Think Big

Rowden Fullen 1980s

  • Good fortune is not the result of luck – but of preparation, planning and success-producing thinking.
  • Action cures fear, inaction destroys confidence.
  • Put only positive thoughts into your memory.
  • Put people into perspective – try to understand others.
  • Do what your conscience tells you is right. Be human.
  • Project confidence, concentrate on your assets.
  • To think confidently, act confidently, look important.
  • See what can be, not what is.
  • Realize what you do is important, focus on the big objectives.
  • Believe it can be done, invest in yourself – build the mind.
  • Experiment, be receptive to new ideas.
  • Ask daily – ‘How can I do more and do it better?’
  • Practise listening, look for the good in others.
  • How we think is affected by the group we are in. Be in the right group.
  • Diet makes the mind. Think right.
  • Don’t let others hold you back. Don’t be pulled down by negative attitudes around you. People who tell you it can’t be done are small-minded, unsuccessful people.
  • Be enthusiastic. Think progress, high standards in all you do.
  • How you think when you fail, determines how long it will be until you win.
  • Act, be a doer. Never wait till conditions are perfect. They may never be. When you act you get the mind moving.
  • Ideas only have value when you act on them.
  • Think now, tomorrow, next week is failure. Be a ‘now’ person.
  • Be stubborn, never give up, persist but experiment.
  • There’s a good side to every situation, find it.
  • Have clear goals and stay with them. Never surrender a goal, take detours. A detour is only another route.
  • Let your major goal be your automatic guide, when you are totally absorbed you will make the right decisions.
  • Take one step at a time. Each one a little nearer the goal.
  • In the end life is a contest against yourself. Beat yourself and you walk away tall no matter where you finish.
  • Managed solitude pays off. Find time to confer with yourself.

How much does Success Cost?

Rowden Fullen (1990’s)


How does the average child see his involvement in sport and his relationship with the trainer? Does in fact the average child think at all? In very many cases it seems to be rather a matter of feelings than of coherent thoughts. The child often seems to operate on a subconscious level — ‘Am I liking and enjoying what is happening this week at the training? Are my friends and comrades here to play against and chat to during the breaks? Is the whole thing fun?’ The coach is of course aware that the whole thing only has a goodly element of ‘fun’ if there is some level of achievement and progress. The average child seems to put the coach or trainer somewhere between schoolteacher and grandparent or uncle depending on the age! After a while a relationship builds as they come to realize that this ‘father figure’ can actually help them to achieve something in the sport of table tennis!

Sometimes a player can go the wrong way and become a little self-important. He thinks he is doing you a favour by attending your sessions, it must be nice for the coach to have such a star to train. Then he can come to feel that perhaps a coach is not really necessary — from then on hard work in training and commitment and dedication go out of the window, practice is after all not so important, he can still (he thinks) turn it on in the big game.

Yet others seem to have great difficulty in concentrating for a full training session. It is rather more fun to conduct an on-going conversation with two or three other players some tables away, than concentrate on the training. It does not take too many people who can’t be bothered to train, even in quite a large group and the whole training session is devalued or destroyed. The application and concentration of those who do want to work hard and develop their game is gradually eroded too.

‘It is not whether you win or lose but how you play the game that matters’. This well-worn adage typifies the sportsmanship and comradeship enjoyed by generations of youth from 8 to 16 years and trying to live up to that statement has perhaps helped many children over the years to understand the concepts of friendship, teamwork and winning and losing. However many sports psychologists would say that changes in our society over the last 15 to 20 years have created conditions that turn this proverb upside down, especially in the individual sports. Children competing in these, swimming, gymnastics, skating, tennis and table tennis are required early in life to live by a new, though not necessarily improved, version of the old adage — ‘Win at any cost!’ This must-win situation is taking its toll on many children adding pressure and stress to their lives. Somewhere around puberty children figure out that their performances are important to the people who love them, to their peer group, their friends and their coaches and club. The pressure increases tremendously when children realize that people have an investment in them. It becomes harder to pull back and stop — they are on the roller-coaster, the web has been woven!

Don’t see children as little adults, they are children and don’t see things in the same light as you do!


The average coach couldn’t care less about the one individual child in the club. It is the club as a whole and group progress and development which matter and it is within this framework that the individual must operate and fit in. Children who don’t attend regularly, won’t conform or work with others not only destroy their own progress but more importantly disrupt group development and must therefore be weeded out.

Most coaches in fact get very little out of coaching. Often after a hard day’s work they turn out in all weathers, tired and weary and try to summon up the energy to cope with a long evening’s training. They get little or no money, often only the satisfaction of seeing a player they have started off reaching his or her full potential. The pleasure and satisfaction is invariably for the player — to feel you have had a hand however small in the development of a great player is reward enough in itself and no coach worth his salt wants to hang on to a player and hold them back once they are good enough to move on.

To see a player become self-important is sad — only hard work and total commitment will enable a player to reach the highest levels. Coaches know this, they have seen it all before. They know that however good a player, he or she cannot pick and choose the moment to turn it on — the only way is total commitment all the time. To see a young player under unacceptable stress is also sad, especially if it’s a great talent that’s being pushed out of our sport or gradually eroded and destroyed. Adult pressure is greatest in individual sports because the parent or trainer is dependent on one star, not a whole team. That is why a good club environment can be so important where you have the support and interaction of a group of players, older and younger and of leaders and coaches too. Children however often stress themselves. They consider bad performances in the light of having not lived up to everyone’s expectations — they feel they have let people down.

The greatest asset a young player can ever have is a good coach and to be part of a good club. If you have them hang on to these for dear life!


What happens in the case of the player who achieves too much too quickly, who is pressured at too early an age, who becomes too self-important, who is continually told (or it is inferred) that he is rather better than the average human being? All goes well of course as long as the player is successful and the ego can continue to grow — but no player however skilful wins all the time. Defeat brings the accounting — he, the player is no longer as good as he (and everyone else) thought he was, he has failed parents and coaches! The ego is dented and often doesn’t want to face up to facts. It is often easier not to face the problem, but to find other scapegoats, to make excuses — the other player was lucky, it was bad conditions, bad umpiring. Anger usually makes its appearance, tantrums occur, what started out as a game, to be enjoyed, becomes a war, to be won at all costs! Unfortunately throughout their young lives in our modern society children get the message, if they do well they are worthwhile if not, better not think about it! When they come home after a success they are rewarded — they therefore find it difficult to imagine a life devoid of competition. Some parents even treat the child miserably until he or she wins, obviously they confuse their own ego with that of the child!

Many of the mental deficiencies of the young player are the result of the stresses of our modern society and inadequate or unprofessional psychological handling by parents or trainers.


One must look at the peaking age of table tennis players in relation to other sports. It is not like gymnastics where 12 – 15 year olds can achieve consistent world-class performances. Usually players reach their peak at around 18 – 25 and can carry on till their mid-thirties at the very topmost level. There is therefore not the need in our sport to push young players in the 9 – 12 age groups into a totally professional adult world. Rather the development of talented youngsters should be professional yes, but limited. Allow them to enjoy not only table tennis but other activities as well. In the mid-teens the professional approach becomes more necessary, particularly if they show real potential, but push them too early and you risk killing off the young stars before they even fully develop!

