Table tennis may seem like an extremely quick physical sport which it certainly is. However, what you maybe don’t see is the mental side of things. That speed that is clearly visible requires tremendous thinking and mental skills.
In this article, I will teach you everything I know about the mental side of table tennis, how they affect the game, and how to improve. Without a further due, let’s get to it!
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- 1. Customized pre-performance routines
- 2. Always have positive self-talk
- 3. Set specific goals
- 4. Visualize your endgame
- 5. Include eye contact with your opponent
- 6. Turn nervous feelings to your advantage
- 7. Anticipate your opponent
- 8. Use and read body language
- 9. Don’t overthink the game
- 10. Don’t dwell on the past
- 11. Give yourself a break
- My Favorite Table Tennis Equipment
1. Customized pre-performance routines
Before every game, there are certain things that you will do naturally, like eat and sleep, and then there are things that you knowingly do before a match even when you wouldn’t normally do them. Let’s start with the natural things.
You need to figure out exactly how much sleep you will require before each game to maximize your performance. This will take time, and you need to test it; however, you must do so. Sleeping affects everything, and for me personally, 7-8 hours is optimal. If I sleep less than 7 many nights a row, I’m going to be too tired, and if I sleep more, I feel ineffective as well. Try different times out and see the effect.
Another major pre-performance routine you should figure out is what to eat. Eating, like sleeping, will affect everything, so you won’t only need to figure out how much is the optimal amount of food and what foods make your senses heightened and your body energized.
I personally like to drink black coffee in the morning, then 2hours before a game; I like to eat carbohydrates such as potatoes or rice, roasted vegetables, and some fried tofu or tempeh as protein. If you’re more of a meat lover, you should try what foods fit into your optimized routine because we all are different!
After you have figured out eating and sleeping are the most natural things humans must do, you should try some additional pre-performance routines that might help you perform well. For example:
- Specific warmup
- Cold shower and meditation
- Eating your favorite meal
- Wearing your lucky clothes
- Turn up with a specific type of music
- Positive self-talk
These are just a handful of things and your imagination is really the limit here so if there is something that you think would get your mental state to shine, don’t hesitate to try it!
2. Always have positive self-talk
When talking about mental training for table tennis, there really isn’t one more important than positive self-talk, thoughts, and self-image.
Everything you see is affected by your mind, and some people may see things in an entirely different light than you, which is all about thoughts. If you want to be confident, fearless, kind, and better at table tennis, you need to talk positively to yourself because that’s the one you spend the most time with.
This includes positive thoughts before, during, and after your match. Nonetheless, positive self-talk isn’t an easy task, and it will take time to master. However, when you do, much more will improve than just your table tennis performance. There are many things you should keep in mind when you try positive self-talk. Let’s see some of them.
- Stop comparing yourself to others
- Surround yourself with positive and kind people
- Learn how to really believe in yourself
- You shouldn’t fear ”failures” but treat them as lessons
- Visualize your endgame
All of these, among other things, will help you to have positive thoughts and, thus, aiding you to become a better table tennis player.
Finally, a thing that needs more explanation is your physical condition and whether you move outside the table tennis hall. I have personally experienced that being physically active and working out regularly will help me keep positive thoughts about everything, including myself, so that’s certainly something you should do to improve your positive self-talk further.
3. Set specific goals
Goal setting is critical if you want to become mentally more motivated, drastically improving your game. Also, your goals don’t need to be overly complicated, and they can be quite simple. Below you can find example goals to set.
- Certain time of table tennis played in a specific timeframe
- Learning and improving skills such as footwork, strokes, spin, etc
- Achieving a good position in the upcoming tournament
- Increasing your endurance or muscular strength
- Teaching your kid to play table tennis
- Saving enough money for a new racket or table
- Reducing stress in tournaments
These are some great examples of goals you can set for yourself, and I have used multiple of them, such as learning skills, saving enough money for a new racket, and winning or getting a good outcome in a match.
