July 29, 2019

Tip of the Week
Do You Want to Know an Opponent's Rating Before a Match?

The Subconscious Rules
At the U.S. Open a few weeks ago a strange thing happened. I was mostly there to coach, but entered one event - Over 40 Hardbat. (I've now won the event six times at the Open or Nationals.) I normally play and coach with sponge, but hardbat's been a sideline of mine for decades. (I've won Hardbat Singles at both the Open and Nationals, and have won Hardbat Doubles 14 times.) I'm 59, so I'm competing against these younger players (!), and I'm both out of practice and out of shape. In the preliminary RR, I played okay, but nothing special.

In the final I'm up against Mark Conti, a full-time hardbat player with a 2113 hardbat rating. (I'm 2198.) He's a steady blocker. I continue to play well as I win the first, 21-15. (It's best of three to 21.) In the second, he gets more and more consistent and is getting better and better at blocking balls at wide angles, making things tricky for me - I'm basically an all-out forehand attacker. Against this consistency and movement, I begin to falter, and he wins, 21-14. I know I'll have to play much better in the third if I want to win. I also realize that if consciously try to play better, I'll probably just fall apart. The conscious mind is great for thinking about tactics or what serve to use next, but in skill sports, you train your subconscious, and it takes over once you start to play. The conscious mind just gets in the way.

So I started this "mantra" between each point where I kept saying, "Push yourself!" (I've used this my entire career.) This not only helped me physically as I tried to cover as much table with my forehand as I could, but it kept my conscious mind focused on that, while the subconscious took over. Result? I played one of the best games I've ever played, winning the third, 21-13. Mark played well that game, but I was basically forehand hitting and smashing every ball I could get to, and even my backhand came alive. The Magic was Back!

What do I mean by "The Magic"? It's my way of referring to being "In the Zone." (See the article on this below by Eli Baraty.) Everyone has different ways of getting In the Zone. It often comes down to a simple routine that cues the subconscious that it's time to do its stuff, i.e. mental rehearsal. For me, this means the following:

  • Just before I start a match I take off my watch and put it around my water bottle.
  • Before every serve I bounce the ball several times on the table, and then drop my arm down and bring it back and then forward, like a pendulum.
  • Before my first receive in a match, I step back from the table and do a very fast series of shuffle steps.
  • In my early years I even had this thing about shirt colors. If I had a match where I knew I was going to be hitting a lot, I'd wear a green shirt. If I was going to be looping a lot, I'd wear a blue shirt. If I had to play all-around, I'd wear a red shirt. I'd sometimes change for specific matches! (I only did this in my first few years.)

Training your subconscious and then letting it take over is the key to doing well in any skill sport. An easy example of this is when I smack targets on a table as a demo. I can put a water bottle on the far side, and then drop a ball and smack it pretty consistently with my forehand. But this only works if I don't think about it and don't even consciously aim - if I do, I get erratic. If I just look at what I want to hit and then let the shot go, I get a bullseye nearly every time - and when I don't, it's almost always because I let the conscious mind get in the way.

This type of thing applies to other things as well. I just got back from my annual nine-day writing science fiction writing workshop in Manchester, NH. The topic of the subconscious came up there, and writers also get "In the Zone" where they are almost mindlessly writing. One of the writers was a musician and pointed out that it's the same thing in music - a concert pianist doesn't consciously play complex pieces; they train at it until it comes subconsciously. For me, I've developed the nasty habit that either a Mountain Dew or Dr. Pepper gets me in science fiction writing mode, and so I drink too many soft drinks. (Mr. Pibb and Mello Yellow are also good!)

I also have this long-term thinking "crutch" - anyone who's been around me a lot may have noticed that when I have to think about something very hard, I always pick up a pen. It's just a habit I picked up way back in college, and it cues the subconscious brain to go into high gear. In fact, when I'm brainstorming for ideas in both my table tennis and science fiction writing, I often pace back and forth in my office, pen in hand - and it invariably works!