The question of prime importance becomes — just how much is being demanded of our youngsters and at what point in their lives. There is a ‘delicate balance’ between stress and distress. Children need to learn how to relax and concentrate under pressure. Changes in parental thinking can help to diffuse any stress the child may feel. Anxiety levels can be reduced by educating coaches and parents in the proper way to train children. Nobody should expect a child to become a mature athlete by daily repetition and regular increases in workload in only one sport. It’s unnatural and unhealthy. Let him or her have the opportunity to participate for fun in a variety of activities, including other sports, before specializing. A number of respected sports psychologists believe in fact that a large number of ‘elite athletes’ over-train which prevents them reaching full potential. They say — ‘you cannot always just train harder and harder and then expect to get better and better’. Indeed you should train in the way which is right for you, the individual.

The sad thing about stress or the inflation of the ego is that with all the extra feelings floating about, all the excuses and tantrums, the player ignores the lessons to be learned from defeat. The way to progress and to develop is to study one’s losses and learn from them — face up to the loss, extract the real reasons for defeat, decide how you would do things differently next time and forget the whole matter. By trying to avoid facing facts you lose the opportunity to benefit positively and to improve.

We are in the dark when it comes to the relationship between emotional trauma and physical injury. Children at a young age realise for example that injury is a socially acceptable alternative to the pressures of competition. In the public’s eyes an injured athlete is not the same as one who ‘quits’. Many young players exaggerate minor injuries and convince themselves they are still injured long after. Physically the doctors can find nothing wrong with them. This can be indicative of ‘burnout’, where youngsters show no enthusiasm about what they are doing. Their personal relationships may deteriorate, sometimes they can’t eat or practise. Competition is no longer fun, it has become a burden.

Training in the right way will always eventually pay dividends. The true champion faces facts and learns from his defeats.


Coaches must be careful how they build the will to win. Parents must be supportive without wanting to ‘live on’ the successes of their children. The home environment is very important — this is where the young player returns every day, here he or she must have a refuge, a safe haven away from the stresses of the outside world. Few of our coaches unfortunately have the psychological background or training to dabble with real assurance in the mental field and far too often they know next to nothing of the home environment and upbringing of their player and make little effort to find out. What we must be working towards is a stable long-term mental approach and state, not a short–term development which will bring short-term results. The young player should especially have a gradual and guarded introduction to pressure and should not be pushed too early into the hotbed of competition, bearing in mind the peaking age of table tennis players. The individual should be considered in detail, even young players are very different in coordination, concentration levels, strength and body types — above all the emotional well-being must be taken into account to ensure proper technical and physical training and development.

Try to minimize issues such as winning, talent and superiority (who is better than who), try not to build self-importance. Try to maximize issues such as the value of hard work in training and training the right way, with above all the right attitudes. Try to build self-esteem, that progress is based on sound foundations and advances one step at a time

Coaches must bear in mind that their duty is to train the player to unleash his or her full potential as a senior. The coach should not expect to be part of the end product, rather he should train the player to be in fact self-sufficient. In other words over a period of time the coach will work himself out of a job!

Even if you stay all the way there are varying stages in the coaching/pupil relationship and these change (and should do so) as the player changes and develops.

  • Teacher/instructor — Up to even a fairly advanced stage the coach will be heavily committed to technical and tactical development — however there will come a time when the player is technically competent and has learned to assess and solve his own shortcomings.
  • Trainer/adviser — Bear in mind these stages will overlap. This stage will have started some time ago. Here physical and mental development, planning and tactical advice, the continuing evolvement of style and the introduction of new things to keep the player’s game alive assume more importance. The role of the coach has changed and his relationship with the ‘once’ pupil has also changed.
  • Manager/friend/confidant — At the very highest level the coach has lost much of his function, rather he is there to lean on, offer support, handle the problems which may affect the concentration of the player. He releases the player so that all he or she needs to do is to play. He is there to smooth the way and becomes largely a spectator watching a great performance like many others.

Making the Mind Work for You

Rowden Fullen (2002)

Analysis and evaluation


Positive thinking



Motivation/Goal setting


1. Analysis and Evaluation

Regular analysis -- what is going on when you compete or train? Be aware what is happening with and around you

In competition write down exactly what has happened, how you behaved, what you were thinking of, what went well, what went badly, what you need to do to get better — also what stressed you and what you can do about these things. In respect of the external factors you can’t change and which are not under your control, consider how best you can change your attitude towards these aspects. What you have no control over, you must live with.

When you perform exceptionally well it is important that you can recapture this ‘state’ in the future. If performance was bad it is equally important that you isolate the factors responsible for this. You must analyse your physical, technical, tactical and mental strengths and choose the direction you are going to take. This is after all, the first step to being the self-sufficient athlete.

Every so often but at least once a month assess your progress. Are you analysing and learning from your experiences, both good and bad? Are you still moving forward and proceeding in the right direction? Are you satisfied with how you are playing just now? If not what can you do about it?

2. Relaxation

Relaxation methods and control of these play an important part in achieving better performance. When the body operates on autopilot results are usually much improved

Work at progressive relaxation exercises and establish ‘triggers’ (reminder words) such as ‘relaxation’, ‘peace’, ‘harmony’, so you can bring about a more instant reaction as and when you need it.

One method can be to tense and relax different areas of the body in turn working from the feet up or the head down — another to visualize the blood circulating round the body washing away all aches and pains and tiredness and bringing total relaxation — a third technique to use deep breathing to a pre-arranged rhythm – yet another to imagine the body filled with water or air which gradually drains out from the fingers and toes to leave you totally empty and at peace.

When you first start mental training you must usually set aside a little time to perfect individual techniques. In the beginning you should work quite intensively to get good results, say 15 minutes, 3/4 times per week. As soon as possible however it is desirable to integrate the mental side into the actual physical and on-the-table training.

Try to automate these techniques in training till you don’t need to think too much about them. It is in your training that you can test which work best for you and here that you can adapt them to your game and needs.

Train to play with relaxed concentration, to be calm and in harmony with yourself. Train to focus on one aspect at a time. In your daily training regime introduce outside disturbances so that you can train to refocus as quickly as possible on the exercise.

Also bear in mind that table tennis is a very much switch-on, switch-off sport — the natural pauses in the flow of play (picking up the ball between points) should be used to relax.

3. Positive Thinking

Stop negative thinking. Monitor your inner and outer dialogue and steer your thoughts into positive channels

Don’t stress yourself by thinking you must win — break down competition into many small parts, the warm-up, the knock-up, the start of the game, the middle game, the end game.

Don’t always be ultra-positive, think also how you would cope with a losing situation (this can happen too) and be mentally prepared to face and handle it.

Remember always that you should be positive in the right way and in a realistic way. Be aware what you say to yourself in critical situations, a conscious dialogue, together with visualization are very effective in influencing negative thinking.

