Competitive sport can get stressful and a player’s mental health is as important as physical health. In this passage below, we look at how a table tennis player can ease his or her nerves and reduce stress before, during and after a match.
Table tennis can be extremely stressful. It’s a fast game which doesn’t allow a lot of recovery for players between points making it easy for player emotions to run high.
Because it’s a game of power, strength, accuracy and agility, your body and your mind are constantly on the move. It’s important to take a breath between points, even though the game is so fast, to calm down your mind and try and ease your stress levels, as well as the tension in your body.
The Mental Side of Table Tennis
Like in any sport, to succeed you need to believe you can do it. Some of the best table tennis matches we’ve seen are either those that are super close in results, or those where the winner had to claw his way back up from the bottom.
To do well in sport, you need to believe, have confidence in yourself, never give up and never let the stress and tension get the best of you.
You also need to learn to relax your body when you play the game. A table tennis ball is light. Too much tension makes your strokes erratic and thereby making it easy for a player to make unforced errors.
In the video below, Tom Lodziak talks to Rade Markovic, the head table tennis coach at ASV Grünwettersbach, about the importance of keeping your body loose during the game.
Here are a few things you can do, between points, to relieve stress.
Before the game and between points, take a deep breath in, and exhale slowly. Try and breathe out for a little longer than you breathe in. This kind of breathing slows down your heart rate and calms you down.
If things are not going well, focus on what is coming next. There is no point in berating yourself for the point you just lost or for the mistake you made. Breathe, focus and look forward.
Think through your tactics. If things are going wrong, and not improving, it may be an idea to change tactics. Take that breath, look at how you have been playing, and think about how you should be playing.
Staying Calm & Collected
Don’t let your shoulders slouch. Posture is everything, physically and mentally.
Stay cool, calm and collected. Losing your temper or letting your emotions get the best of you has never helped anyone.
Do not allow your opponent to intimidate you. In fact, try and see your opponent as your opponent and nothing else. You cannot feel sorry for them, you cannot see them as a friend, you can only see them as competition.
Play fairly at all times. You want to be known for your incredible game and competitive spirit, but also, for your honesty and fairness. Playing fairly will make you feel good about yourself too, improving the quality of your game. You must be tough but you must be fair.
Focus on Your Own Rituals
Think of your habits. Between points, players often have little rituals. They may blow air on to their palms, slap the side of their leg, touch the table, do an air fist-bump, stomp their feet or shout out a huge ‘yahoo’.
Do these rituals do you any good?
If they genuinely calm you down and spur you on, great. But make sure they don’t irritate your audience, and in particular, your opponent. Remember that thing about fairness.
Let’s take a look at table tennis and mental strength, in general.
We mentioned that if you want to win, at any competitive sport, you need to have the emotional prowess or mental ability as well as the physical ability. You need skill in the game, obviously, but you need mental skill too.
This means having a quiet belief in yourself; having confidence in yourself so that you believe, no matter what, that you can do this. That you can win.
Having belief in yourself is something to keep working on. In the same way you work on your table tennis serve, smash, forehand or backhand, you need to work on your emotions.
How to Work on Your Own Belief?
Some table tennis players do daily meditation or have a mantra that they chant. Others take their mental strength with them to the game, every single day. After each point, no matter the score, they tell themselves they ‘can do this.’
Rituals are helpful.
While the ritual, and we mentioned this above, should never get in the way of your game, or your opponent’s game, and they should never irritate the opponent, they can be helpful.
If you like to tap your shoe, tap your table tennis racket, or high-five the air, go for it. Find the ritual that works for you. It could be deep and slow breathing. It could even be closing your eyes for a sec. Find what works for you, and do it.
Being vocal is also helpful.
Table tennis is not a staid game; it is fast, it is noisy, it is fun.
It is really okay to shout out loud when you win a point or to celebrate with a giant ‘Yeehaw’ or whichever way you choose to be vocal.
