Last Updated on October 24, 2023 by Sorin Petroj
Perhaps you want to become a better player or gain a psychological edge in your next table tennis game. This guide to table tennis psychology contains tips and advice from the freshest minds and calculative strategies to prosper.
Also, you will learn the common psychological techniques of table tennis players to achieve competitive advantages over their opponents.
Understanding Table Tennis Psychology
“Psychology” is the scientific study of the mind of humans and behavior in a particular action.
Sports psychology is the scientific study of a particular sport and has two major branches:
- The academic discipline covers cultural diversity, health benefits, and much more.
- Applied science focuses on successful performance and players’ overall well-being.
Hence, table tennis psychology is how we think about, analyze, and prepare for the sport. While we don’t have the means to understand the mental secret of successful performance from one table tennis player to the next, we can use the systematic study of sports psychology to refine and shape the mental game.
- Building the mental skills critical for successful performance.
- De-cluttering the psychological barriers linked to unfortunate events like after-injury or unsuccessful performance.
- Gaining overall well-being.
What Are The Areas of Table Tennis Psychology
There are three areas of table tennis psychology that coaches and sports psychologists work on three areas of the psychological aspect of table tennis. These three areas of psychology in table tennis are:
Performance Development: Performance development refers to helping athletes develop the skills and competencies necessary to perform well under pressure.
Personality Development: It is widely agreed that personality contributes to a player’s success or failure; hence the goal is to develop a healthier character.
Mental Health: If you are psychologically healthy, you are bound to perform better; hence the goal is to develop mental health for better performance.
How Psychology Influences Your Performance As A Table Tennis Player
A study revealed that table tennis players imbued with better psychological strategies and techniques are more successful in regulating their mental and psychological skills. Elite athletes use individual psychological methods and techniques to excel in their performance or advance their table tennis careers.
As a table tennis player, you will be confronted with many situations that might cause you to lose your composure. However, if your psychology is correct, you can overcome these obstacles imposed by your opponents.
It’s a fact that psychology differs from one table tennis player to another.
Coaches, sports psychologists, and elite athletes work collaboratively to develop and implement different psychological skills programs to improve the athlete’s performance.
What Table Tennis Psychological Skills and techniques Can You Master?
The New York Professor of Neuroscience and psychology and a team of researchers at the American Museum of Natural History established that table tennis requires using 89% of sensory parts of the brain rather than muscles.
Not much of a surprise; chess came first and utilizes 98% of mental parts. What does this stat mean?
This stat means that two-thirds of table tennis game relies on the mental aspect. Let’s learn the cognitive techniques and strategies to help you develop your table tennis psychology for better performance.
Table tennis psychological techniques include mental training methods as the following:
- Creating Mental Imagery/Visualization
- Creating positive mindset
- Self-motivation and self-realization
- Self-talk exercises
- Concentration/focus training
- Setting challenging but realistic goals
The Concept of Self-Imagery & Visualization
Imaging or visualizing is a powerful tool for improving performance in table tennis. Many of us are familiar with “visualization,” which refers to imagery.
Using self-imagery/visualization can be helpful when preparing for a match, during the game, getting feedback on your performance, and correcting mistakes.
When you’re strategically planning your play, before matches, during matches, and afterward, visualizing the game in your mind can help. It can also help with practice and training.
For example, imagining yourself in a match reinforces muscle memory and keeps your body conditioned for gameplay.
How Can You Improve Mental Imagery?
The P.E.T.T.L.E.P Model of Imagery by Holmes and Collins (2001) is most preferred in table tennis psychology. The P.E.T.T.L.E.P. model helps people imagine how they will perform different activities, based on the work of Jeannerod and other researchers. The P.E.T.T.L.E.P. is an acronym for six elements that stands for:
Physical: To get your creativity flowing, try to imagine the physical characteristics of the space.
Environment: Imagine the environment it is in using all five senses -sight, touch, hearing, taste, and smell. Imagine yourself on stage, in the spotlights. How does this feel? What can you hear? What do you see?
