The pre-season is over… The new 2019/2020 table tennis season is upon us! Many of the world’s top leagues and tournaments have already started and I’m sure, if you haven’t already, you’ll be competing again soon.
A new season can mean a new environment and potentially some changes to your competitive table tennis from the year before. Perhaps you’ve moved to play for a different club, or your team has been promoted/relegated so you’ll be playing in a different division.
You’ll likely be faced with new venues, new opponents and maybe even some new teammates. But there’s no need to worry!
Whether you’ve spent all summer practising or have hardly picked up your bat, here are five tips to help you thrive in the new table tennis season.
This post was originally written in September 2013 and has been buried in the ETT archives… but I’ve brought it back to life!
1. Set yourself some challenging (but realistic) goals
Goal-setting is nothing new, and I guess it isn’t really that exciting either, but it is effective.
Whatever standard of league or tournaments you’re going to be playing in this season, you should be setting some goals for yourself. These will most likely be performance and outcome goals – such as achieving a certain percentage in your division’s averages or reaching a certain stage of a competition.
Back in 2013, my goals for the season ahead were…
- To achieve an average of 50% or higher in British League Division 1 South.
- To achieve an average of 90% or higher in the top division of the Central London League.
I didn’t achieve either of those goals. But I wasn’t a million miles away either. Sometimes you’ll need to be flexible with your goals and readjust after a couple of weeks/months.
For example, I finished the first weekend of British League on 2/8 wins (25%) but this was with very little practice over the summer and playing as #2 in the team instead of #3. Therefore, I decided to keep my goal at 50% despite the disappointing start. It was my goal of 50% that motivated me to practice and keep playing each week.
Setting goals like this is quite easy. Look at what you achieved last season. Take into account how much you practised over the summer (or how much you’ll be playing this season). And then set your goals accordingly.
Back in 2012/13, I finished on 46% in British League Division 1 South, so I decided to aim for 50% in 2013/14. If I’d been practising more (I got married and moved house in the summer of 2013) and expecting a bigger yearly improvement, I could have set it at 60% or even 70%.
2. Work on your table tennis self-belief
We tend to spend much less time working on the mental side of the game – despite the fact that we all agree this is incredibly important.
Self-belief is one of the common characteristics found in almost all top-level athletes. When they go into a competitive environment, they just have this feeling that they’re going to win. They can’t quite imagine any other outcome!
Here’s an interesting article from The Telegraph covering some of the basics of self-belief and its effects on performance.
You’re not going to win every match you play.
You know this.
The best athletes in the world know this.
You should go into every match you play believing wholeheartedly that you are going to win! The reason that the higher-ranked player wins so often in table tennis is that before the game has even started the lower ranked player has looking at the ranking list (or league averages) and decided he has little chance of winning.
Don’t make the same mistake!
3. Remove any unnecessary pressure you’re putting on yourself
When I first moved to Grantham Academy (at 18 years of age), and started practising every day, I’d put a ton of unnecessary pressure on myself at tournaments.
I’d think to myself…
Everybody knows you’re at Grantham now. Everybody knows you’ve been playing every day. They’re expecting you to be much better. Don’t make a fool of yourself. You need to play at a much higher level than you did before you left.
This was especially true when I would come up against players that I’d beaten closely before moving. I’d think…
Now I have to beat them! If I was beating them before I started playing every day and now I lose to them, then I’ll look like a complete failure. It’ll be like all this extra training was for nothing.
This is just one example of the kind of unnecessary pressure we can put on ourselves as table tennis players.
If you’ve been abroad to practice in the summer (and other people know you have) then if they beat you, you’ll probably have to deal with them saying things like, “You should have stayed home all summer having BBQs in the garden like me, mate!”
The thing is, thinking like that is the way of the “loser”. Always worrying about what others will think of you and what you have to lose (your reputation being the big one).
Winners don’t care about trivial things like that. They focus on the match, and playing their best, and doing everything they can to win.
Everything else is irrelevant.
4. Ignore potential distractions
Especially when playing local league matches, there can be numerous distractions that can take our focus away from the game.
A typical match night in a local league might involve; a slippery floor, not enough room, players/umpires that don’t know all the rules, foul serves, irritating behaviour from opponents, a lack of a good cup of tea and biscuits (normally provided by the home team).
Don’t let these things bother you!
There will have been times when you’ve watched as another player complains that he is losing because of the slippery floor or the poor lighting, and you’ve probably looked on and thought, “What a plonker!” (or words to that effect). Don’t become the plonker.
Firstly, nobody likes a sore loser. If you lost the game, complaining about a load of secondary factors isn’t going to make you feel any better. Focus on the positives you can take from the game and the lessons you can learn to improve to the future.
Secondly, that kind of attitude is all about excuses. Some players have so little self-belief in themselves, and are so worried about losing face, that they bring out the excuses before they’ve even hit a ball!
- “I haven’t picked up a bat in ages!”
- “My back’s been playing up a bit.”
- “I don’t know how you guys play on this terrible floor?”
Mentally tough players are focused on their opponent (looking for weaknesses in their game) and are only concerned about their own performance (making their own shots and playing well).
Keep your attention on the things that count!
5. Devise and implement a game-plan
Finally, come up with a game-plan for each opponent you’re going to play – and then don’t forget to implement it!
The good thing about league matches is that you normally play on just one table and get to watch all your opponents knock-up and play before you have to face them.
Make the most of this.
Try to identify any weaknesses in your opponent’s games and then think of some ways to exploit these.
In a local league setting, I believe that very few players are actually doing this because most are too concerned about their own game/shots. By the time you arrive at the venue, you should know your own game pretty darn well! It’s your opponent’s game you should be focused on.
When your teammates are playing, pay attention to how they’re winning points against certain players. You can probably do the same tricks against them.
- Which side are they weakest on?
- What’s their favourite stroke?
- How’s their footwork?
- Do they serve well and if so what’s on the serve?
All of this is valuable information.
Particularly when you’re serving, take a couple of seconds before throwing the ball in the air to consider…
- What serve am I going to do? (spin, speed, placement)
- What likely receive stroke will my opponent use to return it and where will they likely aim this shot?
- What will I probably need to do on the third ball to put myself in a position to win the point?
This type of thinking is slightly more difficult when receiving (because you don’t know what type of service you’ll be facing) but it’s still possible once you can work out what serves they’re likely to use. However, we can all be using this type of thinking on our own serves. And we should!
So there you have it. Five tips that will help you thrive this season in whatever league you happen to be playing in.
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