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

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Written by Ricky Vesel

Despite its reputation as a leisurely game, at the competitive level table tennis brings out some potent extremes of emotion.  And I hate to say it, but it'd be silly to deny that I've earned a reputation as one of the fairly "hot-headed" players in the Ohio region.  I've been approached about my use of language one time (oops), and have overheard other players scolding my emotional outbursts, or learned about their bemused reactions through the grapevine.  To know more about the tale of my wrath one need only look at my poor paddles, several of which have met their end in momentary fits of fury during practice.  And with that I'm reminded of one of my favorite YouTube videos, about players getting angry:
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If nothing else I'd like to take this opportunity to say in public, if there was any doubt, that I'm very aware of my temper problems, and many a night do I drive home in silence, reflecting upon my words and deeds with distaste. However, it's simply a part of my personality that I have no choice but to grapple with. The silver lining, if there is one to be had, is that in some of my lowest moments I have had some of the strongest insights into why the game can be so emotional.  I've also developed some strategies to help mitigate the rage factor, and while I'm by no means 100% successful, I seem to have reduced the peaks and valleys, as well as the duration of low spots.  And hey, my current paddle is going on two years strong, and given my record that indicates some improvement!
When it comes to attitude, there are several elements that I've found form the recipe for a volatile and unhealthy mindset.  The first is forgetting that both you and your opponent are more than just table tennis players.  If winning or losing at table tennis is the most important thing in your life, you have a problem.  I personally believe this applies to world-class professionals just as much as it does to club-bums in America.  Everyone goes home and becomes involved in other concerns, whether it is family, business, inventing or learning; there is just a lot more going on in life than can or should be encapsulated in a game of smacking the ball around.
Something that helps me with this is to spend more time thinking about what my opponent does in his or her outside life.  What kind of education, job and interests do they have?  What is their family like?  Too often I unwittingly slip a mode where I think of the opponent as "the enemy."  Once the brain has declared someone an enemy, it's scary how clouded and distorted our thoughts become.  Personally, I start feeling angry at my competitor for simply playing how they play, and assigning quirks and uniquenesses in their game to negative aspects of their personality.  It's scary, and it's part of human psychology.  Keeping a bigger perspective helps avoid this pitfall.
Another roadblock is conceptualizing of yourself as a victim.  Once my attitude starts sliding down the slippery slope, it quickly becomes a matter of continously asking "why?".  Why can't I make such a simple shot?  Why does the ball have to tick off the net every other point?  Why can't they hit where I expect it for a change?  There's not much to say about this other than it's no fun for anyone.  Complaining about bad luck is the purest form of this mistake.  In table tennis, noone has exceptionally bad luck, only a poor understanding of probability.  Anyone that would like to challenge this theory, videotape 50 matches and count the netballs for and against.  Is it outside the statistical bounds expected?  Of course it isn't.  Do good/bad streaks occur?  Of course they do!
The last negative attitude factor I'll talk about in this article is arrogance, and I really won't give arrogance its due.  Because what it all really boils down to is arrogance: the idea that WE are the bomb and if we aren't winning every remotely winnable match we play, something is wrong in the world!  Combine this with the delicate ego that arrogance produces, and the defense mechanisms we administer to lessen the impact of our losses become truly extraodinary.
When you combine these three contributing factors to negativity together, you basically get a player who thinks they're some kind of amazing hotshot, who feels that winning this match is the most important thing in the world, and who absolutely cannot believe how horrible they are and what bad luck they're getting on top of it!  And there you have an eerily accurate description of my table tennis attitude a lot of the time.  For those of you blessed with an even temperment, feel free to enjoy a chuckle at my expense.  On the other hand, I can think of more than a few players who exhibit some pretty similar behavior.  Keep working on it!  And keep that overhead perspective alive.  Last of all, remember, if I call you out for having a bad attitude, that's saying something...
Written by Ricky Vesel