Task: To perform a task well, try to imagine the relevant characteristics of the task in detail. Imagine yourself as a competent performer of the task or see others performing it well.
Timing: Imagine the timing of action in slow motion and fast motion.
Learning: Review how you will adapt as your experience level increases. You will never develop as a player if you can’t learn from your mistakes. Each time you make a mistake, think about what went wrong and hopefully change your strategy to avoid repeating the same error.
By asking yourself what you did wrong, you are trying to answer two questions:
- What did I do right?
- What should I have done differently?
Table Tennis Psychology – The Emotion
Feel how you would in a real-life situation and avoid feeling fear or panic. How can you deal with anxiety? The best way to manage stress is to understand the following: 1. Anxiety is normal in sports, 2. Mild anxiety is often helpful, not harmful, 3.
Take deep breaths and practice different techniques to help reduce anxiety. Successfully managing anxiety in table tennis requires a player to realize that nervousness is a normal part of the sport.
A player needs to look at anxiety as an indication of motivation and not low achievement, learn techniques for reducing anxiety, and realize that how you deal with anxiety affects how you perform under pressure.
- Perspective: Some tasks are better suited for seeing things from the first person, whereas other tasks are better suited for visiting things from the third person. A first-person perspective (through your own eyes) may be better for tasks with open skills.
On the other hand, a third-person perspective (like watching yourself on a video) is preferred for form and positioning tasks.
The Concept of Positive Psychology in Table Tennis
Table tennis players must strive to develop positive psychology. After all, positive people are more likely to succeed. A positive mental attitude is one of the most important things you can develop in table tennis.
This is because if you have a positive attitude, it will complement your fighting spirit and the love of table tennis that already exists in your passion.
You improve your game by improving your mental attitude, not any other way around. The most referred and quoted positive psychology theory is from the famous psychologist, author, and educator Seligman. P.E.R.M.A. is the acronym of Seligman’s theory in summary.
It stands as follows:
Positive Emotions: Nurturing positive emotion is easier said than done in facing adversities. But positive emotions are when a player feels satisfied and excited, and all of these are connected to successful outcomes.
Engagement: Engagement refers to the passion for concentration on the court. We will learn how to improve concentration on the court in the upcoming sections.
Relationships: What fuels positive emotions is building relationships; as Christopher Peterson, the esteemed Professor of psychology and organization studies, puts it simply: “Other people matter” [source]. A player is expected to carry good sportsmanship on the court. Good sportsmanship refers to carrying a sense of fellowship.
Meaning: It is essential to figure out the true meaning and the purpose of the work on action. This point has a lot to do with self-motivation, which we will learn in the upcoming sections.
Accomplishments: Accomplishment is the pursuit of mastery. Pursuing accomplishment activates positive emotions and a sense of purpose.
How To Create a Positive Mental Attitude?
Optimism and a positive mental attitude are not habits you can find in everyone. Some people are naturally optimistic. The rest of us need to work at it, and research has shown that attitude is a skill you can learn. How can you create a positive mental attitude? Here’s how.
Make Acquaintance With Positive-Minded People: To maintain a positive attitude, associate yourself with people who share your goals and dreams. Don’t go it alone.
If you want to succeed, find someone in your life—a friend, a coach, or an idol—who puts the same effort into their dreams as yours. You must also have a coach who understands the importance of your mental game and can guide you in becoming mentally stronger.
Practice Thinking Positive: A positive mental attitude refers to a positive view of oneself, behavior, and the future. When an athlete has a positive mental attitude, they believe that even when losing seems imminent. Hard work can eventually lead to victory.
These athletes accept themselves and their abilities while remaining confident, believing they will succeed in life and on the court.
Timo Boll – Mental Strength
What are different thoughts you can have while playing table tennis to help you: -build confidence -create persistence in your shots -train yourself to stay focused -and reduce negative thoughts.
