Sports Sociology

Ask the coachCategory: MindsetSports Sociology
Johnny asked 1 month ago

Hello Tom.
I organise a tournament once a month and play people I play regularly but when its a tournament I seem to get terribly nervous. I feel like I am wearing boots made out of concrete and have that nervous feeling in my stomach. I lose to players that I beat 80% of the time and even struggle against players who I have never lost too. Any advice? I then played the tournament winner in a friendly game at the end and beat him. I seem to thrive on being the under dog and can raise my game for that.
The work tournaments are for fun and morale so if someone has an illegal paddle its OK. But I do have a question about this. Someone used a bat which looked like it had almost no rubber on it all. It looked more like a sand paper ping pong bat than a table tennis bat. I thought it would go against him but everyone else thought it gave him a advantage. He still seemed to get lots of spin and seemed to counter opponents soon no problem.
Also at work the other players like to play up to 21, do you think that this will be detrimental to when I then play league games up to 11?

1 Answers
Tom Lodziak Staff answered 1 month ago

Firstly – great commitment from you to organise a monthly tournament. There are three questions you have asked, so I’ll answer in order…

1. Weaker players

It sounds as though your nerves are having a negative impact on your performance. Being nervous when playing a table tennis match is entirely normal. We all get nervous to some extent. I have often found that playing a weaker opponent makes me more nervous, as there is more expectation for me to win. So I can relate to your issue.

For me, I really had to change my mindset. I had to stop worrying whether I would win or lose (and what others would think) and instead focus my energies on the process of playing – serving well, moving well and using my attacking shots rather than playing too passively.

Try changing your goal for each match. Instead of your goal being the outcome, i.e. to win, make your goal the process, i.e. to perform well. It’s a subtle but very important difference. When you focus on winning, you are more likely to get nervous. When you focus on the process of playing, it should be easier to control your nerves, and as a result play much better. And of course you are far more likely to win.

Here are three related articles where I explore this idea in more details…

How to deal with nerves in table tennis matches

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

How to approach (and win) matches against weaker opponents

2. Sandpaper bat

There are pros and cons to using a sandpaper bat. This player may have an advantage, as others are simply not used to playing against a sandpaper bat and misread the spin (or lack of spin). So this player has the surprise factor in his favour.

However, the disadvantage with a sandpaper bat is that he is more limited in how much spin he can generate. So once you have worked out how to play against a sandpaper bat, he has less options to change his game.

Just treat it as a great opportunity to play against a different style of opponent.

3. Matches up to 21

No, I don’t think it will be very detrimental playing games up to 21. The biggest tactical difference is only having two serves instead of five. But you soon get used to that when you switch to games up to 11. The most important thing is to keep playing regularly and developing your skills. Your playing ability will adapt to any scoring format.