June 8, 2015 - What to Think About in a Match

Have you ever been in a close match, began to think about winning and losing, and fell apart and lost? Or perhaps you were winning, began to think about it, and again fell apart and lost. It’s almost certain that you have been in both scenarios. So how do you avoid this?

A key thing is to have something else to think about. The mind can only think about one thing at a time. As an experiment, try thinking about what serve you might use in a match against a specific player you play regularly, and see if you can think about winning and losing at the same time. You can’t – in fact, the very thinking about what serve to do will likely wipe away most nervousness as nervousness comes from thinking (i.e. worrying) about winning and losing.

So give your mind something else to focus on. And that should be basic tactics. In theory you could think about anything else, but then you might not be paying attention to what’s going on at the table, and you probably wouldn’t play so well or as smart. But if you focus on basic tactics you get a double whammy – you play smarter table tennis, and you stop worrying about winning or losing. The key is to keep it simple; don’t overthink. Focus on why you are winning – which serves, receives, and rally shots are winning points for you. Ask yourself:

  • Which serves are working for you? This is the one time where you have complete control of the start of a rally, so take advantage of it. Focus on what to do with expected receives, but keep the mind clear and ready for anything.
  • What receives are working for you? Focus on what to do with expected serves, but keep the mind clear and ready for anything.
  • What types of rallies are working for you? Focus on the one or two most important things. It could be specific placements, a type of shot you want to use, or something as simple as “keep attacking.” But again, keep the mind clear and ready for anything.

If you keep your mind on these basic tactics, then you’ll keep your mind occupied so you won’t think about winning or losing, which is a quick way to blow a match.

Here are a few additional tips:

  • If you are winning and start thinking about it, perhaps convince yourself that you are losing. Reverse the score in your mind if necessary. Then think about what basic tactics are winning points for you, and focus on those.
  • If you are in the “zone,” and playing extremely well, the worst thing you can do is think about it. If you do, just smile inwardly, and think of yourself as an observer watching while your body and subconscious perform. (But you’ll get the credit!)
  • If you do lose your focus in a contested game, that’s when to take a time-out. Any time you lose focus you need to clear you mind, and then get it back on track, thinking about basic tactics and nothing else