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MASTERING THE MENTAL APPROACH TO TOURNAMENT PLAY

(By Brian Pace)
MASTERING THE MENTAL APPROACH TO TOURNAMENT PLAY

With the Cary Cup around the corner and players putting the final touches on their training program, I thought I would take a departure from training tips and open up another aspect of table tennis. There are a multitude of things you have to do off the table when you are preparing for a tournament. You have to set the date to play an important tournament. You have to purchase your equipment in time to break it in and get acclimated to it. You have let Human Resources know the vacation days you want to take off. You have paid your entry fee, plane tickets, hotel, and the rental car. You have even convinced your spouse to let you have a weekend getaway to pong hard. You put in the training weeks in advance, hoping for a great result. The only problem you have overlooked is the approach you can’t write on paper. And that is the “Mental Approach” to playing a tournament. Where all your investment and time has gone down the drain is not preparing for battle in your mind. Just because you showed up, did forehand loops, backhand loops, footwork, serve training, and took lessons doesn’t mean you will get the result you want. It simply means that those shots are trained. This blog post is an attempt to get you to learn how to train the most important aspect that will have the deepest impact on your result. What I will lay out is a checklist of things that you need to develop to ensure that you can create your peak performance.

Establish Your “Priority A” Tournament
Most players mark the calendar months in advance for the tournament that is their “Priority A” event. There are 3 levels of tournament importance. “Priority C”, “Priority B”, and “Priority A”, and they all have a purpose leading up to a big tournament. “Priority C” is an event that must happen because it allows you to play a tournament with low expectations regarding your result. This can be a weekly non-sanctioned tournament with your peers, playing in a league, or playing a tournament. These “Priority C” events allow you to transition your mind from training mode to competition mode. There is a certain posture you have when you are training in one static position. There is also a dynamic posture you have when you playing points like you are in a tournament. This is the type of event that allows you to work through those adjustments. “Priority B” is a little bit more serious with regards to what your performance should look like. You should have all your shots in place in your “Tactical Construct” even if you aren’t playing your sharpest. There is a reason that there is a Football Preseason. You need this same period in table tennis  to make corrections to the sequences of play that you have created that will be responsible for how you win the match. All of this leads up to “Priority A”, which is the event that you are simply looking to “Win” when it matters. At this stage, you have what you have, so go out and don’t just play your best, become Victorious. Taking yourself through this process of development will increase your chances of having a great result.

Tournament Prep Training
To ensure that your” Priority A” puts you in tournament mode, take a departure from doing static drills where you are focusing on stroke production. Instead, work on sequences like Serve & Attack and Ball Placement. This will allow you to see what type of return is trending based on the play that you made. Being able to anticipate the next play is how you can improve your chances of playing your best. Focus on returning the ball deep, which forces your opponent to attack the ball. This will eliminate the element of surprise that they are attacking because you provoked their shot selection. This will improve you composure and allow you to make a play without feeling anxiety. Do more drills where there is no set pattern so you learn to watch the racket angle that produces that shot.

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