How important is table tennis match play?
It’s a hard question to answer, some can perform naturally under pressure and other need to experience pressured situations consistently.
I played Senior British League once again this weekend and it was my second occasion this season. Unfortunately, my coaching schedule has moved up a level in terms of commitment and I have limited time to focus on my personal game. Furthermore, I struggle to keep my past fitness routines and this has ham-poured my fitness level and my speed has slightly diminished. In the past, I was able to coach alongside some match play with my former Harefield Students. But it’s been 9 months’ since I left and my game has deteriorated a lot more than I had expected.
Receive of serve, my serve is weaker and I struggled to control it in terms of placement, height, length, and speed. My recovery was poor and my ability to reach wide balls was at an all-time low. My level of play was poor and at times I felt embarrassed especially when losing all 4 of my matches, 3-0 and 3-1. I was unable to execute my shots and struggled with anyone who was quick (speed) or had the ability to keep the ball on the table (consistency).
While I was disappointed in my performance I had come to terms with reality, I have not trained properly for nearly 7 years and played less than a handful of national events over the past 6 years. It became clear to me; repetition, consistency and regular involvement in anything allows one to perform at a higher success rate.
Being a part of a system but not competing!
If you train every week, three times a week but only play one major event a year, you have many things that work against you.
1. Unfamiliar territory:
You enter a domain which your body knows the drills and what to do but your mind goes into overdrive and it does not allow you to produce what you practice. The only way to enable your mind and body to work together is by putting yourself in that unfamiliar place constantly until it becomes familiar, allowing you to perform your skills at will.
In the practice hall your ability to express yourself without fear of; being judged or knowing if you don’t perform there are certain negative outcomes such as: out of the event, others saying you played bad, you put yourself under pressure to beat someone you feel you’re better than or possibly beat in practice.
When you train you’re inside your comfort zone which enables you to express yourself at will. There is the value of self-fulfilment and personal development but nothing more. At National or International events, there are many added values; beating players higher ranked, reaching far in the event or winning it. Potential sponsorship deals, prize money, news articles with your name in it and video publications etc. Subconsciously all these factors play a role in your mind which subsequently influence your overall performance.
It became very clear to me if I wanted to play top flight table tennis once again, there is no other way around it but to play competitively on a regular basis.
I recently saw an interview with Timo Boll, he was asked how come you are playing so well? Timo replied, I trained for many years and at around age 30 I began to reduce my training schedule. This allows me to spend a little more time with my family and give my body a chance to recover. I had a decline in performance but that’s also due to injuries and once they healed I was able to compete again. I feel my performance escalated because I was mainly competing rather than training. and tournaments became my training.
Should you play only tournaments and not train or practice?
The Answer is a categorical NO! Timo hardly trains now and mainly plays tournaments that’s true. But at the tournaments, he does have a training session in preparation for the event. He has also can tap into his huge memory bank of past training (around 25 years). Timo can play tournaments and is able to sustain his high level of play because of these factors. As for us “normal people” we still need to train to keep our game brains sharp and enable us to compete successfully when we compete.
When I take my players to their first national event which is often small. They can develop a sense of what’s required alongside a more relaxed environment. As soon as they are taken to a larger scale event, everything changes; their view of the game (the realisation that the game is played on a much higher scale than they originally perceived. It takes between 1 or 2 seasons to become accustomed to the new environment and then they start to flourish.
Most good table tennis players have the capability to produce wonderfully executed shots but when it’s in an environment unfamiliar to them are they able to cope?
I believe not! unless they have experience and experience comes with time and exposure.
To enable yourself you must commit to the cause and positive results will eventually come.
Written by Eli Baraty
eBaTT (Eli Baraty Academy of Table Tennis)
Coach Me Table Tennis
FB: Eli Baraty