Performance or the Win - Which is More Valuable?

Cards on the Table

Let's get our cards on the table. I am a terrible loser. I am the human equivalent of a wrecking ball when I lose. It is like the red mist descends and become this awful human being for the next 10 minutes. It is pretty atrocious but it is also part of who I am, it gives me a ruthless determination which most people can't claim to have. I think a lot of the time people think that I hate being beaten. I do. No doubt about it, I want to annihilate the opposition. However, most of the time I am annoyed with myself. I am very insular, I blame myself for everything. Some people will make excuses, others will blame bad luck. I blame me and me alone. I constantly feel I could of done better, performed to a higher standard.

Why is Winning Important?

This week I have had huge confidence highs and lows. I started off pretty low on confidence. I just couldn't put together a performance of the standard I know I can. It was like I forgot how to play table tennis. The second match of the week started the same way. I was two sets down before I even knew what had happened. However, towards the end of the second set I felt a flicker of confidence that, yes, I could hit the ball properly. I then won the next two sets and would have won the game if not for some silly errors. The next two games I won. The final game being one of the biggest achievements in my short time in league table tennis as the guy was an experienced player. Years of travelling up and down the league. He played a lot of long chop, something I am not very experienced in. I didn't smash him off the table. I played safe and took him apart at his own game, every now and then looping when I was in the perfect position to do so. It took a lot of concentration, something I lacked in the third set when I fell apart but I always felt in control even when luck went against me. It was a very good performance. 
I don't believe I would have won that game if two factors hadn't existed at the same time. Firstly, I had won the previous game comfortably and I had staged a good comeback that had almost, and probably should have, resulted in a win. Those wins have me a massive boost. Secondly, my teammate, Paul, had won his two matches and I knew I wanted to get the team the win (my win resulted in a 6-4 win for us). Those huge boosts mean I know that I can produce results and maybe I can go into the next few games with a more aggressive game. 

I genuinely believe that if you can get on a run of wins it can really change your season. I have been too much  of a mixed bag this year. Partly, because I don't play every game in any of the leagues I play so I don't always get to play the full spread of opponents. I also have huge swings in confidence and game style. My actual game is a fast topspin game but when I am nervous I get tense and stop being able to pull this off. Mistakes lead me to play weird half speed table tennis. If I really need a win I am actually pretty good at pulling out a conservative game. With the confidence of wins I hope to be able to pull out my normal game more often and see success with it.

The other reason winning is important as it gives you motivation. I have to admit the last two weeks I have struggled. I lost to Ben left handed a couple of times and it really hit me hard. I just get so nervous playing him, it is awful. I thought about having a break from table tennis for a week or so (I had a one day break in the end). It was a real struggle and everything started spiralling. I had a weird loss to a guy I should beat in my sleep without a bat and I had some odd issues with ball contact that I hadn't experienced for a long time (basically I kept hitting the ball with my fingers rather than the bat, it makes table tennis really difficult). That all changed with the wins. I woke up this morning feeling like all I wanted to do was play table tennis. What a difference a day makes!

Why is Performance Important?

Last Monday I had two of the best performances of my table tennis journey so far. Out of those two performances I won one of them and lost one of them (it was a handicap). I was fantastic in places and I was really proud of it. The fact is though, I still lost a two of the games in that match even with a 6 point advantage. Without the handicap, I lost every single game. However, I have thought about that performance a lot over the past week and I really do aspire to achieve that level of performance on a consistent basis. I won't be looking at my wins yesterday in the same way. 

Performance is an almost completely internal factor. Yes, some game styles can make it harder for you to perform well but overall it comes down to you and you alone. Internal factors are something you can control. This Tuesday, I was rubbish. I was low on confidence and genuinely didn't believe I could win a game of table tennis. I lost both my games and I was really disappointed. My performance had been dreadful. I barely hit a shot at any decent velocity. I missed the ball so much that my thumb started hurting. I felt like there was glue on my shoes. I kept telling myself the right things but the wrong things continued to occur. I didn't really believe the motivational words of encouragement I was giving myself. There were doubts deep in my mind I couldn't shift. I didn't trust my body and, consequently, I couldn't perform.

What performance gives you is an indication of both your potential and your current level. If you play better than expected then you know that it is that level you are aiming to sustain. If you play badly you have to understand why you performed that way. Performance is a long term thing, always look at it in the context of all the other performances. Is there a long term trend? Are you improving?

A performance should inspire long term aspiration. 'I want to be better' or 'I want to do that every single week'. It is a baseline whereby the short term principle of wins will be augmented. If you perform better you are more likely to win.

So Which is More Important?

Winning is vanity, performance is sanity. Winning is the best feeling. It is the biggest ego boost you can get. Even if you smash someone who is rubbish a little part of you, on the inside, will be boosted up. Its proof that you are better than someone else. It is an ingrained human attribute, a primal instinct, survival of the fittest. Unfortunately, it is also a bit of a lie. It comes down to someone else. If I perform terribly and the other person manages to perform even worse I get to win. It doesn't make me a good player, it makes me lucky. 

Performance on the other hand doesn't cause you to clench your fist or shout with joy. My best performances have been my losses against high level opponents and I still grumbled for about ten minutes. Performing well, however, gives you a long term feeling of belief. You know you can attain a level, you know that level can create more wins. The internal nature of performance means that you can actually judge how good you are. Do my win percentages reflect how good I actually am? No. Do my performances? Yes. This is simply because I can't decide my opponents but I can do my best. 

In reality you need both. If you are playing amazingly well but never win it will be hard to sustain your ego for long. Even improving doesn't have that same boost that a big win gives you. However, playing rubbish players and constantly winning has a diminishing return. It might be fun the first time but it is unlikely to motivate you for long. Performance will be your friend over the long term. It will never give you those big rushes but it will sustain a level and belief. Winning will give you the big boost but also the big lows. A bad loss and a poor performance will be exceptionally damaging to confidence.

My advice is to see wins for what they are. Short term indicators of your level. See performance as a long term indicator. Between the two of them they will get you where you need to go. 


  • Winning is the ego boost
  • Winning is short term
  • Performance is less emotional
  • Performance is long term
  • Both are essential to success
  • Remember the phrase: winning is vanity, performance is sanity

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