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Importance of Mental Fitness in Table Tennis


Everybody needs to be physically fit all the time. This is true especially to athletes whose sports are so physically demanding including table tennis. Unfortunately, physical fitness is not enough to guarantee success in your chosen field of sports.

No matter how physically fit you think you are for the competition; you are still at risk of losing if your head is not in the game. Therefore, mental fitness is just as important as physical fitness. It is because your mind and body are ONE.

Your mind and body need to perform with the synchronicity so you can hit your goal. Your mind plays a crucial role in letting your entire body move the way you want it.

Mental fitness is a must for your body to become capable of producing explosive actions during the heat of the game. The following are some suggestions on how you can improve your mental fitness.

mental fitness
mental fitness

Stay focused
Staying focused is a must for every athlete. This is why athletes must learn to focus even when they are still on the training stage. Once they learn how to become more focused during the training, then no doubt they will not have a hard time focusing during the competition.

You must find ways on how to improve your ability to focus and prevent your mind from wandering especially during the game. You may indulge in Yoga and some other meditational exercises that will teach you some techniques on how to stay focused amidst the chaos, tension, and pressure.

Focus on your present goals and prevent your mind from dwelling on your past mistakes. Let your past mistakes serve as your lessons and then move on. Focus on the here and now.

Learn to deal with the tension
Several studies have been conducted in order to prove the idea that too much tension is counterproductive. Therefore, every athlete must learn to deal with tension. This is because during the game tension, stress and anxiety are inevitable.

In fact, tension even becomes more prevalent when the competition is on. This does not mean that an athlete must stay relaxed during the game. Being too relaxed is not good and being too tensed is not good either. This is why athletes must practice some relaxation and visualization techniques in order to gain some skills on how to cope with too much tension.

You may want to read more about the technique to tap your anxiety.

Think of your opponents as friends. Gone are those days when athletes were told to think of their opponents as enemies for them to wipe out. This line of thinking only increases tension on the part of the athlete. Not to mention that it can have adverse effects on his mental fitness.

It is because when you think of your opponents as enemies; you are more likely to develop hatred in your heart. This hatred can crush your heart and increase tension during the game. But, today sports psychology expert’s advice athletes to think of their opponents as friends who are there to challenge them.

They should see their opponents as friends who will help them climb up the ladder of victory. Moreover, when you think of your opponents as friends you will become inspired to do your best.

Think positive
This may seem like a cliché already but it is one of the most important factors of mental fitness. It is only when an athlete masters the art of positive thinking that he will be able to push himself beyond the limits.

Positive thinking allows every athlete to look at the positive side of defeat and difficulties. When an athlete thinks he can do it, he definitely can. Positive thinking is so powerful that it can convince all the other senses to move and strive towards achieving one’s goal. But, negative thinking will lead you nowhere.

Remember that it would be too hard to become physically fit when you are not mentally fit. But, once you possess the right level of mental fitness, it will become easier for your entire body to synchronize and achieve the same level of fitness, too.

The Mental Side

The physical side of table tennis can be brought to the level you wish it to be at but how do you get ready for the mental side of table tennis?

For me, I have a difficult time getting ready for a tournament or match, sometimes I need to calm myself down and sometimes I really needed to get “pumped up”.

Table Tennis is tough, maybe one of the toughest, sports to get ready mentally for. For one, when at a tournament you may not know who you are playing until you arrive at a tournament up to 20 minutes or so before the match!

Also, there are so many different styles, and you need to know how to counterattack against the style of play your opponent chooses to use in the match against you. You also need to know how to solve that player and how to win points and games, leading to the overall winner of the match.

The tough thing for me is keeping my mind on the game. After each rally, there’s a break and you need to be thinking about the next rally the second after, it doesn’t matter if you have won or lost the past rally. You also have to keep your mind straight in between each game. Many times, have I told myself that I’ve already lost the match only after the first game. Or even worse, told myself that I’ve won the match and to pretty well give up. I may end up losing a match 3-2 in which I was winning 2-0.

Many times does this happen even in the professional tournaments to some of the best players in the world. Timo Boll did something remarkable on Sunday, November 12, 2006, in rebounding to beat Hou Yingchao 3-2 after being down 1-3.