As important goals are, rewarding yourself for achieving them is as important! When you know that there are additional rewards at the end of your efforts, you are much more motivated to strive towards them. For example, you can go for a nice dinner, buy yourself something you have always wanted, taking deserved time off, or whatever really.
Goals are important so make sure you set some! This will help your mental state.
4. Visualize your endgame
As important goals are, visualizing your whole endgame is as important even when it can seem far-fetched. For example, if you would like to become a professional table tennis player someday but you really can’t believe your could, the first steps are to set goals along the way, but you really need to visualize yourself being that pro table tennis player.
There is an old saying for this, and it goes like this: ”Visualize, and it shall materialize .” It really is closer to the truth than false, even if it can sound odd. There are certain tricks you can do to improve your belief and visualization towards your endgame.
For example, I have a note written on my computer that says ”3 years from (the date I wrote the note) I have succeeded in my business and quitted my job”. I read this aloud every time I start my computer as I’m building a business of my own. As you can see, this doesn’t only apply to table tennis either.
For you that are trying to improve in table tennis, you could write things such as ”6 months from now I have drastically improved on serving” or ”3 months from now I no longer feel exhausted after a full table tennis game”.
5. Include eye contact with your opponent
Everyone knows, some more than others, that staring strangers into the eyes without shortly moving your eyes towards something else is uncomfortable, awkward, and can be intimidating. Depending on the person you are staring of course.
When you walk behind your table tennis table and are about the greet your opponent, it is essential that you keep proper eye contact and don’t remove it before your opponent does. I can’t stress that enough because eye contact will give you confidence, a good look, and an understanding of your opponent’s confidence, and it will show dominance as well.
Eye contact has been used to demonstrate dominance for as long as humans have existed, and it means the same now as ever. Staring deep into your opponent’s eyes doesn’t mean that you’re mean or don’t like the opponent; it just shows that you are ready to play!
Try this next time you are playing against someone and give them something to think about your confidence.
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6. Turn nervous feelings to your advantage
Everyone, especially new table tennis players, is nervous, to say the least, before a match against an opponent, and that is only natural. However, too much nervousness and anxiety could ruin your performance, so you need to learn how to work with it.
The first step to taking advantage of nervousness is to accept that you have it. Don’t try to convince yourself that you’re not nervous because if you weren’t, you wouldn’t need to repeat that to yourself.
Remember, when you’re nervous doesn’t mean that you’re afraid or in danger by any means; it means that you’re out of your comfort zone or in a new place. Change your thoughts regarding nervous feelings and stop thinking that they are something negative. That’s the second step.
The final step on taking advantage of your nervous feelings is to well… take advantage of it. Now that you have acknowledged that you have them and understood that nervous feelings aren’t bad, you can harness them to your match.
Before knowing these things, you were probably too focused on the ”negative nervous feelings” that took focus and energy of what is actually happening, so now you can use that extra focus and energy to your strikes, defense, and movement behind the table tennis table!
7. Anticipate your opponent
Table tennis is a mental game the same as it is a physical one and if you want to really maximize your recovery rate on your opponent’s strikes, you need to learn how to anticipate.
It’s hard to explain, but after a while, you will gain a new sense where you can anticipate many of your opponent’s moves, not all of course but enough that it feels like a superpower.
You can anticipate your opponent’s moves by really playing a lot of table tennis, so you have enough experience to know how things usually go. Also, by looking at the opponent’s racket, arm, and footing, you can make a calculated guess of what will happen next.
Anticipating your opponent’s moves accurately will give you more time to prepare your own stance and stroke so you can go all in and shine with your skills.
8. Use and read body language
Reading body language is definitely connected to anticipation; however, it is a more reliable way of getting a second ahead of the game than a feeling.
