Lets Talk About Quitting (and how to Avoid it)

When do you write a post about quitting? Everyone feels like they want to quit a challenge at some point. It is pretty normal. You wake up and can't be bothered to train or commit or something goes wrong, an injury, a loss that causes the feeling that you cannot do this any more.

All being well this challenge goes on for 8 years. That is a long time. I could fit in almost three university degrees or two masters degrees. I could complete the whole of secondary school and my first year of university in that time. I could inevitably quit. I could have a big event
that changes the course of my life and table tennis has to take a back seat. I could just stop enjoying it one day and slowly but surely interest will fade until I quit without even realising. Even my health and vast amount of injuries could get in the way. So quitting is always a real possibility and, therefore, something I feel should be discussed.

I have had the feeling of wanting to quit only once in the past 7 months. When I lost to someone I never thought I would lose to in my blog post entitled "Getting into The Meat of It". It was very, very painful and my girlfriend had to endure a long monologue about how I wasn't sure I could continue. The truth is that I didn't really want to quit I just wanted to hear someone tell me how far I had come that I wasn't going to lose next time and that I was actually, relatively, decent at this sport. The key to not quitting is the routine. The concept of "table tennis is my life" is so valuable. However, it shouldn't be seen to be taking over your life. It should be more like brushing your teeth. You get up, you brush them and continue with your day. You would notice if you didn't brush them but you barely notice when you do. Applied to table tennis, I barely notice when I am training as it is just something I do. However, if I don't train then a part of me is missing, it niggles and I don't feel good at all. It is like I am out of balance.

Routine, alone, will not stop an individual from quitting if things get too difficult. Another is to set a challenge. Preferably something big. The reason I set such a big challenge "to reach the Olympics" was that even if I fail I might fail pretty close to the ultimate goal. It also keeps the idea of "what if" in my head. If you think "if I keep going I might end up in the Olympics" it is a much more interesting thought than "if I keep going I might end up being the best in my club". It also inspires me to look at top players and take on my coaches messages because I know I want to compete with people at the very top of the sport. It also helps to have a challenge that is relatively unique. Granted I have come across two people that have done something relatively similar: Sam and Ben doing "Expert in a Year" and Andy Couchman, who attempted a three year challenge. My challenge is different enough that it keeps me interested and perhaps a bit grander. Which probably says more about my personality then either of those guys.

Accompanying the large overarching and perhaps slightly unrealistic goals have to be a web of smaller, more self contained goals. The fact is, though, these goals have to be so flexible. Medium term goals are fine and, like the long term goal, can stay fairly static but short term goals change so much that it is hardly worth having them and I don't always feel like they are a good benchmark for learning. I have lost in weeks gone by, tons of games against people who I should always beat and would be my target to consistently beat but then beaten high quality opposition that aren't even on my radar of goals. I think it is largely because learning goes in jumps. It is not the most linear of progressions and that requires a lot of patience.

When it comes to quitting any sport, it is usually because patience has run out. If you lose a game and have the patience to wait and progress you are likely to, at some point beat that opponent. The problem is that progression may take months, weeks or, even years. I think that is my biggest worry. Currently, even when I am not progressing in matches I am progressing in drills or when I am struggling in drills I beat somebody new. I always have stuff to practice that I have never done before. However, it will all run out at some point. I am sure, in the future I will have done every serve. I will have learnt the technique for everything and I will come up against someone who I just cannot beat. I will question everything about myself and still not find an answer. It might be that I need more work and more coaching or more fitness but that progression could take months with little return. It will be then that I hope I am patient and can see my long term goal out.

Another piece of the puzzle to safeguard against quitting comes down to accountability. Instagram, youtube, facebook etc. etc. etc. are all used by us to show our lives. Our photos are always of our best bits, a greatest hits of our lives. Our statuses are slightly different, the absolute highs and the absolute lows, however they are always there to engage others and seek some form of attention. Videos often a combination of these greatest hits and status updates with a little bit of creativity thrown in. However, social media, including this blog, also makes us accountable to our peers. If I tell everyone I am sad and I am actually happy then I can be proved, easily, to be lying if I come into contact with anyone I know. Likewise, this blog, with its large goals and constant updates is out there for everyone I know to see. Yes, it is likely nobody really cares about if I complete the challenge or if I stop it. However, making the challenge public at least allows the potential for public shame if I fail and that is a big motivator.