Focus On The Process, And Stay Positive: How can you stay positive on the court when facing a challenge from an opponent? Start with the assumption you can do it. Be optimistic about your situation and be persistent with it. Think that you are capable of winning, and you will be.
When practicing, focus on the process, not the results: It is essential to strive for improvement and not perfection: Think as if you are a lifelong learner of the game.
The Concept of Self-Motivation Psychology in Table Tennis
A recent study published by the Journal of Sports Sciences concludes that self-motivation significantly reduces performance anxiety and produces favorable outcomes in table tennis.
You can play table tennis because it’s personally rewarding you, which can be in many ways. Perhaps you like the feeling of doing good at it.
So, two types of factors/motivators drive one to play table tennis- this can be either intrinsic or extrinsic. If you are passionate about playing table tennis, it is internal motivation. If you play table tennis because of external perceptions like social recognition, it is external motivation. There are pros and cons attached to both of them.
How To Build and Nurture Self-Motivation?
What matters most is to realize what motivates you to play table tennis and to keep yourself abreast with it. This is the concept of the Self-Determination theory. Without first realizing your key motivation, you can’t nurture it. You can measure your self-motivation by answering and then assessing the following 6 motivational regulations:
I play table tennis because:
- I enjoy it
- It’s a part of who I am
- It teaches me self-discipline
- I would feel guilty if I quit
- I feel pressure from other people to play
- The reasons are not clear to me anymore
From time to time, it is essential for self-reflection. Based on the above key points, you can nurture and keep your self-motivation abreast.
Ask yourself what your motivation is.
What do you want to achieve?
Is it to be the best player in your club? Or county or region?
Is it to win gold at the Olympics? Or to get into the world’s top 100 as a pro player?
Please do it. You have to know what you want before you can begin to work out how to get there.
Achieving something essential and worthwhile for yourself is an incredibly powerful motivator, especially if it’s been a life-long ambition. You will improve more quickly and reach higher levels of play than ever before because your motivation is stronger than that of other players who don’t have such a clear goal in mind.
If you lack motivation, I would like to encourage you to take a break from table tennis for about two weeks. After this time, you will find that you have the urge to play again and that your motivation for doing so is much stronger.
- Find a date in your diary on which you want to start table tennis again. This might be after a vacation or after Christmas, or just sometime in the future when you have free.
- Set a target of how many days away this date is (e.g., five days away) and set up an alarm on your phone as a reminder. When this alarm goes off, adjust the number of days until your next alarm by five (e.g., it will be ten days away).
- Decide on at least three things that you can do when that alarm goes off:
- a) Watch some pro table tennis online (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bBQ_w1TEVi8)
- b) Enter an upcoming tournament (https://www.teamusa.org/usa-table-tennis/events)
- c) Read some tips and advice on table tennis (Blog Articles – Tabletennistop – Players – History – Table Tennis Blog)
Returning to table tennis after a break is easy; staying motivated can sometimes be tricky. If you want to avoid taking long breaks in the future, try using one or more of the following techniques:
Be clear about what makes you want to play table tennis in the first place. Is it simply doing something physical?
Enjoyment of competition?
Or maybe the social side of table tennis keeps you coming back?
Knowing what motivates you will help you focus your efforts on finding ways to keep that motivation going.
Find other ways to enjoy table tennis apart from just playing matches. Watching videos of top players on YouTube or practicing drills are good ways of remembering why you started playing in the first place. They don’t require much physical effort, so they can easily fit in around your training schedule.
The Concept of Self-Talk in Table Tennis Psychology
Positive self-talk is a technique applied in sports psychology. Self-talk is the internal dialogue we have with ourselves. It can help us with various things, but it has some significant uses for table tennis players.
A study published in the Journal of Sport and Exercise Psychology concludes that positive self-talk benefits sports performance. In table tennis, the player does not speak out loud, but inside his head, there is a constant conversation, which we often refer to as “Self-Talk.”
How To Use Positive Self-Talk?