Bear in mind too to change from negative to positive you must believe in what you say. If you believe that you can’t do something then quite simply you won’t be able to do it. If you have a problem talk with yourself — ‘Why do I think I can’t? If I’m bad at this particular aspect, how can I change? Is this going to help me to do better?’

Bear in mind first of all that it can take time to change an attitude that one has built up over many years. Certain athletes have a negative and disparaging attitude towards themselves and their abilities. They are never satisfied and complain over every little thing.

Everyday try to pick out a high point (ask yourself and others in the group). After a while you will be aware that there are more high points than you think. There are always ups and downs in life but it’s always possible to see things from a different point of view. You can choose to look at the positive or the negative. Motivation can be very much influenced by how you look at wins and losses. It is in fact important to recognize one’s own ability, because by doing so you increase motivation and self-confidence.

Using others as an example can also help us. When we see others in our sport reach new limits, then we see what is possible and just what can be done. This phenomenon is called the Bannister effect after the man who first broke the four-minute mile barrier. The psychological barrier disappears.

Players who are too negative often have poor confidence. If your self-esteem is low you tend to avoid challenging situations because you are afraid to put yourself to the test. Many people too are good at pointing out weak areas and mistakes instead of focusing on the good things they have done. They know where they are bad but not always where they are good. When you constantly bring up your bad points then it’s not easy to maintain a high level of self-esteem and self-confidence. It is better to learn to focus on one’s strengths.

(Practical exercise — write down three positive qualities you possess — can be physical, mental, tactical or technical, whatever. Print up a sign and leave it in a place where you will often be during the day and where you will see it.)

4. Visualisation

Visualization should be three-dimensional to have maximum effect

Not only should you see you should hear, taste, feel and smell in your mind, using all the senses. Visualization takes place without access to external stimulation and is often at its most effective when combined with physical training. Use it in your preparation period leading up to competition. It can also be a very useful tool in the recovery phase after injury — here you have often had a break in training and visualization helps you to keep the idea of good technique firmly fixed in your mind.

Visualization with the help of video can help your understanding of technique. For new strokes or techniques try to set specific goals. In what situation are you going to utilize these, how are you moving, what and who are in the area? The more clearly and exactly you can see every detail the better the long-term effect.

It is also a good idea to see yourself in stressful situations and explore differing strategies for dealing with these. This is one way you can test different methods of reducing stress without actually being in the real life position. In this way you increase your consciousness of how to handle difficult situations and how to prepare for competition. It is always easier to deal with a situation you have thought about and pondered over before.

Visualization can help even with motivation and self-confidence training — see yourself as you want to be in the future. Such thoughts and pictures control the actions that can limit development. If you keep seeing yourself as you will be in the future, it keeps you focused.

5. Concentration

It is important that you develop the ability to alter concentration levels and areas and are not distracted by irrelevant factors from inside or outside

Develop concentration in a methodical manner. For example listen to the sounds around you and isolate them one at a time concentrating on one at a time, even when you are doing something else, such as jogging. Look at a candle burning in a quiet room, focus on the flame and nothing else, then close your eyes and see it in the mind. Examine in detail something you use often such as your racket, focus on every little aspect, the marks and tears on the rubber, the curve of the wood, damage to the blade edge etc.

Often when you have an intense level of concentration you don’t remember much about what you do and how you play. The right concentration is characterized by mental calmness, not tense and not influenced by irrelevant events. Relaxed and focused is the key, full concentration on the task at hand means that you are much less likely to be influenced by negative thoughts or anxiety.

Concentration areas — There are four basic areas.

  • Narrow inward looking — self-analysis, visualizing, training tension levels, control and use of feelings, relaxation, use of ‘triggers’ (stay in), focus on individual details. (When playing in a relaxed manner you use this style, you are focusing on a ‘feeling’).
  • Broad inward looking — using previous experience, tactics, training to change tactics, working at ‘set’ pieces, planning, reacting to situations in the right way, assessing the opponent. (Players involved with this style can be too analytical at times especially when things don’t go too well).
  • Narrow outward looking — examining minute aspects of the opponent’s body language, focusing on the opponent’s contact point in the stroke play or on the in-coming ball just before the bounce and after, focusing on the opponent’s mental attitude.
  • Broad outward looking — the overview of the whole situation, taking in what is happening in the opposition’s doubles play, overall view of how the opponent is moving and his or her technique and tactics.

It is important that the player is aware of which type is suitable to which situation and when it is best to change the concentration field. Mistakes often occur when the athlete changes too early or too late. When you perform well in training or in a tournament and your concentration is particularly good, try to analyse which areas of concentration you used and in which time frame and to cope with which situation. When did you change from one area to another and why? What did you focus on within each individual style? Have you developed one style more than others? What causes you to lose concentration and is this with one type more than others?

In training try to split up the various areas of concentration and develop them individually even though in competition they will function as a whole. The goal is to automate the various groups in training so that they work as a whole in competition.

It is quite important to understand that the ability to concentrate and the ability to handle stress are very closely connected. The ability to focus on the task in hand and not to let yourself be side-tracked is one of the most essential qualities in competition.

In your daily training regime introduce outside distractions especially so that you can train to refocus as quickly as possible on the exercise.

If inner doubts or worries start to upset your concentration, it can be best to direct your thoughts outwards for a brief moment and to change the focus. Or redirect inwards but concentrate on slow breathing or calming thoughts. Many athletes start to think negatively when things are going wrong. You will see top players replay the shot when they miss so that they get the feel of the right action and get their mind back on the right track. Remember training aims to prepare us to compete and the goals of training should reflect this — handling distractions, controlling tension, thinking positively and extending our limits are all parts of training.

6. Motivation/Goal Setting

Daily or weekly short-term goals which are more easily reached will keep you focused and stop you being disillusioned when the going gets tough

It is important that the athlete focuses on the circumstances that he or she has some control over. Instead of thinking of the end-result, concentrate on how you can use your training time to the optimum every day, on your own routines and your preparation for training or for competition. Avoid focusing on areas outside your control, whether you will be picked for this or that event or the national team etc. There will always be factors you can’t control, the opponent, umpires, conditions and these can influence results. However it is of no use to agitate and frustrate yourself over such aspects — only focus on the factors you have control over and this is particularly important in the case of short-term goals.

Instead of concentrating on result-goals let us define another type, the process-goal, which is more how we are going to achieve success and the qualities we need to develop to get there. This means that we must analyse our physical, technical, tactical and mental strengths and choose the direction we are going to take. When we have completed our analysis and know where we are going, for all practical purposes forget the destination and only concentrate on how to get there. When an athlete has completed all the steps in the process-goal, it often follows as a natural consequence that he or she achieves the results too!

Most athletes have a long-term dream-goal and many have surprised themselves and all around them with just how quickly they have reached this, when everyone thought it was impossible. Yet others have experienced that the biggest stumbling block in their development has been the lack of vision and belief in their own potential. Dream-goals have in important function in that they help to break through the mental barriers of what the mind thinks is and is not possible.

