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

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Mental Strategies - Part 12

Learn How to Become a World Class Player!

Question:            Samson, how can I improve my mental game?
Answer:               Choose a level-headed, world-class player and copy him.
When studying this elite athlete there are several things that you should be looking for.
Attitude During Training
Throughout the training session, the elite athlete is picturing the tournament.  He is picturing who he might be playing against, picturing what strategies he might use, and training to meet his goals.  His mind is focus on training hard for winning.  His mental focus is the same during a training session as it is during an important tournament.  On the flip side, many American players view club night as a social time to just ping around, but then tragically put too much pressure on themselves during competitions. 
Attitude During Warm-Up
When the elite athlete steps up to the table for his forehand/backhand warm-up prior to a match, he is confident, consistent, and plays control to get a good feel for the ball, lighting, table, and other playing conditions.  On the flip side, many club players try to swing wildly and even get very frustrated when they can’t properly execute 5-6 consecutive forehands.
Attitude Between Points
The elite athlete isn’t rushed.  He takes plenty of time between points to focus.  He also keeps his eyes in the court.  He isn’t looking at the spectators or seeing if a photographer is zoomed in for a cover photo.  Even if he is nervous, he won’t show it.  Before each point, he goes through his “think circle” and completes his pre-point routine.  On the flip side, many club players are too rushed between points and unable to think clearly point-by-point.  They are also easily distracted by other matches, tournament announcements, coaches, spectators, photographers, their opponent, and many other things.
Reaction to Points Won
If the elite athlete wins a point, he sometimes expresses it outwardly, sometimes expresses it inwardly.  He remembers what he did right and tries to repeat a similar strategy throughout the match.   If a club player wins an awesome point, he sometimes celebrates so much that he isn’t focused for the next point.  Sometimes when a club player wins a point, he is still too critical saying, “Bob, what are you thinking!  Use your backhand?  …or…  Bob, why can’t you be more aggressive?”  Sometimes club members are even critical or insulting toward their opponents, “Bob, you should be playing like this every point!  This guy is easy!”
Reaction to Points Lost
When the elite athlete loses a point, he tries to contain his emotions.  If he happens to lose control of his emotions, he will step away from the table, calm himself down, refocus, say something positive to himself and then come back very focused for the next point.  Even if he feels like hitting the table or breaking a barrier, he tries to contain himself because he realizes that any outward emotion will boost his opponent’s confidence and ruin his own confidence.  On the flip side, many club players are so negative that they lose multiple points in-a-row based on frustration from a previous point.  In table tennis, there are many runs in points; one player will often score 3-4 points then the other player will often score 3-4 points.  By minimizing the frustration and focusing on strategy, you should be able to minimize your opponent’s runs.
Attitude Between Games
When an elite athlete wins or loses the first game, he remains composed.  He isn’t celebrating his win or grieving his loss.  He keeps everything in perspective – knowing how to correct his flaws and knowing how to capitalize on his winning strategy.   Between games, the club player is often very excited and already begins to calculate his new rating or he is depressed and begins to wonder what people will think about him if he loses.  Instead of focusing on the strategy, the club member mistakenly focuses on the results of the match.
If you want to improve, then you need to start training like an elite athlete.  The best way to begin is by THINKING like an elite athlete.