Coach Samson Dubina US National Team Coach 4x USATT Coach of the Year

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Mental vs Physical


At the world class level, is table tennis more mental or physical?
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At the world class level, is table tennis more mental or physical?   This question has been asked many many times, and today I would like to briefly give you a few things to think about.  (Even though I’m only listing three basic aspects of each, there are actually dozens of mental and physical aspects.  I’m just listing three to give you a short sample).
Mental Aspects

  • Shot Selection – being table to quickly read the incoming ball and choose within 0.5 seconds which shot to hit and when to hit it – flip vs push, loop to the middle vs loop to the wide forehand, backhand block vs backhand counterloop
  • Anticipation – being able to understand based on the type, spin, quality, and placement of your hit the likely ball coming back while being able to stay somewhat neutral and see the body language of the opponent
  • Reaction to a Point Won or Lost – being able to understand the previous point, being able to re-focus on the next point, being able to implement a pre-point-preparation routine specific for that opponent at that time, being able to block out distractions, being able to overcome nerves

Physical Aspect

  • Technique – being able to physically perform the loop, flip, block, push, counterloop, smash
  • Strength – having the strength to generate the correct amount of racket speed to impart the right amount of energy at the right timing with the whole body
  • Flexibility – having the physical ability to move properly with the full range of motion with the wrist, arm, upper body, core, and lower body

So why am I writing this article?
Because most players are very lopsided in their thinking…  focusing ONLY on the mental or ONLY on the physical.  The ones focusing on the mental might say, “Well, I don’t need to work out at the gym or practice, it is only a matter of being mentally tough and pulling out the 9-9 games.  I just have to be mentally tough!”  The ones focusing on the physical might say, “If only I had footwork like Ma Long, I would break 2600 level for sure.  I don’t need to work on reading spinny serves or anticipation or probabilities or watching my opponent or developing a pre-point routine.  I just need to move fast and hit hard!”
You can see that both of these guys have faulty thinking.  So, going back to my original question, is it more mental or physical at the world class level?  I think it is both.  If I had to vote for 1, I would say more mental than physical.