A Solid Win
When I started playing table tennis, one of the things that I struggled with was the very act of competition. Not just losing, which is obviously hard to take. Also winning was an issue.
Last week I won a match 3-0, a clear win. I think it was the first time. My technical level has improved from private coaching, and it was higher than the other player.
But it was not only that. The new thing was that I didn’t refuse to make clear that I was there for the win. In the past, I would have had problems with winning a 3-0 match. I had a problem with the actual idea of competition.
Is Winning not Nice?
I think we bring our values to everything we do. Table tennis is no different.
I come from a traditionally catholic country (Spain). Even though I’m not religious myself, values of self-sacrifice and putting others first are very present in the collective subconscious of the country. Now that I’m an adult (and I live in a different country) I can see it clearer. Particularly in my family, not making other people feel uncomfortable is a non-spoken value.
Despite being a good intentioned value, it can become tricky. If taken to the extreme, it could easily hide the need of being accepted by everybody in every situation.
Well, sometimes people are not going to like you.
There are times when you need to defend yourself, or challenge other people’s preconceptions to help them grow, or communicate ideas that can be uncomfortable. Or, there might be times when you want to win a game!
When you win, the other side of the coin is that somebody loses.
Before, I wasn’t ready to take that pressure on my shoulders. I wanted to be kind to everybody so nobody had any problem with me.
What Competition Means to me Now
It definitely takes some inner strength to, winning or losing, still be nice and open to your opponent.
They are there to try to win over you and you’re there to try to win over them. And the one that wins is going to feel better than the one that loses. That’s competition right there: taking something for yourself instead of somebody else.
In my personal development, it’s been important to accept this fact, and to know that it’s not bad.
For me, nowadays, there are reasons why competition is actually a good thing:
- It helps you growIf you are challenged and you want to win, yo try to become better. Otherwise, there’s no need for improvement.
- It helps the game get betterIf everybody wants to be better, there’s a collective push that translates in a more exciting, more elaborate, more interesting table tennis overall.
- The loser doesn’t really “lose” anythingThis is a game. Their lives are still good, or however they were before. It is important to not to put too much importance on the fact of winning and losing, especially in beginner levels, because actually, it doesn’t really matter that much (just for your own ego).
- Winning is not the opposite of being niceYou can be both a nice person and an aggressive player. People are people and after the game, whoever won, you and him/her are going to be equals again.
How All This Actually Translates into my Game
I’m writing about all this stuff because I think it actually has an important impact on my performance and my matches.
There’s a certain state of mind that I’ve found in myself when playing. I call it “aggressiveness”, for the lack of a better term. For me, aggressiveness is the opposite of passiveness. Other people seem to think the same.
What Playing Aggressively Means to Me Now
- I’m very focused on doing whatever is necessary to win this specific point. Every point in every march deserves that I “should be finding my full mental focus, regardless of who is at the other end”, as Matt Hetherington says.
- I’m not thinking about what that other person would do or don’t if she wins or loses. They’ll be fine.
- I’m not thinking that this single point will define my table tennis career. Therefore, I don’t feel super pressured.
- I take risks. I try to do the things that I’ve trained for that could win points.
- There’s more effort on my strokes. I try harder, I sweat more, I move more, I go down more.
- I shout my victories out.
- My strokes change: more looping open and brushing/grabbing the ball. Less push defensively and less hitting flat.
- I take initiative (or try). I’m not just blocking or waiting to see what my opponent does, and then respond – I do things with an agenda (this one is hard and needs more skills and experience).
- I observe my opponent and go for the weaker areas (also needs experience).
It is hard and it requires you to be extremely focused and relaxed in your mind – relaxed about the outer world, just thinking about what is happening on the table.
And it doesn’t mean I win more games or anything. The main difference is that I feel more “flowing” during the game and more satisfied after – because I gave it all.
The Opposite of Being an Aggressive Player
Mentally, the most weakening thoughts for me are the ones related to that “outer world”. Things like:
- All this training and see, I still can’t beat this person.
- Is she/he going to feel really bad if she loses?
- Am I stuck in my progress?
- Oh my, he/she is just a kid, what if I lose against him/her?
- I won last time, why I’m not winning this time?
And things like that. As you can see, none of them are related to the game. The important things for the game are: what strokes is this person using? why am I losing, what’s going wrong? what is the best counter-stroke for this or that specific stroke?
The latter thoughts mean that you are thinking of the game, not about everything else. It is another form of being focused and present. Pause for a sec during the game and look inside. What are your thoughts? Are you thinking of the game or about everything else?