Keeping calm during a match

Table Tennis Mental Preparation

Last updated 6 years ago

William Song

William Song Asked 7 years ago

I've seen many videos on this topic, but when I try the tactics in them, I just can't calm down. I don't know why I get anxious or flustered, so please tell me what the general root cause is. Also, if possible, give some tips on how to not get angry even when you're up. I seem to have this tendency to get angry when I'm up 2-0 in a match. Your help would be greatly appreciated. Thanks


Alois Rosario

Alois Rosario Answered 7 years ago

Hi William,

The root cause of the anxiety can be different for each person.

I think in general it when there is too much focus on the result rather than the execution of your ability.  And perhaps when expectations of yourself are too high.

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Dieter Verhofstadt

Dieter Verhofstadt Posted 7 years ago

As always, Supercoach Alois Rosario says it boldly and to the point.

If you allow me to elaborate and for what it's worth:

When we are anxious or angry, we are more occupied by our self esteem, our image and ego than with the game itself. If you love playing table tennis, then it doesn't matter that much if we win or lose. I can observe this with myself when playing a player who's several categories better than me. I want this game to last as long as possible and play my best possible game. It's anyhow extremely unlikely that I'll win, so better make the most of this. Under these conditions I can play very relaxed AND stay focused on the ball, the strokes, the game. No wonder people find they play better against better players.

Conversely, when playing people against whom you can't possibly lose, the game becomes some kind of teaching game and it can also be quite enjoyable. I often experiment with variations, imposing some handicap on myself (always same no spin serve, for example).

It's the tight matches, when winning against players who are just above us or when losing against players who are just below us, that we become anxious or angry. We need to become relaxed and focused but we can't. It's only later that we realized spoiling a good match (even when winning).

Routines can help. Towel breaks after 6 points. Major breaks between sets. Drinks and snacks, even when not too hungry or thirsty. Relaxing between matches in tournaments. Anything that gets the mind off the anxiety of winning or losing. 

Small rituals before serving, without becoming neurotic like Ma Long's table touching. Zhang Jike bounces the ball off his racket. Some people carry a talisman. I've grown a habit of humming a riff in my head, the one from Ma Long's instructional video.

ALL OF THIS CAN BE PRACTICED. Even in games that don't matter, you can do towel breaks and other routines, hum songs or touch your lucky necklace. If we don't practice this in circumstances free of pressure, how to expect that we will suddenly remember our quiescing routines when the going gets tough?

And ... there's no harm in consulting a professional psychologist to get rid of exaggerated anxiety or anger!



Daniel Bibeau

Daniel Bibeau Posted 6 years ago

Very well said, thank you to both Dieter and Alois.  I'm reading through this because today in a smaller warm up tournament for next week I advanced to the knockout rounds and found myself matched up against a very good long pimp chopper that I know well.  Started off horribly but picked it up and we had some good points... with the sets at 2-2 and playing the final game I was winning 9-2 - then I softened up, got tight and seemed to be scared to drive the third ball off his long pimp chop return.... I knew I was done at 9-5... the game in my mind was over and yes I lost 11-9...  Next time I'll have to at least take some kind of towel break 'cause calling a timeout felt weak to me (plus we share the same coach so I don't know....)

I really like the point you made about not thinking about the results of the match but the process and simply trying to enjoy the game and play it as best as you can.  I'll really try to focus on that next time around so I thank you for that simple yet brilliant advice.

Any other suggestions for situations like this would be greatly appreciated.

cheers guys.

Alois Rosario

Alois Rosario from PingSkills Posted 6 years ago

Hi Daniel,

It is all about emotional control in this situation.  Think about the process for the next point each time.  Think about the tactic of where you want to serve or receive the ball and also play during the rally.

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