The better you are at self-talk, the more you can program yourself before and during your matches. Self-talk is a form of communication with yourself, and much like any other type of communication, you can improve it by learning the proper techniques, understanding how it works, and who is in control.
Here are some suggestions for using self-talk to improve your game.
Keep It Simple And To The Point: Your self-talk doesn’t need to be as inspiring as the motivational coach Drik Wagner. You can use simple phrases such as “Let’s do it” and “I am set for it.”
Don’t Wait For Your Inner Voice; Do It Pro-Actively: You may be silly at first, but start using them proactively in your practice as soon as you have picked up your phrases.
Expand Your Vocabulary: Imagine some moments when you found yourself under pressure and performed very well. To give your words meaning, think about the moments when you’ve been at your best.
Write down the particular phrases that will remind you of those feelings. Then, use these phrases throughout the tournament. Choose one or two sentences before critical points and as part of a mental warm-up routine.
When you feel nervous, you can say the following things: “I’ve got this! I’m strong under pressure!” Remember when you felt good about yourself, regardless of the score?
The Concept of Concentration in Table Tennis Psychology
Few activities in our lives are more physically demanding than table tennis. Most things we do require the use of just one or two muscles, but our core workout comes from a different source, from continuously keeping our balance, focus, and concentration on the next move to be made.
A slight contraction in the wrist muscle goes a long way. In a sport that requires precision and focus, concentration plays a critical role in the ability of the players to perform at the highest level.
Considering this factor alone, it is essential to be disciplined when thinking, staying alert and focused.
How To Stay Focused and Maintain Concentration?
You have to be alert, attentive, and concentrated on the court. It’s hard to do all that while trying to win a point, especially while playing competitively or at the national or international level.
You need to concentrate hard and hit the ball, but this does not sound easy when you only can play a couple of rallies with one or two-minute breaks in between!
Here are some suggestions to maintain concentration and stay focused when playing competitively.
Ignore Distractions: It is essential to focus on your opponent. Do not let distractions get in the way of your play. But first, find out what makes you get distracted during practice. Although the crowd, the floor, and the umpire are also significant, you should focus on your opponent as you play.
If you concentrate on your opponent and focus on the game, you’ll win the match.
Tune In Your Mind: The mental coach, Bill Cole, MS, MA from Silicon Valley, suggests that it’s essential to tune in your mind by doing short breathing exercises rather than trying hard to ward off distractions. Take deep exercises and relax your muscles. Repeat these from time to time.
Table Tennis Psychology – Sports Science
Stay In The Present: It’s a great job if you’ve won the opening point, but you’ll also need to win the upcoming points. In table tennis, you have to focus on winning the point in front of you. Games are broken down into sets, and each set is played through several points.
You have to win 11 points to win a set and three or four sets to win a match. It all starts with one point. Concentrate on that one point and nothing else should matter.
How To Set Challenging But Realistic Goals?
How do you set challenging goals that push your performance without putting too much pressure on yourself? One important principle related to goal setting is that it should be S.M.A.R.T. (Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant, and Timely).
Here are some examples of setting short-time goals:
- Process Goals: A process goal is to make your performance as effortless as possible: to make every shot you play automatically. The purpose of a process goal is to eliminate or minimize the errors and bad shots in your game rather than maximize your good ones.
- Performance Goal: A performance goal is something you can practice to get better at. If a coach tells her team to play harder, that’s an example of a performance goal; if she tells them to win, that’s an outcome goal—and one they have no control over.
- Outcome Goal: When working toward an outcome goal, you’re looking at the results and trying to win. You can directly control an outcome goal, like winning all three singles during your successive league.
I once played a league match in which I served 80% of my first serves into the service box. I was so consistent that my opponent shouted, “Every time!” when I served another one at one point in the third game of the match.
Table Tennis Psychology – The Winning Routine
Trying to make this statistic happen had not been one of my goals for the match. My goal was to win; serving well would have been icing on the cake. But if you can keep your eye on performance goals instead of outcome goals, you will sometimes have better results, even if it is not your conscious intention.