My final point is on enjoying the journey. It is a massive cliche. You have to love what you do. When I tried to become a fitness model I didn't love it. In fact, I was bored by it and it served no purpose other than to remind me of what I actually loved. I love sport in general but some things always hit closer to home than others. Athletics and rugby are associated with my happiest memories of childhood and not having them in my life are also associated with some of my darkest. Table tennis was a surprise to me as to how much I enjoy it. Hitting a ball is therapeutic. I could literally play table tennis all day. I constantly annoy everyone I can (sorry Ollie) about playing with me. I make Karl do drills with me before the main session. I basically bugged Ben into coaching me. I love it. I love the complexity, the fact it is so hard and the fact that you can see progress so vividly. I love the fact there are no real injuries (aside from my back pain) and I can do it whenever I have a person to play with. I love the speed and the fact it challenges me to do things in a way I never have before. I love the competition but I still fear losses and get nervous every single time I train. I love the fact I have had to learn to lose and sometimes lose against people I don't expect. Loving something certainly helps keep me motivated above anything else especially when I am the arbiter of my sport.

Quitting in sport often comes down to how much you want it any how long you are willing to put up with the pain for. As an adult I have no parents telling me to go to practice, no teachers telling me I need to go to training, even my peers are telling me I shouldn't be bothering rather than that I need to hang in there. As an adult it is purely self motivation. It is my ego telling me I have to do this. It makes the challenge harder but I am also not relying on anyone else. Personally this challenge is meant to take me to the end of my sporting life. After, many years of struggling with injury and trying to force my square peg of a body into the round hole that has been football, rugby and athletics as well as a few other things I have found something I can cope with. I also can do it consistently, psychologically that is a massive thing. Injury and the lack of sport when I suffer from it has always been challenging for me. I see sport as my outlet, my way of keeping life in check and in routine. It is linked to my identity and when that isn't there my identity has a hole that is pretty hard to fill. Whenever I have had to quit sports it has not been my actual choice. I have often limped along hoping that they will get better but it look many years to realise that sometimes my goals in those sports wouldn't be met because my body was not designed for it.

Consequently, my last point on this is actually about knowing when to quit. My problem for many years was that I never knew when to quit. I should of quit athletics a long time before I did. Even when I did I kept trying to go back thinking "this time will be different". Rugby was the same I couldn't leave it behind I still thought I could go back in some capacity, that I could somehow do it. It tore me up inside, genuinely made me deeply unhappy for periods that should of been some of the best of my life. I couldn't fill the void and the truth is I didn't really want to. If I had broadened my horizons and found something different or, even, let sport go altogether and replaced it with a different obsession, I would of been happier (and required less surgery) but it took me a long time to accept there was anything else outside these sports that I had tried so hard to stay within. So, actually, I also can accept that I might one day quit. I might sustain an injury that means I cannot continue effectively, I might have a family issue that comes up and makes table tennis seem a bit redundant. I would be a fool (as I have been previously) not to be prepared for issues that may see my challenge end early. What I won't do is quit unnecessarily because it is "too hard" or I lost an "important" game. This blog already helps me see the progress I have made and what a great journey it continues to be. I am sure it will be even harder as time goes on but I'm ready for it.


Comments

  1. Hi Harrie

    I discovered your website having read Ben’s article on Expert Table Tennis. I’m really enjoying reading your blogs. But don’t be too hard on yourself. Table tennis is a very tough sport to master. I started playing regularly at a similar age to you, so can sympathise with the challenges you are experiencing. Keep going and don’t be too despondent if progress isn’t as quick as you like. It can take a long time to get really good at table tennis. Try to enjoy the journey!

    Tom

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    Replies
    1. Hi Tom,
      Interesting that you have picked up a sense that I feel despondent. Honestly, I really don't I am loving the journey but I am trying to convey a sense of the pain of progression. I also want to show how difficult table tennis is because I think everyone (including myself!) underestimates how hard it is relative to other sports. I am so glad I discovered this sport though as it is so rewarding. Thanks for the comment and I am really happy you are enjoying following my little journey!

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