To be a Champion

Rowden Fullen (2010)

Do you want to be a champion, the best there is? It’s the mind-set that’s crucial, more important than the technique, the tactics or all the agility, speed and physical power. Three aspects are above all pivotal --

• The ability to think round corners, not to be one of the herd. There are always more ways than one to beat even a good opponent.
• The ability to isolate just what makes you successful, where you win points and where you cause the opponent real problems.
• The quality of innovation and evolution. With the great player there is a constant progress, the game is developing all the time, new things are appearing. Without this quality of change, there can only be a ‘plateauing’ out, a reaching of a level and then stopping – eventually of course stagnation.

‘The Gods send victories to those who earn them’. Just what did the ancient Greeks mean by this phrase? Quite simply, that it’s your behaviour under pressure which determines just how successful you will be.

It’s how you act and what you do at the crucial stages in the match which will determine the outcome. It is here that you cannot afford the lapse of concentration which turns the tide in favour of your opponent. Panicking or playing stupidly can lose you the match but equally so can a brief slip in attention where you lose one or two vital points. Now we play only to eleven up each individual point is significant, a few unforced errors can easily change the result.

Most important is to remain calm enough so that you are able to think logically and to the point. What has been working for you so far in the match, where are you strong and where is the opponent weak? You must bear in mind too that even a ‘leading’ position can be hazardous – it’s all too easy to lead 7 – 4 then to relax and let your opponent back in. Try to keep thinking all the time and stay alert to any changes in the game or to any new tactics from the other end of the table. If you are able to read the play well you will be in a much better position to adjust to anything new or different. The essential thing is to be able to do this in time. Our game of table tennis especially now to eleven up does not give much opportunity for slow, leisurely thought processes.

The cultivation of adaptive intelligence is important but the ability to adapt quickly even more so.

Being a champion means quite simply being able to cope better than anyone else with the differing situations you face. Part of this ‘coping’ entails reading what is happening in the game and from the other end of the table in a brief fraction of time and then putting in place measures to deal with what the opponent has done. Equally however you cannot just play ‘catch-up’ all the time and just follow the opponent’s lead.

To reach the highest levels it is vital that you do what you do best and utilise your own strengths as much as possible. This requires you to isolate your own strengths (in relation to the varying styles of opponent you meet), be keenly aware of how you win points and to be strong enough mentally to put into operation what you know you have to do to win. This may not always result in actually winning. But generally what it will result in is playing the best game for you and this is obviously the way forward.

What many players fail to understand even in the advanced stages of their career, is that table tennis is a tactical sport which requires thought from you, the player. This not only means thoughts about the tactics of the particular game you are playing now, but consideration as to whether the way you play in general is in fact the way you want to play and a style and direction with which you as a person and player feel comfortable.

These are matters which only you the player can resolve. Many performers throughout their careers will have a variety or coaches and mentors, some good and some bad, some knowledgeable and some not. Their purpose is not to dictate how you should play and to hold your hand for the rest of your life (though many coaches do however seem to think this is their role). Their job should be to show you how to get the best out of yourself, so that in effect after a while you don’t need them anymore. Any player who remains coach ‘reliant’ is extremely unlikely ever to become a real champion.

At the highest levels in our sport you will see we still have the coach, but his/her function is much more on the lines of a ‘mentor’, someone to bounce ideas off, someone to suggest alternatives and possibilities. As the player is usually heavily involved in just playing it is often the coach who will research new ideas and possible new avenues for mutual discussion. In the final analysis however you the player should be responsible for your development if you are to reach the real heights. You are the only one who really knows how you feel about the way you play.

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