March 28, 2022 - Pavlovian Response and Table Tennis

In last week's tip I wrote about toweling. In it, I mentioned the Pavlovian Response, also called Classical Conditioning.

It's not just towel breaks. You should develop the same routines before matches, and before every point, both serve and receive. If you do so, you'll develop that Pavlovian response that prepares you for the match or point.

Watch the top players in any sport and you'll see they have routines that prepare them for what they are about to do. Perhaps the best example is watching a major league baseball player before he bats. Watch a few of them and you'll see they each have their own routine in both the on deck circle before batting, and before every pitch. It's not only a physical preparation, it's a Pavlovian preparation that prepares their subconscious.

There are many routines. Watch the top players, especially when they are about to serve, and you'll see theirs. The most common one is bouncing the ball on the table.

Here are my routines. Before a match, I jump up and down a few times to physically and mentally prepare myself. Then I stare off at something in the distance for ten seconds to clear my mind, and I'm ready. (Many top players play music before a match to prepare - some have the same music each time. I remember when a number of players used to prepare by listening to Rocky music!)

When serving (usually my forehand pendulum serve), I always start by pulling up my playing arm sleeve with my non-playing hand; then I put my non-playing hand with the ball just behind the table; then I bounce the ball on the table a few times; then, most importantly for me, I swing my playing arm back and then forward one time. This prepares me for the serve; if I skip any of this, everything seems off. But as long as I follow the routine, I'm in the zone whenever I serve.

For receiving, I always start two steps back, with my non-playing arm up to let the server know I'm not ready. I lower my head; then I raise it, and step forward to the table into my ready position. I wait about one second and then lower my arm, and I'm mentally ready to receive.

What's your Pavlovian Preparation?