What’s Your Ideal Mental State?

Saturday, October 9th, 2010

Table Tennis Mental State

Table tennis is a highly physical and athletic sport, but there’s also a mental side that you need to take note of. In my own experience, I’ve seen how different mental states can strongly affect my play.

I’ve found that I play at my best against challenging opponents when I take the role of the the underdog. For whatever reason, this helps me play at my peak.

When I played in the US Open in 2009 in Las Vegas, it was the biggest tournament I had ever played. I entered the U-1900 and U-2050 rated events. With around 250 players in each event, it would be a long journey to the end.

I never expected to have any success in the higher of the two events; the U-2050 was just for fun, and the U-1900 was for business. As I played through each round of the U-2050, my expectations were low. I walked into each match truly believing that I was going to lose. I remember saying in my head, “Okay, here’s the round where I get eliminated. It’s go time.” Then every time I win, I’m genuinely surprised.

I’m sure many people will say this is a horrible mental state to be in, but I truly believe it has worked for me and will work for some of you. However, everybody is different so you may have a different mental state that is best for you, and the underdog mental state may just suck the life out of you.

Here’s why I think it has worked:

  1. It takes the pressure off.
    When I expect to lose, I have no pressure to win, and am able to play my game without feeling bad. Pressure can make me nervous and not able to execute as I normally would. I’m still completely motivated, just not pressured.
  2. It psychs me up.
    Some extra adrenaline seems to pump through my veins during these matches. The thought of taking on a greater opponent has a great effect on me. It keeps me both relaxed and psyched up, if that’s possible.

On the flip side, back at home I played in the Division 2 in our Mississauga League and was somewhere in the top of the rankings in the division. Due to my rank, I entered all of those matches expecting to win, and very disappointed if I didn’t. I had a lot more nervous moments playing against lesser opponents in this league than against my US Open opponents who I’m sure were more skilled than what I was normally playing against.

What’s the moral of the story? Figure out what mental state works for you and try to maintain it. Whatever keeps you more relaxed but motivated is probably going to be a winner.

What’s your ideal mental state?

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One Response to “What’s Your Ideal Mental State?”

  1. Ignarus says:

    I’m not sure I’ve found my ideal mental state, but I’ve found my mind and body to be very much connected, so if there’s close to zero passive muscle tension, I’ve got very little baseline physical distraction, allowing me to focus without working on it.

    Your “underdog” ruminations are interesting to me because you’re not seemingly focusing on the “losing” aspect and subsequent consequences; rather, you’re programming yourself to act as though there are no consequences to anticipate.

    I’d maybe go so far as to relabel your mindstate as the “feisty underdog.” You don’t ACTUALLY expect to lose; you can imagine a possible and realistic world where you win or at least make a decent showing of yourself if you play your best.

    Breaking down your “feisty underdog” persona, you give yourself many advantages. First, you build a mental social construct where you’re competing without fear of losing – no one will think ill of you for losing. You also increase the reward for every point you score because THAT guy shouldn’t be giving up points to you! But you’re not going to get TOO excited by this because you also believe that you CAN win, so it’s not going to overwhelm you when it’s time to close out the match. Finally, this mindset can give you a little bit of “eff you” attitude – you’re not going to go down easy and if you get ahead, you’re going to press every advantage and give him hell until the match is over.

    I once had a match where I was beating a guy until I noticed his forearm wrap, felt bad for him, said a few nice things, and lost my competitive edge. I ended up losing a close match that I honestly had no business losing. Bill Russell used to use the “go easy on the old man” line on young guys back in the day and he’s got more rings than fingers 🙂

    Anyway, I’ve played a lot of beginners/intermediates who have “underdog” mentalities, but I’d separate that from what you describe (and what I infer). Some folks who are truly afraid of losing will try to make it look like they aren’t trying as soon as they get down a bit, subconsciously sabotaging their own games to preserve their self-esteems, or they won’t fight through if I kill on my serves. They actually don’t see a realistic chance of winning – nothing feisty about it.

    Sometimes I feel bad when I’m killing them and let them back into the game, even lose sometimes 🙂

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