I had a chance to see, talk to, and learn from some top international and national table tennis players. In this and the next couple of posts, I will share interviews with the experts.
I saw Samson Dubina (#1 player in Ohio and top 20 men in US (over 30)) stretching in preparation for a match and asked him for advise that I thought many of us could use.
Samson Dubina (#1 player in Ohio)
Photo credit: USATT
1. What do you do before a match if you are kind of nervous?
If I am nervous before a match, I just focus on my strategy instead of focusing on the results. When you think about the results of the match, like the benefits of winning, or the consequences of losing, its really kind of a nerve wracking thing when you play a match. But if you focus exclusively on a strategy, for example how you want to serve, how to want to receive, how you want to play the rallies, how you want to play the point, then your focus gets put on the strategy and you don't feel nervous. But if you think, "Oh if I beat this guy, I'm going to get to the Open Final, or Oh, if I lose to this guy, what will Bob at the club think of me," then your mind is off your strategy. That will make you nervous. I used to get quite nervous because I wanted to win so badly. Now it is just a matter of focusing on my strategy and executing, as opposed to thinking that I have to win this match. You don't have to win. It is not a life and death situation. If you lose the match it is not like USATT is going to take away your family, your house, your job, and everything.
2. Many players play better in practice, but not so well in tournaments. How do you get your tournament game as good as your practice game?
There are basically three reasons why players may do better in practice as opposed to tournaments:
a. The conditions - Sometimes if you are not used to the playing conditions, you can play quite well in say your basement, then you come here to a gym and you're on table 97, the conditions are different. So usually I try to get there a day or two early to practice in the conditions. I try to practice ahead of time in similar conditions - may be same tables and same balls or something like that.
b. The nervousness that we talked about - I think taking every practice like it is a tournament, being serious in practice, and then relaxing during tournaments (not putting too much pressure on yourself) will help.
c. The opponents - Sometimes you'll play in tournaments different opponents so it is important to practice against a variety of different styles.
That indeed is valuable advise from Samson Dubina that all of us could use - "Focus on the strategy, not the outcome."
To learn more about Samson Dubina, visit www.samsondubina.com.