Set up a goal for every training session — at first it may seem like a great deal of work but soon it will become simple routine. Assess afterwards if you achieved what you set out to do. Soon you will be more focused on the task and less on the results — also you will be training much more systematically and with quality.

Bear in mind always that regardless of how many and how high goals you set up for the future, it’s what you are doing today which will determine just how far you will go in the future and what heights you will reach. If you are thinking too much of the future and not giving your full concentration to the ‘now’, then this can lead to lack of success in competition.

Guidelines for goals –

  • As exact and specific as possible.
  • Challenging but realistic.
  • Set up both short and long-term goals.
  • Emphasize process- rather than result-goals.
  • Set up goals for both training and tournaments.
  • Set up positive goals.
  • Set a time or date, by which the goal should be reached.
  • Set up a programme to achieve the goal.
  • Keep a diary and note progress and when you reach your goals.
  • To succeed it’s vital that you have feedback and that you constantly assess and evaluate progress.

It often helps also to have a safety-goal — a little lower than what you may consider to be realistic, but which is also acceptable. In this way you do not have too many negative feelings if circumstances prevent you reaching your first goal. Some athletes think it is a little like cheating to do this and it can lead instead to being satisfied with lesser ideals. Others however feel quite strongly that to define a safety-goal relieves stress and takes the pressure off, allowing them to function in a more relaxed manner.

Remember too the vital importance of following up and of evaluating progress with reference to your goals and of adjusting the training load to ensure you have the best possible chance of achieving them. You must be active in this in your daily training. In this way you will often find that your original goal will be altered or amended and will take on a new shape.

7. Arousal/Stress

Arousal, stress, tension and anxiety are all slightly different

When the body is ready for action you must find the level of tension and arousal that suits you best, handle the extra pressures that threaten to disrupt your performance and never let anxiety become fear. These are the negative feelings where you are afraid of the consequences of failure. They can have physical effects, butterflies in the stomach, a racing pulse, difficulty in breathing — and mental effects, doubting your own ability, having negative thoughts etc.

Athletes who are anxious about their performance before competition often have a tendency to focus on how they do automatic actions and this leads to a worse performance.

You cannot control tension until you can identify the source. Write down and isolate what exactly stresses you in competition. Look at what you can influence and accept what you cannot! Where you can’t change things change your attitude towards these things. In training try to maintain the right attitude and the optimum conditions for yourself, so that you create and build the right environment for competition.

Ask Yourself

Rowden Fullen 2000

Players who are in control of themselves, of what they are doing and of the situation they are in, usually perform better. The players, who are best able to adapt to new situations and circumstances, are almost always those who have a good understanding of themselves and their capabilities.

  • Do you know that how you feel is going to determine how you perform?
  • Can you use you feelings constructively and turn these into a positive winning weapon?
  • What are you thinking about when you play? Does this differ when you are playing well or when you are playing badly?
  • Do you believe in your own ability to cope with most situations and to ignore those aspects over which you have no control?
  • Which situations do you find it hardest to cope with?
  • Do you judge your performance after you have trained or competed?
  • Do you always give 100% and do you do it for your own sake?
  • Are you aware that stress management is a vital ability if you are to reach the top?
  • Do you understand that the more honest you are with yourself, the better your chances of turning mental situations to your advantage?
  • Do you understand that many mental aspects cannot be changed overnight? You must take the long-term approach.
  • Do you understand that even the things you are best at now, must change and develop if you are to progress and succeed in the future?

How can you develop better control of yourself?

Which persons can help you in this?

Have you role models, which you can look up to in this respect?

Wise Man or Fool?

Rowden Fullen 1960s

As the great Chinese philosopher said – ‘When a fool sees himself as he is, he is a fool no longer. When the wise man becomes sure of his wisdom, then he is a fool.’

This saying sums up one of the problems with many table tennis players. You want to do your own thing, play your way and have your own style. This can be very good or very bad, it just depends on how you do it and whether you know where you are going! Style is a living, growing organism — unless you the player continue to grow and develop, you stay where you are, unless you the coach guide the player to release his or her full potential, you fail. Both the player and the coach who are totally dogmatic, who are sure of their wisdom, are fools! As soon as you say — ‘the only way to loop is……. This grip is the most effective for serves….’ — then you have stopped listening, you are no longer prepared to look at other possibilities.

Perhaps it is true to say — only in absolute certainty is there danger. Certainty is the enemy of progress, we stop thinking and further development is not possible. Do not become the fool, always have an open mind, ready to listen and question. Nor become the ‘wise’ man who is so sure he knows it all that he doesn’t need to listen or even to think any more.

Why do we Play?

Rowden Fullen (1990’s)

Most of us play because we love the game — the travelling to matches or tournaments, the competition, the meeting with friends and comrades even from other clubs. There is a companionship in sport that transcends race, colour and age and sex. Does a painter or a musician stop at a certain age? Many of us continue well past retirement, some even resume playing when they give up work and have more time. Even most professional players like the sport, what indeed is more satisfying than being able to earn a living at something you want to do? And if you do something really well, whatever this may be, perhaps you owe it to yourself for your own peace of mind to give it your best shot!

For many table tennis is the ultimate form of self-expression. What you are and how you play you have to create yourself, through application and constructive effort. People are consumers — very few are producers. Most people don’t do anything even remotely creative with their lives. The game gives you the chance to learn to produce something for yourself, you can’t buy a great backhand at the supermarket, but you can make your own!

The social player does not need to be as goal-oriented as the professional, but the game is good for you socially, physically and mentally. It can teach you to think and to react quickly in a pressure situation and there is nothing like the feeling of relaxation after a long, tough match. Most of us too like to compete, we enjoy the stress and pressure of the battle.

Table tennis is not an easy game to learn — in fact some of us never stop learning. One of the reasons is that there are so many variations, in a whole lifetime of playing the ball never comes over the net twice in exactly the same way. Practise as long as you like but you can never rehearse one single game, nothing is predictable. Our game is all about spontaneity and reacting to unexpected situations as they arise. In fact the prime skill of table tennis at the very highest level is the ability to be able to adapt to and cope with new techniques, tactics, styles of play, innovations and challenges. The player who cannot do this cannot survive at the top.

The game can still matter as you get older. Often you learn to appreciate it more and there are always aspects to improve and new things to learn. Also like many other sports table tennis is changing year by year, there are new rules and regulations, new equipment and tactics, always another challenge around the corner. Some of us too are more the perfectionist rather than the competitor. We want to play our own game just as well as it can be played — winning or losing is not always important, we want to reach out and touch perfection. Many of us in fact walk a tightrope on court — the winner in us insists on playing shots that have a higher percentage of success — the artist inside, the creative part of us, always wants instead to take risks, variation in spin, speed, direction or tactics. Some of us just don’t like to play in a dull and boring way, we like our game to be flowing, colourful and exciting!

However whatever your approach and your reasons for playing, it doesn’t do to take yourself too seriously. Win or lose, the sun will still shine tomorrow and it will still rain in the mountains. And indeed will anything you may do or achieve be remembered in 400/500 years?

