Table Tennis has played a huge part in my life and in many ways I owe my success to the sport
Table Tennis Blog
No matter who you are, you will or have experienced the ‘butterfly effect’ in your stomach before, during or both at an official TT event.
As a junior I hardly felt nervous during a match but I did get pre-competition adrenalin rush which cost me a few hours sleep the night before.
Entering the senior circuit, I naturally developed a 'thought process' using tactical know how to win matches as opposed to playing on auto pilot as a junior. This changed my whole nervous system, I could sleep the night before but during the match I found myself extremely nervous. This included sweaty hands, my heart beating furiously and my hand shaking affecting my no.1 weapon, my serve.
I was affected so badly that I ended up semi quitting competitions and resorted to club and local league play only. Every couple of years I would attempt a competition ‘come back’ but the nerves failed to go away!
At 27 years of age, a world class coaches/players crossed my path and began working with me at my table tennis club/academy. We trained one or two hours per week and after 3 months my level went up, managing to win a few games/matches against him. FYI, his standard at the time was top 4 England men and he said, "Eli it's time to make a real comeback".
I did just that... Beating top 10 England players and jumping up the rankings from around 100 to 20 England Men. So what did I do different on this occasion?
How to handle your pre-competition nerves
1. Work on your strengths, preferably a day or two before any competition and this will naturally increase your inner confidence.
2. Avoid match play that involves keeping count (one or two days prior to any competition. Why? Because in a match there is a winner and loser and if you’re the loser... Well, we all know how we feel after losing! So instead, play as if it’s a match 2 serves each but do not keep score.
3. Routine: effectively competition is just another game but one that has been given a ‘Name and Value’ e.g. Local league finals, London open, National Championships, Olympics etc. have and name a value.
So routine is vital depending on your level and standard and you need to prepare accordingly;
local level - In general your competing for the sheer enjoyment and social factor. You may be playing to keeping fit and get out of the house?! therefore routine is not necessary.
National level: You are committed to the sport so you need to find what preparation works best for you and stick to it. A mistake many national level players make, is changing their routines for different events e.g. National championships they will put in more hours in the training hall (when in fact they should prepare physically more rather than table time), hence the lack of consistency in performance.
International: Depending on your level you will train for personal and specific targets. The higher ranked you are the more focused you are on specific competition targets e.g. World championships, Europeans, Olympics etc. Again the same principal applies find a specific preparation that suits you (remember we are all individuals) so don't copy another top players preparation methods. Once you have a preparation that you feel suits you stick to your methods religiously even at times of poor confidence.
How to avoid match nerves:
1. Play under pressurised situations: I use betting ('personal method' and not recommended), I also ask my friends or students to watch me play. I may add a video recording and this automatically puts me into a state of 'competition mode and the match has "value". I would add pressure by either telling myself or the crowed how important this match is (whether it is or not), just to add increased tension.
When playing under these circumstances I would subconsciously analyse and be aware of my minds 'state' at certain stages/situations focusing on the (scary nervous, pressurised moments) and then I would use various methods to calm myself. After a while I found certain actions which I would employ that worked in calming my nervous state. For example, I would tell myself “relax and enjoy”, or I would wiggle my body to loosen up the tight tension. There is an infinite amount of things you can do to reduce your personal anxiety but you must find what helps you most and use it.
2. Positive body language: hold your body upright, use only positive feedback such as "come on" "yes" good serve" "play positive" again use what suits you but it must always be positive! Some players like to release negativity by showing poor body language and expressing their disappointment after losing a point (e.g. Liam Pitchford) that's fine as long as you can switch into a positive mind set.. straight away.
3. Lastly I would 'move' bouncing up and down releasing negative tension and keeping my body in a positive state.
What has changed?
I remember training with a friend most Friday nights for many years and he would beat me 9/10 'in practice' at the club. We had our annual club championship and I faced my sparring partner in the same hall/club. The hall was the same, the tables were the same and obviously I was the same person, just the layout was slightly different but that specific day had a ‘Name and Value’ “ The club closed championship”.
I won 3-1 even though I naturally expected to lose and the same happened with many other players in the club.
Nothing really changed!! accept for the mind set of each player. In reality nothing has ever changed (from club to competition) but everything in your mind has changed once a title and value ha been add. So change your mind set – Its just another table tennis match/game.
Remember no matter where you play or who you play, in reality we are all playing the same game and your opponent "is just another person with a bat in their hand" regardless of their TT achievements.