By reading body language, you can already prepare yourself for strikes and spins that will come your way. There are many ways to read body language, such as
- Observe the head’s movement
- Look at the eyes
- Pay attention to the feet
- Look at the core, shoulder, and arm
All of this can and will give you a great idea of your opponent, and if you’re lucky, you can see some patterns and use them to your advantage.
Also, you can use body language yourself to deceive and trick your opponent into believing that you are striking into direction A whether you will strike to B. This takes practice, but looking at the other corner while striking to the other will confuse your opponent. You can use the other body language signs to trick the opponent as well. However, remember that you can be tricked as well!
9. Don’t overthink the game
Overthinking in too big quantities can lead to a decrease in your performance. You should try to focus only on the ball and stop overthinking; however, we all know that that’s easier said than done.
There are many mental things that table tennis players use to reduce overthinking, especially in tricky situations. For example, when the game is 10-10, you should think that it is 5-5 or try to forget the score altogether. Just focus on the single ball. Also, when you find yourself overthinking during a ball, slow down the pace, take a few deep breaths, and regain your focus.
Overthinking is often the result of nervous thoughts, and as we previously went through, you should stop viewing all things that you are thinking as negative, then your overthinking will be reduced.
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10. Don’t dwell on the past
Regardless of your various table tennis skills, you will lose some matches in your table tennis career, and that is okay. Believe me; I know how bad it feels to lose a highly anticipated match where you poured your time, energy, and soul into and still lose. However, there are no failures, but only lessons, and you will be wiser after each one.
Every second you dwell on the past is one that you are taking away from improving your table tennis skills, training your muscles needed in table tennis, and everything between. Move forward and go proudly towards new challenges, whether you win or lose. Remember, winning isn’t everything, even if it’s the biggest cliche in the world.
11. Give yourself a break
Last but not least, give yourself a break. Seriously. You’re only a human and you need rest as the next one and you should reward yourself after a period of hard work by going away for the weekend, taking a week off just to relax, or by doing whatever it is you’re comfortable doing. The important thing is to take a break.
Also, you shouldn’t take things too seriously. Don’t get me wrong, you should be serious about your goals and try all your best to make them happen, but it’s different from being obsessed in an unhealthy way.
One book that changed my life is The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*** by Mark Manson. It explains that not everything in life needs to be taken so seriously, and it also breaks some stereotypes about life in general. I highly recommend reading it if you find yourself overthinking and obsessing about things like I once was.
My Favorite Table Tennis Equipment
Thanks for reading this article. I hope it brought you great value that you can implement into your own life! Here you can find my preferred table tennis equipment that I believe you could benefit too!
- Racket: My favorite racket choice is the beautiful Killerspin Jet800 because it fits my offensive and speed-focused playstyle. The two carbon layers, 2.1mm sponge, and 190g weight makes this racket powerful.
- Ping Pong Balls: New technology and design have made the JOOLA Flash Seamless 3-Star Balls stand out from the other balls. These balls are seamless, meaning they are more durable than any ball with a seam! Even when these balls come at a higher price, they will pay themselves quickly. As a bonus, the design makes me excited!
- Table Tennis shoes: The famous Butterfly Lezoline Rifones is my choice as it is for many others because they are designed specifically for table tennis standards. I like the excellent support, comfortable cushioning, and lightweight sole with great traction, which gets you exploding fast to whatever direction you need to.
- Fan Equipment: If you’re a fan more than a player, you don’t want to miss Fan Equipment by Fanatics. You can find items from various sports that bear your favorite team’s logo, such as jerseys, gift ideas, or other surprising things.
All in all, there is a lot to learn in table tennis on the mental side, and it will take a lot of practice, but in the end, it will be so worth it. Remember that most things in life, also learning table tennis, has a compound effect on them, so when you train a lot and don’t necessarily see immediate improvement, it’s there, and you will quickly notice it.
I hope that this article gave you a lot of value and tips to implement in your own life and table tennis games from now on. Keep practicing!