You really can’t be taught how to think or how to deal with the pressure but there are classes and people who can give you advice and teach you about the mental side of sports. I, just recently, had a great lesson on the mental aspect of sports and it helped considerably with getting comfortable and moving on.

The lady told me to “park the car of discouragement and move on without it”. I and my doubles partner always use this. In a recent tournament, we were down in a game when he told me to “park the car”. I did so in which making a comeback and winning the match 3-0 with no further problems.

Everyone needs to and has different rituals or routines before each match and it actually just helps to relax them. What ritual do you have before a big match?

Reflecting on Performance

Reflecting on every tournament performance is vital to learning. However, it is well established that for most learners, the explanation, demonstrations, and practice often only provide the foundation for learning. For many, the real learning comes not from the experience, but from reflecting on the experience.

Why Reflect

Teaching and learning literature provides us with evidence that our learning is enhanced by reflecting on our experience. It has been said that reflecting on our experience is more important than the experience itself. By analyzing our performance we gain insight and skill.

Timo Boll

What Does It Mean to Reflect?

1. Think

An image of what it means to reflect might be the famous bronze sculpture by Rodin depicting a sitting man with his elbow on his knee; head bowed and chin resting on his hand.

Thinking is the first step in reflection. The core of this thinking is asking and answering some basic questions. What worked well? What didn’t work? Where are my strengths? How can I capitalize on these? What are my weaknesses? What do I need to do to improve the weak skills? There is nothing magical about any specific question.

Step one is simply to formulate a few questions and think about possible answers. When your practice segment is finished, don’t just go get a drink and a snack and let your mind wander. Instead, get a drink and snack and THINK. Begin reflecting on your performance.

2. Talk

Most of us have learned that talking about our thoughts usually leads us to clearer thinking. If the person we talk with not only listens but also asks us a few questions, then all the better. Our reflection is enhanced by dialogue. Our thinking becomes clearer when we hear what we say.

Our reflection partner does not need to be our coach, does not need to know anything about table tennis and doesn’t even need to have seen our practice segment. They just need to ask a good question, listen for our response and maybe “probe” with a follow-up question or two to stimulate us to think deeper and verbalize our thoughts.

3. Write

Most people find writing about our thinking more difficult than talking about our thinking. To put our thoughts into writing takes additional careful thinking. To choose the right words to represent our thoughts usually means we need to refine our thinking in order to pick just the right words or phrases. If we are going to “put it on paper” we want it to be “right.” Start a journal today.

Reflecting on our performance is a vital but often missing link in our road to improvement. Quality reflection is more than just thinking. Quality reflection also includes talking and writing. Thinking, talking, and writing is the essential components of quality reflection.

I wonder what the impact on my skill might be if I regularly reflected on my performance? If I didn’t just do it, but thought, talked and wrote about what I did?

Who is Your Biggest Fan?

This is probably pretty obvious but I think it often gets forgotten, you should be your biggest fan!

All too often, especially with young players they not only have to beat their opponent but they have to conquer themselves as well. If you watch a team sport I don’t think they play any better if the crowd is against them.

In table tennis, most of the time my players are not being supported by a crowd of spectators, if they are lucky they will have a coach and maybe their parent in their corner supporting their efforts but most of the time it is just them on their own.

Zhang-Jike
Zhang-Jike

So why when they lose a point are they the first to criticize their efforts? And often or not they are the last to appreciate it when they play a good shot. Mistakes are made that is the nature of the game.

I think it very important that players move on to the next point and don’t dwell on the past. The energy they use to criticize themselves is wasted and I feel this negative energy affects their play and their psychological state of mind.

A positive state of mind is a crucial element in play, a quick analysis of what went wrong and a tactical adjustment is what is more likely to be required and in the short space of time between points letting your negative emotions take control does not lead to good decision making.

Secondly letting your opponent see your emotional weakness leads to an increase in their confidence and confidence often leads to better play. These emotion patterns are often developed early on and difficult to change when established. Encouraging an emphasis on keeping a positive state of mind needs to be introduced as early as possible.

I encourage my players to smile at their opponent after a net or an edge giving them a conditioned response that helps them focus on what needs to be done. Some players respond to having a music theme in their head using it as a refocusing technique, whatever method you choose to keep positive and leave your negative criticism for the training hall.

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