Wow, the table tennis culture in Belgium is so different.
Playing table tennis in the Belgium League
Nearly 20 years ago I played in Belgium at a club called Soka. The club had plenty of teams ranging from lower divisions through to the top division ‘Super Liga’. The Belgique super league has been famous for many years attracting lots of superstar table tennis players. Players include Samsanov, Primorac, JM Saive and many others. Moving forward in time I was back playing in Belgium, for a different club and here are some lessons and experiences which may interest you.
I have competed seldom over the past 7 years and most of the time it has been local competition. The play included once or twice a year to help friends and students at SBL but most know my focus is on coaching these days. Yet this felt like a mini-renaissance, I was asked to compete on behalf of another club as a player. This was no favour nor was it to help my teams out, it was me providing my skills as a player to a club.
It was a weird and honourable feeling to for me. My head was giving excuses as to why I may lose and why I should not compete! I entered the hall and began watching my opposition knock up, again I questioned my ability to be there and could I beat these guys?
Our brains implode with information through a new experience and this was exactly how I felt especially when I was told before the match “this is an important match”. Luckily for me, my first match was against a defensive player. This gave me immediate confidence, I’ve always believed to be good against defensive players and I used the confidence to win that match 3-1. Two matches are played simultaneously and I glimpsed across on occasion eyeing up my next opponent blasting balls. Again my mind started began procrastinating saying all sorts of things like it’s OK you’ve won be happy.
As you can see our minds like to make us feel secure by giving excuses or looking for ways to protect us. I managed to win all 4 of my matches. My confidence by the 3rd and 4th match was at a massive high and I was able to execute my match play as if I was in the practice hall.
How and why was I able to turn my initial doubts into confidence and winning convincingly?
I purposely put pressure on myself, by posting on social media that I’m competing. I knew this would provide me a sense of external pressure and build my internal pressure. I wanted to put myself in a position where I felt uncomfortable and see if I could find a way to overcome it.
Admittedly I was very nervous the first match. All eyes on me from 90% of the club members and players, the club has paid for me to come and perform and I was told by the president that this match is important prior to the event.
So… how did I manage to control the pressure, something many fail (including myself) to handle or control?
The first game
My opponent struggled with my serve and I ran away winning 11-3, this is one of the reasons I always bang on about the importance of having good serves. Second game it all changed he was able to return my serves and began to put all the balls back on the table, furthermore I lost focus looking at my next opponent and I lost 11-9.
My mind began to get scrambled again “what if you lose this game? You’ll be 2-1 down and it will be hard to come back, then you may lose the other games!”. And you said, “you’re good against chop!!!” It was time to put my teachings into practice and often a good start can lead to a good ending.
Finding a way
My mantra is finding a way, I quickly changed those thoughts to
1. Focus on the moment
2. How can you win tactically
3. Lowering my pulse rate by focusing on my breath.
This allowed me to ignore all the variables and hone in on my skill and what I can do to win. I found some new tactics and slowly drew away point by point. The possible outcomes and negative thoughts disappeared and I was in the zone. I believe I won the next two games under 5.
Table Tennis Characters
I wrote a blog 2 weeks ago about how a character is required in our sport. Well, character in Belgium is in huge abundance which explains why they get people to come and watch plus support the sport. My second match was against the player I was viewing while I played my first match. You had to be there to believe it!
FIRST POINT – I won, (via my serve) this young man was effing and blinding for about 30 seconds.
SECOND POINT – I won, (third ball attack) my opponent goes mental at himself with verbal abuse and physically he goes to kick the table skimming it (luckily for him). Lots of verbal diarrhoea both out loud and under his breath, nothing aimed at me in fact as he prepares to play the next point, he says well played (LOL). The other amazing thing I noticed was how the umpire says nothing at all of this physical and metal outcry.
The THIRD POINT – he misses a shot and that was it he literally gave up. I tried to stay focused because sometimes this kind of giving up attitude allows a player to play freely and occasionally even better than their normal play. Furthermore by staying focused it employs that you are not taking them lightly regardless of their state and reinforces their (giving up attitude) making it virtually impossible for them to win. Even though I tried to maintain focus in game 2 he regrouped swinging left right and centre taking that game off me 11-7. My corner told me to go to his forehand when attacking. I knew it was important to get a good start and hopefully get him to lose his cool again. I did just that and he began playing as if he had lost the match and I just focused on winning one point at a time. Tactically I decided to go to his cross over which seemed to work better than going to his forehand side. (Lesson for youngsters) listen to advice but if it doesn’t seem to work or you’re uncomfortable, change tactics accordingly.
The madness continues:
Players often swore between points, lots of outspoken verbal diarrhoea some players drunk beer in between points and I saw one guy snap his bat in half after losing. Yet, with all this drama every player is courteous and polite in so many respects regardless of their outcry. For example, players wished you “Bonne Match” (have a good match) before play commenced, an immediate apology was given if a net or edge occurred. Gestures of well played, sorry and honesty was truly amazing to see. The respect for the player, game and club was beautiful to see such as; If a ball interrupted play players would always ask did the ball disturb you? And if the umpire thought it did not the opponent would correct them and say no by flipping the scoreboard and giving you back the point. Even though there was lots of verbal and physical outcry it was clear to see that was the personal character being expressed and they never I portrayed any animosity towards the other player.
Table tennis culture in Belgium
This was fascinating to me, they have 30 thousand registered players in a very small country. Yet they have produced a world no.1 and many world-class players over the past 30 years. They have a top division professional league where some top players get up to €50k per season.
A very large proportion of the clubs are based in a full-time table tennis hall which has a bar, lounge seating area and its open 7 days a week. They provide for the local community and the community supports them by offering sponsorship. This particular club I was playing for had over 50 different sponsors scattered all around the hall.
Pub – Drink – Play
Effectively the system works like this, there’s a bar open to the public. Players enjoy a drink and socialise with their friends and compete for both, on a social, local, national and even professional level. The local community support the club via multiple local businesses. Often the sponsors are players inside the club and they get multiple benefits via sponsoring the club. Tax benefits, supporting the local community, their company is viewed by internal and external people and they get to have a beer on the house. The beautiful thing was seeing families attend the club to watch dad, mother, brother or sister compete. After the match, both teams sit down for a drink and a meal were discussions about table tennis flows.
Table tennis pub clubs:
Maybe it’s time for us to incorporate a similar structure in England? Lots of pubs are closing down, this gives scope and possibly reviving pubs across England. All that’s needed is pubs that have some land where a hall can be built to accommodate a playing area/facility.
- People attend the pub to play
- Join their friends who play
- Watch TT (entertainment while they have a drink)
- Burn off the beer calories
- Social evening
- Provide for the community and unite the community via a social gathering
For more info about Hayon EBS click here
To see little clips and pictures of the club in action please visit my social media networks (Insta or FB)
Table tennis never ceases to amaze me, the sport can give so much to a person’s livelihood. All we have to do is invest in building a culture that understands and wants to take part.
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Written by Eli Baraty
eBaTT (Eli Baraty Academy of Table Tennis)
Coach Me Table Tennis
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