Mental Methods

Rowden Fullen (1990’s)

As a champion you only have one true friend, only one person you can always rely on — yourself. So you feed your body well, look after it, train it, work on it. Where you lack skill you practise, where you lack knowledge you study. But above all you must believe. You must believe in your strength of will, of purpose, of heart and soul. Whatever you want to achieve, you can, if only you want it enough. Never doubt openly or speak badly of yourself for the champion that is inside you hears your words and is diminished, lessened by them. You are strong and you are brave, there is a nobility of spirit within you, let it grow and you will do well enough.

It is all too easy to drift, to procrastinate and to accept lesser levels of achievement. It’s very human to take the easy road. Many players don’t seem to question where they are going — they just drift. After a while the mind becomes frozen and they don’t even think any more. It’s also all too easy to be limited by those around you, both coaches and players. How often do I hear the phrase — ‘But you must face up to reality!’ But what is reality? Ten players in your club will tell you it’s impossible to become a world champion. But if you talk to one or two world champions, they won’t laugh at you for thinking and aiming big, because they have already done it! It’s all a matter of perception — if you set limits in your own mind on what you expect to achieve, then you will indeed never exceed these limits.

To be skilful requires hard work and dedication, to be unbeatable requires a little more. There is a magic in sport that few master. Forget the strokes or the footwork — the battle is won in the mind. Never let anger, outrage, irritation or fear affect you — that is easy advice to give but hard to follow. Whatever others do, laugh or jeer or bait you - it’s just noise! The only way to make them stop is to win and to win with the right attitude. To beat them is not important, it never was and never will be. To beat yourself is all that matters. To be a real champion you must try and rise above the world around you.

One of the hardest things for young people is to combat the negativity that is all around and to cope with those who wish to interfere with the direction of their life, in many cases those near and dear to them. Often young people realize that the direction in which they are being pushed is not where they want to go. This is why there is so much rebellion and so many problems between the generations. It is one thing to understand that something is good for you, quite another thing to realize that the person recommending this ‘good thing’ is not altogether doing it for your sake, but also for his/her own. This is what he/she would have done but it’s not his/her life. Youth naturally resents being controlled.

When a young person has the opportunity to be really successful, many people seem to resent this and they are surrounded by such an aura of negativity that it’s almost tangible. We hear the well-worn phrases — ‘You’ve got a big talent but you’re never going to be world champion or make a living from sport. Face up to reality and get a job like normal people!’ What you must always remember is that the more you have, the more you will be subject to the envy of those who are patently inferior to you. The more of an ‘individual’ you are too (the kind of person who thinks for himself and refuses to be manipulated by others) the more you will be the target for negative emotions. People generally dislike individualists. They upset the smooth running of things and make others unsure of themselves. If you in fact talk to the ‘big’ people, the ones who have done it all, they will not laugh at you or mock you because they know it can be done. What is and is not achievable is always a matter of perception and of just who is doing the looking! Don’t let others make your reality. Each of us achieves our own reality. What is yours!

Fear is another emotion which causes incredible problems to the smooth operation of the nerves and muscles. Suddenly the body doesn’t seem to work very well anymore. The legs are made of wood, the breathing is laboured, there is a sick feeling in the pit of the stomach, how can you hope to perform under such handicaps? Even normal everyday activities suddenly become next to impossible to carry out. If you allow fear to take over and dominate then it’s very difficult to compete at any level. What you must do is to control the fear, not allow it to control you. As people who have been in life-threatening situations for several days or weeks have found out, you can only live with fear for so long, then you absorb it and it starts to lose its power! What you must do is face your fear and conquer it. Imagine the very worst that could happen, see it happening to you, face it, absorb it. To conquer fear you must first realize that there is no escape from what you fear most. You must take it inside yourself, live with it, taste it, understand it and overcome it. Does the world end, does the sun stop shining, does everyone you know walk away and leave you alone, does life itself end? Or is it after all not quite as bad as you thought it would be?


Will Emotion Consciousness (problem solving) Subconsciousness.

Emotions one area to control, to minimize pressure. Through breathing, diverting mind’s attention, focusing. Only concern yourself with the things you have control over and can change. Where you have no control over events change your attitude towards them. Those things you can’t change should never cause pressure. Don’t let emotions take over, it’s easier to look for excuses when you lose and many people are very negative in attitude. Be logical and positive, evaluate the reasons for losses. How you behave when you lose determines how long it is before you win again.

Appearances — What the opponent sees matters to you and him and can give him an advantage and cause you a disadvantage.




People dancing or listening to disco music often have brainwaves that reach 70 cycles per second. The mind cannot produce coherent thoughts at such a level. Let us look at what normal brainwaves should be and what you can do to reach a super thinking brainwave level.

Beta has a frequency of more than 14 cycles per second. As you read this you are more than likely at a level of about 18 cycles per second. If you reduce this down to around 14 you will stimulate your powers of comprehension and concentration.

Alpha vibrates from 8 – 13 cycles per second. This state will give you a sense of relaxation and peace and dramatically heighten your suggestibility.

Theta has a frequency of 4 – 7 cycles per second. In this state you can get unusually creative insights and ideas. Psychic healers usually operate around this level.

Delta vibrates from ½ — 6 cycles per second and usually occurs during sound sleep. However it is quite possible to be awake in the upper cycles of delta and to tune into more creative sources of both knowledge and energy.

Concentrate on the ‘third eye’ and use a repetitive, self-hypnotic count-down from level 14. Or visualize the blank screen technique and flash up on the mind’s screen the level 14 and slowly count down, not going to the lower level until you are comfortable with and relaxed at your present level. Once you have counted down to and feel comfortable at level 7 relax completely and let your thoughts float across the blank screen of your mind. After between 10 – 20 minutes place a mental image of yourself on the screen, happy and smiling, without a care in the world, all your problems solved. Count back up to the level you wish to remain at for the rest of the day and leave your subconscious mind to find solutions to your problems.


It is enough to tell the sub-conscious mind to do something and it will do it. You do not have to waste time giving instructions on what to do or how to do it! If you call a mechanic to fix your car you don’t tell him what to do, you tell him what you think is wrong and let him get on with it. You should treat the sub-conscious mind in the same way.

Decide what you want to achieve and write down a list of ‘commands’ to your subconscious. Dictate these into a tape recorder using your own voice, softly, slowly and firmly (the subconscious responds better to commands from its owner). Give the right commands and be both positive clear and specific. Be relaxed and comfortable when you listen to the playback (the subconscious is most receptive when the body is in a relaxed state), there should in fact be no conscious attempt to ‘listen’ to the tape, rather switch off and let it wash over you or even concentrate on something else. Regard the subconscious as a separate entity and always address it as ‘you’. Repetition is the key, repeat everything at least ten times. Should you fall asleep while listening to your cassette no matter, the conscious mind may be asleep but not the subconscious. If possible try to find one master command or even word which summarizes what you want to achieve, as we said at the start the subconscious doesn’t need detailed instructions on what to do.

