can think about energy, data, and tactical plan.

That's it. Other than that, your conscious mind, the neocortex, needs to get out of the way and let the rest of you work your wonders freely. Your unconscious, brilliant mind will take the energy and data you give it and spontaneously create good, often amazing results, possibly even following your tactical plan.

Finally, have a serve ritual that you do every time before you serve, during practice as well as during matches. Kim Taek Soo bounces the ball on his paddle with one side-spin, then the other. I bounce the ball on the table, then throw the ball at the paddle which kicks it up, bounce again once, then catch it. This puts my mind in the mode of being comfortable with what it has practiced, and of thinking about balls bouncing and rubber creating spin, instead of thinking about crowds watching, pressure, glory, or humiliation, all of which makes me play worse.

 

Copyright © 2000-2010, Thomas C. Veatch. All rights reserved.
Modified: June 14, 2010