What separates the top players from the rest of the field
Controlling your emotions between points is a key component to table tennis success. The best players in the world know this and it’s what separates them from the rest of the field. The most consistently successful players are very disciplined emotionally after a point, whereas lesser players are all over the map emotionally. Bottom line, your emotional reaction has a huge impact on your performance.
There are multiple ways that professional table tennis players display their emotions in the heat of competition. Consider, Jan-Ove Waldner who stays super calm, while Jorgen Persson is bit more demonstrative. Timo Boll says “cho” between points. Then there’s Michael Maze who stays calm till the end, and only then does he show a very fierce temper.
Top competitors do not reveal their frustrations during the match. Regardless of what happened in the previous point, the best players react in a positive way! They have learned to control their emotions. In contrast, lesser players act like an “open book” and, it is easy to read their emotions and frustrations between points. Their body posture is usually poor, their head and shoulders droop down, and they wear their negative emotions on their sleeves.
Step 1: Be Aware of your reaction
You can only control things you are aware of. Things you are unaware of, control you. Awareness gives you power to develop and change! Begin to observe your automatic reaction after both winning and missing points during your matches.
Take note of the following:
- What do you say to yourself after points?
- What does your body language project when you play after points?
- What do you say out loud when you have made a mistake?
- What does your face communicate to your opponent?
Video tape your match or ask your coach or a friend to give you feedback about your body language during competition. What emotions are you displaying while you are losing or winning? Could someone watching your game/match tell the score from your body language?
Step 2: Choose a role model and create your “Game Face”
Once you are aware of your current reactions, the next step is to create your ideal reactions to winning and losing points. Begin by observing how great players react, and then copy them.
- Study the behavior of the greatest table tennis players as much as you can. The more detailed your observation the better. What do they do when they miss a shot? How do they encourage themselves?
- Then create your ideal reaction. Decide what you will say to yourself after points. How will you encourage yourself? Describe your ideal reaction – no matter what just happened. What would it look like? For example: making a small fist pump and saying “Come On” to yourself. Everybody has a different style so create a reaction that suits your personality. The main point is to stay positive.
Step 3: Practice your Game Face!
Now that you have figured out exactly what your reaction will look like, you have to “try it on” and see how it fits. Practice it at practice. This way you will test your new reaction under safe conditions. If you don’t practice your reaction during training, you will have trouble controlling your reactions in tight situations during competition. When playing a tournament, and you get into a tight situation, you will likely follow your automatic habits. There is no time to think. So, make sure your automatic reaction is one that will keep you in the match. It is the same as learning a stroke. Your forehand loop is not going to work well during a tournament if you don’t practice it in training. Mental skills are the same as strokes, you need to practice them. The more you practice controlling your reaction after points the better you will be in table tennis!
This is an excerpt from the book Get Your Game Face On Like The Pros by Dora Kurimay. Dora is the former European Table Tennis Champion representing Hungary. She’s the author of Get Your Game Face On Like The Pros, and she’s contributed to the Clinical Sports Psychiatry: An International Perspective book as well as the Journal of Human Kinetics. She holds two Master’s Degrees in Psychology and Sport Psychology.
Dora has coaching experience as well. She coached table tennis at several high performance clubs all across the globe since 2006.
She is a Certified Mental Performance Consultant in the Association of Applied Sport Psychology and she is an Adjunct Faculty Member for her former university at John F. Kennedy University. Currently, she is a Mental Performance Coach based in New York.