Another method can be to have prime instructions (no more than three) pinned up beside your bed so that you see them when going to sleep and on waking. Even more effective keep a torch by the bedside and every time you wake in the night look, read, then drop off to sleep again.


Bring the right attitude to training. How you think and feel determines how you will train or play. Think of a good match you have played, there is more behind thoughts than mere winning figures, good thoughts can influence how you feel now. Think positively and you will tend to be positive, in the mind there is a combination of thoughts and feelings churning round, each affects the other and without some measure of control it is difficult to achieve the higher levels of success.

If you on the other hand think badly, things will tend to go badly. Also you should try not to stress yourself. Not, I must, this brings in the element of pressure directly, but I can, it is possible. In this way you keep your options more open, you don’t impose limitations and you lessen the stress element. If you miss a couple of backhands don’t immediately say — ‘I can’t play backhand …’ Try to rely on your training, you know you can play backhands in training, you have done so many thousands of times before so in competition it shouldn’t be that much different. It’s all in the mind, give yourself a fair chance. Even if you’ve missed one or two it’s going to start getting better and also bear in mind that the opponent also suffers stress too. Look at and study his/her face and body language.

Do not be too results-oriented, especially at a young age. If you get too stressed because you are not winning and moving up the ranking ladder, you put more pressure on your own game and the more your main rivals forge ahead of you the bigger the risk you will stress yourself to the point of having real difficulties in keeping up your level of performance. Try to focus on your development, on bringing new things into your game, a little here and a little there, one small step at a time. Progress is much more important than winning.

Don’t let outer motivation be a factor (winning, achieving good tournament results, getting in the district or national team, being ranked in the top five), concentrate on harnessing the inner motivation. What can you influence? What factors can you bring to table tennis, stubbornness, fighting spirit, the right attitude, calmness and concentration? Can you even decide how the opponent plays? Yes, you can have a big influence here too. What you show to your opponent in terms of your feelings and attitude to the match will often determine how he /she reacts and plays. Don’t help the opponent to win!

You can be positive or negative in your approach to our sport, but bear one thing in mind. Negative people are rarely champions! You can be sour, irritated, angry, sad and always complaining, hanging your head. You can say how bad you are, how you can’t play, how much luck the opponent has, how bad the umpiring and the conditions. But just what does any of this achieve, other than give the opponent confidence and destroy your own? You lessen your chances of success and you lose the opportunity to learn anything constructive from defeat. On the other hand you can be positive, enthusiastic, urging yourself on as you play and psyching yourself up. Your whole body language says you are a winner, everything is under control and if the opponent is going to beat you then he/she has a real fight on their hands.

Be a fighter, always be ready. Face doubt and beat it. You don’t win by worrying about others, respect them yes, but don’t worry. Always remember training is physical but competing is emotional.


Improve your mental toughness.

Most people reading this have spent years working on their game. Practising to improve their shots, training on their footwork or to become fitter, only to lose in the next tournament or important match because they are nervous on a vital point. How many have made a decision to become fitter or to work on their backhand, only to let their good intentions slip after two to three weeks for no apparent reason?

The point here is that the difference between a good player, an excellent player and an outstanding player is often the ‘mental toughness’, yet most of us spend very little time working on this side of our game! There is no such thing as positive thinking. This is when you believe that something will happen without the need to take any action. We must believe in intelligence, in seeing things as they are, not as worse than they are, as many people do. They say they are sceptical or pessimistic about success, which you can interpret as meaning they are afraid.

Change fear into action.

There are three essentials to change and to improve.

  • If you want to improve your game it is very simple — you must raise your standards. You have to take the shoulds and make them into musts. Ivan Llendl was one of the most successful tennis players ever, yet not the most talented. How did he become world number one and stay there longer than anyone else had done? In his own words – ‘No-one has a higher demand on themselves than me. I don’t compete with other players, I compete with the best I could become. Since I was eight years old I have demanded more from myself than anyone else could possibly imagine.’
  • If you want to change your game you must first change your limiting beliefs. The only thing stopping you from achieving what you want is your limiting beliefs. Your belief deep down inside. Not your ‘I can do it belief on the outside’ but the ‘who are you kidding?’ belief deep down inside. Have you ever been in the situation where you have been playing out of this world? Every shot seems to hit the table. What are you thinking about at this time? Is it ‘Am I hitting my backhand correctly?’ or perhaps ‘What happens if I lose?’ You know the answer — usually you are not thinking about anything. You are so focused and conditioned to playing the game that you are just letting it happen.
  • You must change your thinking through having the right strategy. If you have not improved your game over the last year there is only one reason. You do not have the right strategy to improve! It’s as simple as that. Do you have the right mental strategy to enable you to train every day and to enjoy it? Do you have the right mental strategy to get the best possible results out of your training? Do you have the mental conviction that your game is developing in the right manner and proceeding in the right direction? Do you have the right strategy to win when the chips are down, or to win 80% of your deuce games? You can easily train your nervous system to achieve the above but without training it will not happen automatically. Do you know people who are better than others when it ‘gets tight’? Do you know people who are fitter than others? It all comes down to having the right mental strategy and training your nervous system to work for you and not against you. How much time and effort do you put into training yourself to be mentally tough?

To create peak performance.

  • Put yourself in a peak state. Focus your mind and body in a pro-active way on what you are going to do.
  • Find your passion. What do you love? Why do you want to improve? How important is it to you? What do you hate? What drives you in life?
  • Decide, commit and resolve. Decide on the action you are going to take, commit yourself to it and resolve to carry it through.
  • Take immediate, intelligent, consistent and massive action. Get a proven model or create one. Get a plan and do something now, immediately.

Be S.M.A.R.T.


  • Check it. Change it. Re-engineer it. Reinforce it. Strengthen it.


  • Measure it on a regular basis to see if it is working.


  • Is it working as effectively as possible?


  • Reinforce what works in your mind.


  • Take new action to continue beneficial change. Always ready to innovate.

In order to achieve your own personal best you have to get the best possible result out of everything you do. Becoming mentally stronger is not a should it’s a must.

Success Triangle

Rowden Fullen 1990s

 Success Triangle

Thailand: 8th wonder of the world

Rowden Fullen 2007

Thailand has hardly any immense past tradition in table tennis or in the production of world-class players. One looks in vain through the annals of the history of our sport for past champions on the world stage in the men’s, women’s or doubles events. But perhaps all this is about to change. Probably few if any of you reading this article have heard of the name Suthasini Sawettabut and none of her coach and mentor, Kraiwan Suphaprasert.

Here we have a young girl not yet 14 years but already considered as the best in the world in her age group and already feared and respected at the very highest levels in the table tennis hierarchy. The ITTF have sent envoys to examine just how she achieves the results she does. Even the Chinese are starting to take note of the continued development of this wonder girl and with no little apprehension.

So just how has she reached the heights, where is the high-level sparring she trains against every day, where are all the varied styles of player, the defenders, penholders, long and short pimple artists, where is all the technical equipment, the robots, multi-ball nets etc? The simple answer is she has nothing.

