I have decided to enter my first veteran’s tournament – the Southern Masters in Crawley on 5-6 February. This is a tournament for players aged 40+. Do I have any chance of success? Not really. There are some very good players who have entered, much better than me, so to make it past the group stages will be a big achievement.
But I am hugely excited. This is a new challenge for me. I have found it hard to get motivated to play local league matches this season – which is partly reflected in my poor form – 2 wins and 7 losses. But with the veteran’s tournament less than a month away I am eager to get on the table and play lots of table tennis.
Being a very minor table tennis YouTube personality does add a little extra pressure. Many players in the table tennis community have heard of me because of the videos I make. So they may be either very disappointed by my skill level, having thought I was a top player. Or if they have watched many of my videos where I get battered by better players, I may actually be a little better than they expected. But I am assured the veterans events are very social and off the table players like to have a chat, so I look forward to meeting lots of fellow table tennis fanatics.
The tournament has focused my mind on my playing style. Over the past two years, I have been experimenting with a more controlled playing style – trying to use my pushes and blocks to force errors and then attacking any weak balls. My reason for using this playing style is because I limited time to develop my attacking game. I spend so much time coaching, where I am often pushing and blocking to feed the other player – I thought I could make this a main feature of my game. Push. Block. Counter attack.
And against weaker players it works really well. I can control the game and win quite easily, without breaking sweat. And it feels good. I feel a sense of smug superiority when I can win without having to exert myself too much. The other player puts in all the effort and I just casually manoeuvre them around the table until they make an error.
Sadly, this playing style has a limit. Against stronger players, it’s just not effective. Once a stronger attacker gets into a rhythm, he can very easily overpower me and spin / smash me off the table. Now I feel anything but smug! It’s more a sense of powerlessness. I can’t do anything to stem the relentless attacks of the other player. It’s quite a depressing feeling. And this playing style has no chance of success against the stronger players in the veteran’s tournament.
So my focus has returned once more to developing my attacking game – my flicks, my loops, my third ball attacks and my counter topspins. In particular, I am really trying to improve my backhand attack – getting more speed and spin and developing it into a strength, rather than just a safe shot.
My attacking game feels wildly inconsistent at times, but at least I have clarity in my mind about what I am trying to achieve. So at the tournament, I am going to unleash my attacking shots. If I find a relaxed attacking rhythm I might do OK. If I get a little tight, then the mistakes will flow. Either way, at least I can leave knowing I tried to play my attacking game. That’s the plan anyway! I’ll post an update on how I got on in February.
The other aspect of my game I’m trying to develop at the moment is my stance and footwork. With my stance I’m trying to stay lower, which is not something I find easy. Even when I start a rally in a lower stance, I usually end up upright after a couple of shots. Occasionally I manage to start low and stay low throughout a rally and it feels really good. I play much better. So I know what it feels like and the benefits it brings. I just need to make it a habit.
With my footwork, my goal at the moment is to stay on the front of my feet and be in constant motion. The idea here being that I am never planted to the floor, stuck on my heels. This does require a little too much conscious thought at the moment and it is far more tiring. But once again I can really feel the benefits. I move to the ball quicker, my technique seems to be better and I am more likely to attack and not block.
One unexpected improvement to my footwork seems to be playing an hour of 5-a-side football once per week. I started this in October. After the first game, my legs ached in places I didn’t know existed. But after a few weeks, my legs have adapted and my recovery is much, much quicker.
There are lots of short quick movements in 5-a-side football and I think it is these movements which are bringing a little more energy to my legs. When playing table tennis, my legs feel stronger and my movement is lighter and quicker.
Of course, the risk of injury in 5-a-side football for a man in his forties is quite high. I have to be careful not to overdo it. And I did break a couple of ribs in early December. I collided with a team-mate. We both fell over and the other team scored. A bit of a disaster! My ribs seem OK now. No major pain, just aching from time to time. But I plan to keep playing football, as it’s immensely enjoyable and it seems to be benefiting my table tennis too.
And finally, I will be organising another training camp to be held in Cambridge in the first week of August. I’m just finalising the programme and will publish details in February. In the meantime, if you want another training camp to attend, I recommend the Bryant and Gertsen training camp in St Neots in February.