So how does any of this apply to you? Develop your own habits that "cue" the subconscious, both for table tennis and other activities. It's called mental rehearsal. If you do it regularly, you'll train your subconscious to react from these cues. (Here are links to articles and books on Sports Psychology.)

How I Spent My Vacation
I had a great two weeks vacation! Here's a rundown:

  • Attended the Readercon Science Fiction Convention in Boston.
  • Did sightseeing in Boston for four days. Did the Freedom Trail, and visited the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library, Museum of Science, Museum of Fine Arts, USS Constitution and Bunker Hill, Boston Tea Party Ships and Museum, Bunker Hill Monument, Boston Commons, Franklin Park Zoo, New England Aquarium, and Revere Beach (but the water was too cold, even in summer, so I just walked the beach). 
  • Spent nine days at "The Never-Ending Odyssey," my annual science fiction writing workshop vacation. Three of my stories were critiqued, we attended classes every afternoon, did readings, and of course wrote! 

I've been away for three weeks, so rather than link repetitively to every news item I find of interest, why not browse over these?

7 Benefits of Table Tennis
Here's the chart. (Here's the non-Facebook version.) Perhaps put it up at your club's website?

New from Tom Lodziak

New from Eli Baraty

New from Samson Dubina

New from Coach Jon

Ultimate Table Tennis League
Here's the article by EmRatThich.

History of USATT - Volume 23 - Chapter 1
Here is Chapter 1 of Tim Boggan's History of U.S. Table Tennis, subtitled "1997 U.S. Open - Part 1." Or you can buy it and previous (and future) volumes at www.timboggantabletennis.com. Volume 23 is 491 pages with 1841 graphics, and covers all the wild things that happened in 1997-1999 - and I'm mentioned a lot! Why not buy a copy - or the entire set at a discount? Tim sells them directly, so when you order them, you get it autographed - order your copy now!

The Un-Returnable Serve by Patrick Franziska!
Here's the video (10 sec). Could this revolutionize the sport or force rule changes? I can do "come-back" serves somewhat consistently, and occasionally have done one like the one in the video, where it barely crosses the net before bouncing back. But I wonder if anyone could learn to do it this short with any consistency. (I know some players have tried - including me!)

Milpitas Table Tennis Star Gears Up for Tokyo Olympics
Here's the article and video (2:11) featuring Kanak Jha.

Sharon Alguetti Multiball Training in China 2019
Here's the video (5:23).

A Little Multiball
Here's the video (16 sec) - at that age moving like that is fun!

She’s 14, Disabled From a Bomb Blast and One of Iraq’s Top Table Tennis Players
Here's the article from the New York Times.

I Am Michiel
Here's the video (8:18), "a film about a boy who wants to become a professional table tennis player."

Golden Tate Attempts Table Tennis Against an Olympian
Here's the video (11:18) from Yahoo. He gets schooled by Wei Wang. (He's a wide receiver for the New York Giants football team.)

Corey Coleman takes on the B/R Ping Pong Challenge
Here's the video (34:17) "Watch as host Adam Lefkoe takes on Cleveland Browns rookie WR Corey Coleman in a whacky ping pong challenge." Various rules/rackets that come up include "One-Eyed Pirate," "Incredible Hulk Hands," Thor's Hammer," and "Giant Badminton Racquet."

Whaaaaat - Table Tennis in a Tree!
Here's the video (1:52). "Tree TT is very dangerous and should only be played by true TT stunt professionals who know what they are doing!!!"

Z Pong
Here's the video (2 min)!

Twenty-Foot Paddle Toss Serve
Here's the video (16 sec)!

Funny Fake Hole Ping-Pong Paddle
Here's where you can buy one from Zazzle!

Area 51 Two-handed Alien Pong
Here's the picture! (Here's the non-Facebook version.)  

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