Path to the Future You

Rowden June 2021

Habits can be good. In fact over 40% of our actions in any one day are habits not a result of conscious thought.

The brain welcomes habits because they enable us to do simple everyday tasks on autopilot, releasing the brain to focus on more important aspects. The automatization of your actions frees up energy that can be used to focus to other tasks. This can work to your advantage! But problems occur when bad habits become automated and you get locked into actions which are counter-productive.

Our sport of table tennis is largely automated, which it needs to be, as it is too quick for us to have to consciously think of every response to the opponent's actions. But there is danger in this automatization. We become programmed to play in certain ways without enough variety and innovation. If we are not careful not only can the number of alternatives we use become too few and limited and we become predictable and easy to 'read', but the much bigger danger is we stop thinking and become too fixed and narrow in our tactics and strategies.

This mental aspect is particularly crucial in view of the current science of table tennis with the plastic ball, which requires us to be more unpredictable and innovative, but with a lesser number of weapons at our disposal due to the much reduced spin and the ease of coping with the newer ball.

A further problem arises in the case of the developmental system in most National Associations, which removes players from their clubs often at a young age and puts them in high performance centres where they will evolve into top players. Unfortunately the coaches then handling the young stars don't know them, don't understand in detail how they play and often do not have enough table time with the players to form a productive relationship. Every player is of course an individual and should progress in the appropriate direction for their own skills and strengths and this personal indepth focus is quite often lacking at a time when it is most necessary. Or even worse if the current coach has his/her own ideas of how top players should perform, they will be encouraged to play in a counter-productive way which ignores their own strengths and basic instincts. At times too players will even be asked to copy world class stars, when in fact they possess none of the necessary qualities or attributes to perform as these players do.

Young players too are young. This should be obvious but what is not so obvious is that in many cases they understand little of the why and how they should train. The young often seem to have the attitude they are training to beat other little kids (and some coaches are the same), whereas the young player ideally is being given all the tools and weapons to survive and prosper at the senior level, which of course is the end product. Young players should always be taught the 'complete package' even from a very early age then it is not necessary to backtrack and to start learning suitable strategies for each subsequent level as they move on.

Equally youngsters should be instructed in the mental aspects in the early stages. It is very easy for them to find a way of playing which wins matches at their beginner level and they then mentally become locked into this method (which works against the kids) and resist changing it as they think they have reached the final destination and have nothing else to learn. It is only much later that they realise at senior level table tennis is a completely different ball game, where one type of strategy has no chance against older much more experienced players, who keep changing the goal posts. The senior players keep changing all the time and in many different ways, change of placement, change of length and speed, use of angles and straight balls, shots into the body, change of spin, power and lack of power etc. At senior level unpredictability is the norm and players have available many more alternatives to cope with differing situations; as a result the player with only one major strategy has little or no chance.

The unpredictability and the alternatives should therefore also be taught EARLY as should the MENTAL grasp of the crucial nature of the wide-ranging approach to tactics and strategy.