The hut where she trains is home to four cats and five table tennis tables and is situated in a small town in Thailand not too far from Bangkok. She is by far the best player in the ‘club’ and has no high-level sparring of any kind. In fact the vast majority of her training is mental and physical – the actual ‘ball crossing the net part’ of the training takes up less than 25% of training time. There is in fact in theory, or so 99 out of 100 coaches in the West would say, no way this girl could have achieved the results she has with the level of help and opportunity she receives!

Some of you may have seen Suthasini in World Junior Protour events. She is the one sitting alone, eyes closed, quietly meditating prior to her next match and totally oblivious to everything going on around her. Not for her the loud music in her earphones or the chatting with fellow-players and friends before she has to perform. She is just completely and totally focused on what she has to do and on nothing else. The results and the way she plays once the match starts demonstrates that this approach works for her.

Perhaps this type of training where the coach is predominantly working with the mind and getting the player to learn for themselves rather than instructing them is the way forward, although in the Western world we tend to be rather sceptical concerning the ‘inner’ game of table tennis. It may be that in many cases the way we learn and more importantly the way we teach in our modern society must be questioned and modified. What we should bear in mind however is that coaching is unlocking a player’s potential to allow him or her to maximise performance. Often major breakthroughs can be made if the coach can identify a new way forward with players working from their own experience and perceptions rather than his own.

Certainly one of the aspects where most of the top players are in agreement is in the vital and increasing importance of the mental side in top level performance. Perhaps here in a remote outpost in Thailand it is being demonstrated that the mental side is all important and that we don’t even need to concern ourselves overmuch with the technique and style development of the player. Get the mind right and the rest will follow!

Injury - Chance to Refine/Retune

Rowden April 2017

● A time of injury is actually an ideal occasion to sit back and have a rethink about your game. It’s a chance to get off the endless roundabout of training, the daily focus on technique and perfection and the pressure and stress of competition and the emphasis on winning

● It’s an opportunity to review recent progress and results and ask yourself if you’re satisfied with your direction. Are you improving and progressing steadily, are there things you need to change, are there ways to play which will lessen future injuries of this nature while still being just as effective as you are now or even more so?
● Don’t just let the time pass idly, use it effectively. Many top athletes find that periods of visualization while injured help them recover more quickly and help them recap on streamlining some of their strokes to prevent a reoccurrence. Visualization also helps to strengthen mental attitudes so that you come back stronger and more resilient
● Visualize also how to play opponents, particularly those who cause you problems. See yourself trying different tactics, see yourself staying calm and relaxed and winning easily, see the expression on your opponent’s face as they lose
● Also visualize yourself encountering problems in a game and coping with them, whether it’s bad or wrong calls from umpires, poor tables or lighting or distractions from other players or coaches. What you have prepared for mentally beforehand is much more easily handled when it actually occurs
● Look also to the long-term during this period of recovery. This can be an opportunity to re-evaluate your self-image, attitudes and just what you think you need to do to attain your full potential. It’s also a chance to listen to your own body more and when you are practising shadow play during recovery, to feel just where your body is tight, tense and in which areas
● Above all this can be an ideal time to build mental strength. Feed yourself with inner pictures of the new, stronger successful you, a you with total focus, concentration and will power and an unshakeable self-belief


Rowden March 2016

● How smart or intelligent you are is irrelevant. What you lack in experience, skill, talent or strength and speed you have to make up by hard work

● If you always take 100% responsibility for all you do, with zero expectation of receiving anything in return, you hold the power. The day you graduate from child to adulthood is the day you take full responsibility for your life. Eliminate all excuses and choose to take control. Take personal responsibility. It is all your fault. Most of us unfortunately always have the attitude that the other person is wrong, rather than looking inside and doing what is necessary to put our own house in order. We can all take control by not blaming chance, fate or anyone else for the outcomes
● Where we end up in life is a result of the choices we make. Each choice starts a behaviour that over time ends up as a habit. Don’t choose at all and you are a passive onlooker in whatever happens to you
● Track every action relating to what you want to improve, this forces you to be conscious of your decisions. You cannot manage or improve until you measure what you do, equally you can’t make the most of you until you are aware of and accountable for your actions
● Routines are exceptionally powerful. With the good habits, develop routines for accomplishing the daily disciplines, which is the only way we can predictably regulate our behaviour. Control how your day starts and ends. Start your day with a feeling of gratitude for what you have; the world looks and responds very differently when you do this. At the day’s end review how it’s gone and what you may need to carry over till tomorrow. Log any insights you’ve picked up over the day and as the mind continues to process the last information consumed before bedtime focus your attention on something constructive to the progress of your goals and ambitions. Always start and finish strong
● Understand always that your choices, attitudes and habits are influenced by very powerful external forces. We are all affected by 3 kinds of influences: input (what we feed into our minds), associations (the people with whom we spend time) and environment (our surroundings). Be disciplined and proactive about what you allow into your mind. You get in life what you create, so what is influencing and directing your thoughts? Your mind is like an empty glass, if you fill it with all the bad things that are happening around you and in the world, you fill it with muddy water. If you have that dark, dismal aura in your mind, everything you create and try to do is filtered through this mess of negativity, which can have a severe even crippling impact on your creative potential. It’s not enough to eliminate negative input, you must flush out the bad and fill up on the good
● Your brain is not designed to make you happy its agenda is survival; to look out for the negative, what can hurt you or what you really need. You need to be extra vigilant to stop your brain absorbing irrelevant, counterproductive or destructive input. Nowadays the media bombards you with all kinds of negativity. It’s very easy for your mind to chew on this all day/night long
● Which people do you associate and spend time with? Research shows that your ‘reference group’ determines as much as 95% of your success and failure in life. The influence of your friends is subtle and can be negative or positive but either way is incredibly powerful. The attitudes of the 5 people closest to you have an unbelievable impact on your life. Upon close examination you may need to break away from some – completely. Others can be limited associations, a three minute, three hour or three day person. Just look at your relationships to make sure you’re not spending 3 hours with a 3 minute person. Remember when you put up boundaries between you and people they will fight you and try to drag you back down to their level. Keep in mind that the person you walk with can determine how fast or slow you go and even if you actually reach your destination. Ask yourself: ‘Who of those I know positively influences me?’ Get an unbiased, honest, outside perspective. Team-mates, partners, coaches should be open enough to tell you what they really think about you, your attitudes and performance. Find people who care enough about you to be brutally honest
● An individual needs to be open to being mentored. It is our responsibility to be willing to allow our lives and minds to be touched, moulded and strengthened by the people around us. What you wish to achieve may be bigger than the environment in which you find yourself. Sometimes you may need to move on to see your dreams realized. Each incomplete thing in life exerts a draining force on you, sucking the energy of accomplishment and success out of you. Think what you can complete today. Set standards for yourself, otherwise you get out of life what you tolerate, what you accept and feel you are worthy of
● When the going gets tough do you push through the pain or does your mind start inventing all sorts of convenient excuses? These are the moments where real growth and improvement live, where we can get to the front of the pack and seize the medal. There is a point in all our lives when we understand the real opponent is actually ourselves. It’s not getting to the wall that counts, it’s what you do after you hit it. Hitting the wall isn’t an obstacle, it’s an opportunity. When conditions are easy it’s easy for everyone, it’s only when situations reach a level of extreme difficulty that you get to prove you are worthy to progress. Don’t wish things are easier, wish they were harder and you better. It doesn’t take a lot more effort but the little extra multiplies your results many times over. It takes very little extra to be extraordinary

The Age of Experience

David Bainbridge (Middle Age: A natural History)2012

Middle and even old age is a controlled and even pre-programmed process – a process not of decline but of development. Development -- and the genetic processes which direct it – does not stop when we reach mid-twenties. It continues well into adulthood. The tightly choreographed transition into middle age is a later, but equally important, stage of human development when we are each recast into yet another novel form.

