Last weekend was my not very good first serious match experience in the US. I spent all week looking forward to seeing what my coach, Masaaki, had to tell me about it.
A great coaching session
He was, just like me, disappointed. Training was going well and not being able to translate that into matches hurt.
But after that initial feeling, we had a great conversation about competition, table tennis and life in general.
That’s one of the reasons why having a coach is a completely different and richer experience. Either for table tennis, another sport, or any other skill in life.
The bigger picture
He told me how it’s important to put things into context. For example, I must remember that I just started playing matches, and the people that I played against have been training for 20+ years. They know their game. They might not be professional players, and they might not be technically perfect or even advanced, but they know what to do in a game.
- They have experience, and experience is a great asset.
- They know their own weak and strong points and they know their opponent’s.
- They can read you and they can adjust their game (up to a point).
- They know how to trick you.
- They know the flow of the game.
- They are less, way less nervous than me.
What do you think of when you play?
Of course, it’s important to remember your situation vs. the other players’. But his most striking comment to me was when he told me:
- You shouldn’t be thinking of winning when you play.
- Well, what should I be thinking of, then?
- That’s a good question. That’s a question that every player has to answer himself.
So I started trying to figure it out for myself.
Why I play table tennis
I’m sure this will change over time. But, for today, these are the reasons why I play table tennis:
- Because I find the game really beautiful and I want to be part of it.
- Because I think it’s very mentally demanding and I’d like to get better at that: remaining focused, calm and positive in stressful situations.
- To learn how to compete healthily – it’s a useful skill in today’s world!
- To bring whatever I can bring to the sport. I believe that everybody is different and everybody can offer something special to the world, even me. I want to be able to bring whatever that is to Table Tennis.
- To have a community. Now, wherever I go, there will be some (small) community of table tennis players with whom I already share something (That’s one of the reasons for this blog, too).
- Because I believe that if you get better at one thing, the other aspects of your life will improve too.
The Roots of the Fear of Losing
Masaaki made yet another great point when he said that some players are terrified of losing because they put so much of their feeling of self-worthiness to winning.
“If the win, they are worthy, they deserve to feel good about themselves, they feel they are better. If they lose, they are worthless and they failed.”
This is actually a really deep issue that I’ve seen and felt in many aspects of life. Work, love, yoga, I have felt that knot in the gut for those too. It seems that it is embodied in ourselves, maybe from society, maybe just as a human feature. We judge ourselves according to our outside, absolute performance. We forget the context, the different personal histories, the specific circumstances. The big picture.
So it seems like table tennis brings up all your personal issues, too. Just like anything else you try for real.
Which is great. It’s a great opportunity to work on that. I don’t have a clear answer for this yet, but I was amazed from this conversation and its caveats. I’m grateful that life gave me yet another opportunity to reflect on this and remember for myself that my sense of worthiness shouldn’t come from what I do or my performance.
The question remains, though. Where should the self-worthiness and confidence feeling come from? Is it already there, in us, and I don’t really have to do anything to earn it?
I guess in order to answer that, I’ll have to keep on playing and keep on living.