Don’t do it all the time though; it will become a bore but because you may just get the reputation for being ‘that noisy player.’ Also, you may not need to do it at all!
What Do the Professionals Say?
Here’s some advice from professional table-tennis players, all of which can help you improve your game. They all say similar things about practice. If you want to be a champ, you have to put in the hours. But they talk a lot of mental agility too.
Werner is a table tennis player from Austria and was a world champion. Today he coaches, motivates and provides tips for a player’s ultimate mental performance.
He talks a lot about frustration. Feelings of frustration are normal; you want to do the best you can. But you cannot allow your frustrations to take over your game.
You need to play a shot, collect yourself between points, focus, and move on. Werner, who is known for his extremely strong mental game, says some people are more mentally focused than others. But it takes work, and anyone can do the work.
Dora is a former Hungarian champion table tennis player, coach and sport mental performance speaker.
Her advice is to always control your thoughts and emotions after a point, as well as your body posture. Confidence comes out in body posture so remain upright, strong and focused. Don’t dwell on your mistakes, look forward and make the next point count.
Steve is the head table tennis coach at the Swerve Table Tennis Centre, UK. Steve talks about self motivation and inspires his pupils to do the best they can. Also, keep your head still, your eyes level and your racket high.
Matlida is a professional Swedish table tennis player. Like other coaches, keep your races high and your head still. Mentally, she believes in giving 100% of herself to the game, and thinks you should o the same too!
Philipp is a professional German table tennis player and he too talks about giving 100% effort in everything you do, in the good games and the bad games and the good times and the bad times. Whether you are practicing or playing in a match, give it your all.
Sean is an American table tennis player and coach who talks a lot about placement over power. He also talks about ‘One Mentality,’ meaning – stay strong, stay focused, stay positive and stay winning.
Shane is a South African table tennis player and coach, who says that to be successful a player must focus on every single ball. Every game should be a quality game, ensuring that by the time you play your matches, you are ready and will play better than before.
Physical and Mental Agility
Physical agility is a combination of genetics, skill, talent and practice. Mental agility is also genetic; some people are more positive and focused than others.
Mental agility can be learned though, which is why sport psychology is such a big business. In all sports, including table tennis, there are a lot of talented players. The thing that may make the winners really out, is their mental game.
Books have been written on the psychology behind sport.
Bill Cole has written on the mental game of psychology. The Table Tennis University has researched and published papers and recorded videos on sport psychology. If you really want to up your games, you’ll look at the links right here and here.
Final Tips to Improve Your Table Tennis
A quick rundown on how to improve your game, for which we will have an in-depth piece very soon. But here are a few quick tips.
- Learn the game and master the basic shots.
- Work on your serve.
- Learn about spin.
- Steady your body before a shot and between shots.
- Keep your head straight.
- Keep your racket high.
- Get fit; table tennis is a strenuous game.
- Always warm up your body and your mind.
- Relax your body between points.
- Keep cool and don’t lose your temper.
- Never give up.
The aforementioned are a lot of other tips connected to the actual game of table tennis but we will leave those for a different article. For now, we are focusing on your mental game. A reminder:
- Steady yourself before a shot.
- Breathe between shots.
- Keep your frustrations in check.
- Don’t be hard on yourself. It’s just a sport.
- Be vocal, only if it helps.
- Change tactics if something is not working.
- Don’t allow yourself to be intimidated by your opponent.
- Treat your opponent fairly.
- Play by the rules.
- Don’t give up.
A few more things that the professionals will tell you is:
- Find the equipment you love and stick to it.
- Use your own racket.
- Have a regular table tennis training partner.
- At times practice on your own too.
- Train hard and train often.
- And have fun.
Table tennis is an amazing game, socially and professionally. It is the kind of game you can set up in your garage at home; it does not need a lot of space.
There are many table tennis clubs, table tennis tournaments and even, table tennis parties. Enjoy. And work as hard on your physical game as at your mental game.