We all set both kinds of goals all the time. With a few exceptions, our performance goals are almost always about other people: making the team, pleasing our coach, and getting a good grade on a test.
Outcome goals are usually about ourselves: breaking 100, getting in shape, and being able to serve in the wind.
Setting Up The Outcome Goals
You might think there is nothing wrong with setting outcome goals: we all want to do well, and if you don’t care how well you do relative to others, what’s wrong with setting an outcome goal like getting 80% of your forehands in play? The problem is that we are bad at distinguishing between the two.
The time horizon is the difference between performance and outcome goals. A performance goal focuses on the process of getting better, such as working on your backhand. An outcome goal focuses on winning matches, such as five games in a row.
The advantages of using a performance goal are that it’s more realistic, motivating, and better for your long-term development. The advantage of using an outcome goal is that it’s easier to track and requires less mental effort.
Table tennis psychology can be a very personal and individualized topic.
What is your definition of success?
Some players consider success as winning national championships, while others consider success as maintaining their passion for the sport. While the goals you set may change throughout the history of playing ping pong, the right mindset can help improve your game, regardless of your skill level.
More Notes on Improving Mental Skills for Performance
What does it require to become mentally tough? Think about the greatest table tennis players worldwide.
Choose any player and try to apprehend their mental strength and how they execute their game plan. You’ll see that most successful/iconic table tennis players are confident, don’t make the same mistakes, and keep consistently improving their performance.
Improving Cognitive Processing Speed: Table tennis is a game to be played with the mind; it is often a battle of wits. Your opponent is trying to outwit and sometimes intimidate you.
The better you recognize this in a given situation, the less often you’ll find yourself on the receiving end of unpleasant surprises. That’s why it is essential to read your opponent’s mind beforehand.
Becoming A Good Thinker: Good table tennis players are good thinkers, too. Their thinking must be good enough to coordinate their ping pong paddle work and vision in time and space while immersed in an intense rally.
Just as important, they have to be able to change tactics quickly, moving from a defensive strategy at one point to an aggressive offense at the next and back again.
A skilled player can flip from one game plan to another on a dime during a single stroke as the situation changes. The best players can also memorize hundreds of patterns, each with its best counter-strategy. This is far more than mere physical skill.
What Are The Challenges Of Table Tennis Psychology?
The challenge of table tennis psychology is something that many table tennis players face. The task is not to get lost in the pressure and the nerves. The task is to stay in control of your actions and do what you’ve practiced thousands of times.
You need to be mentally strong, for making mistakes is far more accessible at this point. Sometimes you might step onto the court thinking you are in control, only to question yourself after the first rally has finished. This guide on table tennis psychology is compiled to help you learn more about the pressures, emotions, and responsibilities of being a professional table tennis player and tips that can help improve your mental strength.
The quote, “You beat your mind, not your competition,” is an excellent example of the momentum you need to win. Competitive table tennis is a psychological and physical game; you must believe that you can win even when it doesn’t appear.
Consider this if you have never played competitively against an opponent who seems superior to yourself. Your confidence is high when you play in a less professional league or just for fun.
You play better than at an important tournament where your lack of experience could cost you. You will only learn from competing against better players because it makes you work harder and gives you something to strive for.
Table Tennis Psychology – Conclusion
In this Table Tennis Psychology Guide, we’ve covered a lot of information about game psychology. It is a hugely important part of improving your game, but it should not be underestimated. You need to focus on your game but understand how your opponent works.
Take note that there are some proven psychological tactics and mind games you can use in your matches, these will take time to master, but they will make all the difference against an opponent with no understanding or awareness of the mental game.
Although we talked about a wide range of topics in the guide, from practices to mindset, one of the key takeaways is to remain positive and believe in your capabilities.
This can be difficult when you make mistakes or lose a match but try to keep a good mental approach to avoid burning out. I hope you enjoyed the guide and will learn from it. Feel free to contact us directly regarding any of the raised points.
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