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

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Middle-Aged TT Training

By Coach Joe Ciarrochi

Middle-Aged TT Training
By Joe Ciarrochi
We all know TT is widely played by a variety of people both young and old at many different levels. Most use the game as a fun activity while hanging with friends and family.
Many who've played consistently have most likely visited a club near them at one time or another where they found friendly competition as well as challenging matches.
Then there's the tournament player. What is good about tournaments is that the player competes at his own skill level.
As long as you're committed to yourself and the sport, then tournaments are for you. But it's at this level that it's easy to see that, like in most sports, youth has a big advantage. 
So, what if you took the game up latter in life...  then find out you love it and want to get serious? Luckily it's easier then running up and down a basketball court. Or chasing a tennis ball around. After all it's only a small table. TT is very easy, comparatively speaking. It seems it's made for the middle aged players.  And how far you want to take it depends on how many obstacles that face you because of your age.
Well it happened to me and I would like to address some of the things I've experienced both good and bad so far in my TT journey after I fell in love with the game and committed myself to getting better. Hopefully it may help you if you too are serious about the sport that can help keep us young.
First, the thrill of getting into something that, at our age, we can actually get better by playing more. It's almost like turning the clock back to our youth.  It's also a great way to get in shape without the monotony of a gym.
Once committed to club play for only a few months, I decided to hire a coach. My reasoning was to go before I developed bad habits. Little did I know that my own age and physical limitations were enough to challenge even the best coaches. 
Soon afterwards, my first tournament was under my belt and I had a rating. This I soon found out, drove my every TT thought. After all, everyone talks about their rating and their whole mood is based on whether it goes up or down. 
This brings me to my first frustration, too worried about ratings! It's true that at our age we won't have a long history as someone who started when they were ten. On one hand, I justify paying for a coach and attending clinics because I only have so much time before my body works even harder against me. But I've learned in four years of playing, that at my age just to be playing something I love at the highest level I can is great!
Ratings take care of themselves. Accept it. Remember, you took the game up late. And even if you developed some great weapons, you still most likely have some holes or weaknesses in your game. I personally find motivation after I dropped points in a tournament. I tell myself that I will be the best rated player at this low rating. Then of course, after a good tournament, I want to defend my rating for as long as I can.
Next. The players I used to beat are now beating me. Why? Am I getting worse or are they getting better? Get used to it. It's true that you can teach an old dog new tricks but it just takes longer. Young kids, for instance, don't have a history of doing it wrong. So a coach can teach them proper mechanics and footwork faster. The young adults have superior athleticism and that can equalize some skill differences. Again, accept it!  It's better to have played and lost then to not have played at all!
To combat this frustration, I pick a player with similar qualities around my age and try to out work them. I also pick a player above me and try to catch them. No matter how much I work at it, some kid in California is going to be working harder. Stop looking for results because you work hard. At this age, hard work is the reward. 
Another thing to accept at this age is you won't always feel like playing. Your body may not allow it. It's ok to rest. But one big problem,... don't rest at the table.   Play quality not quantity. Some tournaments have you playing one or two matches then sitting for an hour or more. Our bodies need more time to loosen back up. So get up and walk the rust off. Then take the full two minute warm up before resuming. If you only play once or twice a week, that's ok. But remember, have the mental discipline to play with as much enthusiasm as you can. 
Our age and physical limitations are enough of a hindrance to our game. Keep a positive attitude and again the discipline to try to instill the fundamentals in your game. What comes naturally to others may have to be thought out each time we take the table, therefore reducing our mental capabilities during a rally or match. Focus on what you do well and just because we're old doesn't mean we can't work on our weaknesses. Because you never know how long you have playing this awesome sport.
Because the game does not come naturally to me, I use themes or key words to remind myself to stay up on my toes or keep my paddle in front of me. I may write them on my shoes and look at them between each point. We have to find creative ways to make up for our physical and mental  differences of our younger opponents. We may even have to lie to ourselves while using positive affirmations. Such as, "I'm quick, I'm fast, I can get to any ball my opponent hits to me." My point is, if we believe it we may be able to achieve it. Even if you can't get to every ball or move like you want, keep believing that you are fast. You may just get 5% faster but it's better then you were before the affirmation.
It's also frustrating getting stuck on a particular style. For example, you compete well with an attacking style but struggle with a defensive style. It's not fun to always have to pay your dues. But you're only stuck if you want to be. Stop avoiding the junk styles because they don't fit your game. Go out of your way to ask them to play. At our age, there's not enough time to gain the experience naturally. Seek the knowledge and the opportunity to get more familiar with most styles. It helps take the anxiety out by avoiding weaknesses. You actually learn more by failing so hurry up and fail. It makes us better in the long run.
Realistic expectations. I used to think that if I ate right or went to the gym on my days off that I would get better faster! I used to think that if I had a good tournament, I would follow it up with a better one! Not true! I learned to keep my mind open and accept any and all results. Go to the gym because You enjoy being in better shape to play harder and longer. Make better choices at the dinner table because it makes you feel better. 
Finally use common sense. After all we are more mature. See it as a benefit instead of a detriment. For instance, our maturity level tells us that our rating doesn't define us. Enjoy the game. You never know if your next injury is your last! Common sense also helps me to detail simple things such as, being ready to move. How can you expect to move for a ball when your feet are flat on the floor and your legs are locked at the knees? As a bigger guy, I need all the help I can get. Especially from my own body. You never see a sprinter starting a race in the upright position, so get low and ready to move.
I also see many middle aged adults only working on their games at clubs. They're serious about getting better, and they show up regularly but they must remember, the process is slower if they don't have a coach or attend clinics. Coaches can take you where you can't take yourself. Playing consistently will help you gain experience and that alone will make you better. But combine the details that a coach can offer along with playing consistently with a mature outlook and the game becomes more fun as your skill level improves.
Realize you will never be able to make the olympics, or compete with Samson Dubina, but you can try to be the best you can be. Put yourself in a position to learn as much as you can while you feel good. Have fun while gaining the experience and improving your table tennis.