That form is one of the most remarkable of all. It is an evolutionary novelty unique to humans – a resilient, healthy, energy-efficient and productive phase of life which has laid the foundations for our species’ success. Indeed the multiple roles of older people in human societies are so complex and intertwined, that it could be argued they are the most impressive living things yet produced by natural selection.

There is evidence that many hunter-gatherers have taken decades to learn their craft and resource-acquiring abilities may not peak till they are over 40 years of age. Thus, middle-aged people may be seen as an essential human innovation, an elite caste of skilled, experienced ‘super-providers’ on which the rest of us depend. Modern middle age is in fact the result of millennia of natural selection.

The other key role of middle age is the propagation of information. All animals inherit a great deal of information in their genes; some also learn more as they grow up. Humans have taken this second form of information transfer to a new level. We are born knowing and being able to do almost nothing. Each of us depends on a continuous infusion of skills, knowledge and customs – collectively known as culture – if we are to survive. The main route by which culture is transferred is by middle aged people telling and showing their children what to do, as well as the young adults with whom they associate.

These two roles of middle aged humans – as super-providers and master-culture-conveyers – continue today. In offices, on construction sites and in sport around the world, we see middle aged people advising and guiding younger adults. Middle aged people can do more, earn more, in short they run the world!

All this has left its mark on the human brain. Changes do occur in thinking abilities but these are subtle and as might be expected of people propagating complex skills, middle-aged people exhibit no dramatic cognitive deterioration. In fact they tend to be better at developing long-term plans, selecting relevant material from a mass of information, planning their time and coordinating the efforts of others – a constellation of skills that we might call wisdom!

To carry out their roles in society, middle-aged people need not necessarily think better or worse than younger adults, but they do think differently. Functional brain imaging studies suggest that sometimes they use different brain regions than young people when performing the same tasks, indicating that the nature of thought itself changes as we get older.

A central and related feature of middle age is the many healthy years we enjoy after we have stopped reproducing. Female humans are unusual animals because they become infertile halfway through their lives and males often effectively ‘self-sterilise’ by remaining with their partners. Almost no other species does this.

Thus, humans can be seen as members of an elite club of species in which adulthood has become so long and complicated that it can no longer all be given over to breeding. The menopause now appears to be a coordinated, controlled process. Recent scientific research is now revealing the truth about this long-neglected phase of human life and all the evidence suggests that it is not a meandering, stumbling deterioration but a neatly executed event which is a key part of the developmental programme of middle age. Without the evolution of middle age, human life as we know it could never have existed!

Training and the Mind

Rowden November 2014

If you wish to win matches and to reach your full potential, then the first requirement is that you train in the right way for you. Success also demands that you have the right personal mindset. We are all different and to attain our own potential must travel our own path and do what is best for us, technically, physically, tactically and mentally. Each of us needs to know how we play best and how to achieve this.

You may for example lose vital matches because you lack ‘skill experience’. Your skills may have reached quite a high level due to many hours of training but you may lack the ability to use those skills effectively in a competitive arena where you are being asked to play many different shots in a highly fluid situation. A simple comparison might be that you can play 100 FH’s without a mistake when playing at medium pace from one spot, but can’t do this at speed from a variety of areas. Top psychologists state for instance that ‘performing a skill well’ only ranks around 2 to 3 on a scale of 7 in mastering a sport completely. To attain level 7 is to ‘perform the skill very well at speed, under fatigue and pressure, consistently and in competitive conditions’. There is a big difference between levels 2 and 7.
Once a performer moves into the advanced stages of development, it is therefore important that he/she works at executing the various skills at speed, in moving situations and under pressure. It is also equally vital that he /she learn to identify and monitor where work is needed in training and where weaknesses need to be addressed. Bear in mind too that at the higher levels in any sport it may only require a very small improvement to win major events. The margins between success and failure among the top half-dozen stars at world level are often minimal!
Many players tend to overlook too that in sport it’s not only the technical aspects which need to be honed to perfection, but also physical, tactical and mental areas as well. All parts of the ‘whole’ athlete must be in harmony and combining well together. There are no shortcuts.
Just as important of course as all of the basics of the individual sport if not even more so, is the mental aspect. It doesn’t really matter how much skill and feeling you may have if you are mentally weak or can’t be bothered to work or don’t have the desire to win, then real success will often elude you. The mental side, just as the physical or technical areas, has to be worked at; with most players this doesn’t just come naturally, you need to put some effort in yourself and draw up a program. There are however a number of simple things you can do to help on the mental front and always bear in mind that habits, however deeply ingrained can be changed.
First and foremost train yourself to always fight till the last point and to never to give in. One of the prime qualities of the world’s best players is their extreme stubbornness; they might lose from time to time but they don’t go down easily. If you cultivate an attitude of working and fighting right to the end, other players will fear you. There will be an added bonus too in that when you are focused and working hard, you have little time to be negative or to think too much about your own performance.
Secondly train every day in the training hall to be positive, build up an attitude of self-belief and be optimistic. Don’t ‘knock yourself’ and your performance or become emotional if you don’t perform as expected. Try different things, altered timing, more or less spin, until you solve any problem you may have. Develop the habit of calmness under pressure and introduce pressure situations into the training. Even imagine yourself coping with such situations and still being able to win; this will help when the real thing happens.
Thirdly direct your focus outwards. Too many players focus too much on their own shortcomings and what is wrong with their own game; they fail to notice what is happening around them and especially at the other end of the table. Most top table tennis performers have trained for many years, their automatic reactions are ingrained and don’t need to be monitored and controlled. Allow your body to play automatically and don’t interfere with its performance. The main area of any thought while you are playing should in fact be tactical. By focusing on your opponent, the facial reactions, the movement and shot preparation, trying to make yourself aware of his/her intentions, you will focus your attention away from yourself and allow your body to play.
Always remember too that in any match you play, whoever the opponent, there is no ‘better player’. Whatever the ranking, whatever has historically occurred between you and your opponent in previous meetings is irrelevant, is in the past. It is only the current match that matters and it is up to you to give 100% and to prove that on this occasion you are the better player!