Being nervous about winning a close game

Ask the coachCategory: MindsetBeing nervous about winning a close game
Al asked 3 years ago

Hey, I realized that when I am playing against someone who has about the “same skill level” and it is a close game, or I am about to win against someone who is at a higher skill level and I am about to win, I get nervous & excited and thinking “I could win” and this makes me lose my focus and I often end up losing the game. What do you think is a good approach for playing a game against someone who is a bit better then you. Or is there a good approach how to deal with this feelings in close games (which are more than: “you just have to focus and give your best”)

1 Answers
Tom Lodziak Staff answered 3 years ago

I can sympathise with this problem. Getting a little nervous when a game is close or when you have a chance to beat a better player is very common. It has happened to me many, many times in the past.

How do we overcome this?

My approach is to focus on the “process of playing” – and not the outcome of the match. So instead of approaching a match with thoughts of whether I will win or lose, I focus instead on how I will play, e.g. my service strategy, tactics, trying to use my strengths against my opponent’s weaknesses. I treat my opponent as a ‘puzzle’, which I am trying to solve.

I also judge my performance – not by whether I win or lose but how well I play. This means I could win a match but be dissatisfied with how I played. Or I could lose but be very happy with how I played. Ideally I will win and play well. Then I am very happy. But the key point is to place higher value on your performance rather than the result. When you do this, you should find that you get less nervous/excited at key stages of a close match.

Another technique I use is mental rehearsal. To help me zone in on the process of playing, I will often pause before a point starts (especially if I am serving) and visualise the serve, recovery and third ball. Again this is another way to maintain focus and forget about the score and winning / losing.

Here are two articles I have written, which explore these ideas in more detail and may help you:

How to deal with nerves in table tennis matches

Using mental rehearsal to reduce nerves and boost performance in table tennis