Rowden Fullen (1990’s)

The big difference between the winner and the loser is in the attitude towards defeat and indeed not only defeat but towards problems, setbacks and handicaps. The winner does not wallow in self pity nor give way to depression, rather he or she regards losses in a constructive manner as part of the developmental process. If you look into the lives of many prominent people and world leaders in many cases you find a battle against adversity, they often faced misfortunes but didn’t give up, rather they learned from their experiences and moved forward.

It is only by admitting you have faults that you can hope to change and progress — the secret of winning and continued development is to always look for the lessons to be learned from losing. If you succumb to the very human tendency of making excuses and manufacturing external reasons for your failure, then you throw away the opportunity to profit from the experience and to learn something. To progress you must face reality.

In this we must be searching and ruthless. Too many coaches, trainers and parents are too easy going and protective of their charges and not always ready to face the ordeal of discussing and evaluating performance with their player. However upset a player may be after a bad loss he or she should appreciate the value of talking it over with the trainer as soon as possible, while details are still fresh in the mind. It does not have the same impact two or three hours or even days later. There is certainly no value in brooding over the loss, this only reinforces the negative aspects.

Look at things objectively, find out what went wrong, decide what to do next time under similar circumstances and then forget the matter. If there are lessons to be learned, changes or improvements to be made in your game, then these aspects should be looked at in the training hall and corrected. If the other player was better trained or indeed just better on the day that is also something you should be prepared to admit.

Another tendency in defeat is often to be totally negative about ourselves and our performance in many cases without justifiable reason. We say such things as — ‘I can’t play today’, ‘I can’t get my forehand on,’ ‘My serve won’t work.’ In other words we set about destroying our own confidence and from there our performance, often while we are still playing. All this does is to reinforce our opponent’s confidence — (our total body language says we are going to give the match away) — and kill off whatever chance we had of winning.

Your mind is like any computer, it responds to the data which is fed in. If you keep telling it that you have no chance and you’re going to lose, it will indeed help you to do just that. Equally if you emphasize that anything is possible, there is a way and you are going to find it, then the mind starts working to support you. Sooner or later positive thinking will attract solutions.

Recent studies into the motivation of top players in Sweden have thrown out the fact that the younger age group (up to twenty years of age) differs markedly from other groups, in that the players focus predominantly on results. It is more important to them to win tournaments and to beat certain opponents. Often however their overall level of preparation and their knowledge of how to reach their destination are basically very limited. No one can win all the time and over-concentration on results means self-confidence and motivation diminish in direct proportion to the number of losses.

In contrast the older age group of top players (especially those 25 years and over) has the deepest understanding of our sport, how to plan and prepare for the season and carry through their programme. Also they are most aware of the extent of their own capabilities. They are much more focused on their continuing development and less on results — individual upsets are taken in their stride and confidence does not suffer because losses too are part of the learning and development cycle. These older players have fewer worries about the future, indeed many are glad that they are still competing at a high level and accept each year as another bonus.

This emphasizes that although the winner is the sort of person who sets goals and works towards them, what goals you set are also of vital importance. Make sure your goals are not self-limiting in terms of confidence and motivation. Table tennis is one of the most difficult and complicated sports to master and to reach the top level takes a long time. It requires enormous patience and motivation — rather the aims and goals you work towards should be longer term.

But to succeed at any long term project you must really look at development in stages. You don’t become a top player overnight, progress is made one small step at a time and this is how you must view it. You should be continually monitoring your attitudes — if you maintain a good attitude throughout training and matches, you will steadily progress and continue to move forward.

High motivation comes from inner satisfaction, from the appreciation that the activity is of value to the individual and forms part of the whole person’s development. It is when outside influences or needs strengthen over a period of time that motivation diminishes — it can be for example when it becomes more important to earn money, win trophies, break into the National team, rather than to develop as a sports person. This is when one starts to weigh the advantages against the costs and even to consider the value of continuing.

Of course what makes our sport enjoyable differs from individual to individual. Some players love the competition and the pressure of contest, enjoy being taken to their limits, some the satisfaction and challenge of mastering new techniques and of seeing progress in their game. However one thing that many top players do agree on is that the prime sources of success are the areas they have control over and the capability of influencing — the internal factors.

What we are talking about here is basically attitude — the qualities and the approach you bring to training and competition. The desire and willingness to train and to train in the right way, to prepare for the big events, to fight and indeed fight hard under pressure and above all never to give in. This spirit of extreme stubbornness is a quality often found in the winner and one often emphasized by many top players when they talk about what it takes to be a champion.

Above all however these are the areas where you the player can take charge and steer your own course. If you focus completely on working and fighting for every point, then you have very little time and energy for doubt and worry and being negative. If you remain calm and in control and do not allow the emotions, irritation, anger and fear to creep in, then you have the time to think how you should play, to consider different tactics.

As we said at the beginning of this article the big difference between the winner and the loser is in attitude. If you too will be a winner learn to control the negative habits which threaten your concentration, become a fighter who never gives up and above all only feed positive thoughts into your mental computer.

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