Punishment and Patience - Pt. 1
So lets have a deeper look at the context of this bad day. Ben has been away for a week. It means I have missed a session with him. He is the guy who is a professional, he is the guy who has done it so he is the guy I listen to. A week ago, two days after Ben has gone, I am on the table with a guy who by all accounts is very good. I think he is Div 1 of our local league and plays to a standard. He is knocking with me and is fairly impressed. We even play a couple of games and I am close (11-7ish on every game) enough to give him a scare. However, he starts giving me advice when we go back to knocking. I don't want to be rude, this guy is clearly decent and if giving up his time to help me. I listen but his advice is the opposite of Ben's. Whereas Ben says everything needs spin this guy says nothing needs it and I should just drive through the ball past people. Obviously, Ben is right, this guy is just looking at me, realising I can hit the ball hard and running with it. However, I want to look like I am doing what he tells me without doing what he tells me. Therefore, I try and hit my loops etc. harder. Well this becomes a mess and cross between a drive and a loop at the wrong time in the wrong position. As we finish this little session the guy comments on my bat not being good enough, particularly the rubbers. They are a bit tatty but they are much better than my old bat so I have been happy enough. However, the moment I get told this I am instantly thinking "I need new rubbers or I will suck forever". One quick text to Ben told me that of course I don't need new rubbers. Don't be an idiot Harrie.
Being in a sport where until recently I had no idea it even existed means that my knowledge is so poor that I am constantly having to guess what is "good coaching" and what is "bad coaching". If I went and got coached in football tomorrow I would know exactly what I wanted from a coach. I would know if his methods suited me and I would know if he was telling me the wrong thing. I have no such background in table tennis. I didn't even watch the sport until about 4 months ago. I genuinely had no idea of how to score it or what the actual rules were. I didn't know what techniques were right or wrong or what would suit me as an athlete. Now, I am just about experienced enough to know Ben is a very good coach and that he is coaching me in a way that I understand. However, I still don't know exactly if everyone else is adding to this philosophy or taking away from it. Consequently, I have to be careful with how I use knowledge I get from anyone except Karl or Ben (both of whom are actually very similar in style).
A few days after this first experience I am on the table practising with Karl. We are doing a 3 shot attack. It's.....a mixed bag. I am doing the right things but in all honesty I am lacking conviction. We do a 5 shot attack and I look pretty good. We do forehands I look pretty good. My backhands are coming along. However, my 3 shot attack is poor. There is no rhythm to it. As Karl said I am panicking. It is hard not to panic once you start so we change it up a bit to try and take away my focus and bring it back to the three shot attack. This time I am much, much closer to getting it. Whereas it was a 75% miss ratio previously, now it is a 75% hit ratio. I am feeling pretty good about it. I then go an play against a guy I usually beat and feel pretty comfortable. After that I played with a girl who provides a lot of big hits and good placement (placement is something I don't thing about really, yet). I do well against her losing the games but certainly much closer than I have been before. Overall I am happy that my consistency is creeping up. I then play a guy who I have felt I could beat for a while. However, I have never taken a game off him. I find him very awkward and he is very aware of me. However, I am high on confidence today so I go into the game feeling like, yes, I can do this. It starts off close, I have the lead but I give away some sloppy points and lose 11-9. The second game, I am on fire I dominate 11-5 the loops are hitting on my 3 point attack and I am getting plenty of topspin. On the third game I get into my own head, as usual, thinking about winning rather than the points in hand. My consistency on the loop goes out the window. I end up losing this game. The last game is of a similar vain. Karl is watching and I was very aware of this when I played trying to show how good I was, how much I had learnt. Well I think I showed how mentally weak I was but little else!
Thursday. The day of pain. I had, had an email from the club I train at regarding "not paying". I had forgotten my money 3 times in total on various occasions. It wasn't, perhaps, the most friendly of emails. This club, after all, was the club that told me I should try not to play with the better players in case I made them worse. I understand they wanted their six pounds that I owed which I was always going to bring them but maybe bit of friendly face to face communication would of been better. Anyway, it was a bit off putting. Before I went to the club a friend of mine, Sam, came over. He played with me a fair bit in the early days. He was much, much better than me then and so I wanted to see how I did against him now. When he turned up and we were knocking I saw I was a class apart from him. I thought "I have this guy". He is still good but my topspin and quality on my pushes were just that little bit better. Even he admitted he thought he was going to lose. I thought so to and I was eager to start a match and prove the point. Once again I had problems with my loop. I was so tense that I was missing the ball entirely or under hitting it or guiding it. I basically, on my forehand, committed every single sin I could. I just couldn't understand why I was doing it. I think I just wanted to show Sam how much I had improved and perhaps prove to myself that I was on a new level. Ironically, this thirst to show this led me to losses in games I should never have lost. The more forehands I missed the more I focused on them. My head wasn't in the games it was in the forehands I was missing. After the games which he won 2 or 3 more games than me we practiced heavy backspin and side spin looping. It was good but my head was still all over the place. I contemplated not going to my Thursday club. However, I decided that I shouldn't let a bad period affect me. Oh how I wish I had stayed home....!
When I got to the club I had a knock with a guy who is pretty good. I like him but I get the impression he is weary of me. He also loves putting people in doubles so after briefly playing with him I had to play doubles. I don't mind doubles sometimes but its becoming much, much too regular in this club. I also get put with people who are not taking things as seriously as me. This frustrates me a fair bit. I love the fact they enjoy it and I love having a mess around knock some of the time but I also come to practice and play. I have been getting the feeling that I am being restricted from the better players and some of the better people see me as "not worth playing". One guy in the previous week at this club basically refused to play with me when I asked him. He was back this week and I asked him if he wanted to play me. I wanted to press the issue and still he tried his best not to play me asking the other guy if he wanted to play me, twice. I thought I would prove the point to him that I am worth playing and I will give him a game. Like this whole period has been, it started well. Classic backhand to forehand (I'm left handed) and forehand to backhand. I was good, the ball was being hit sweetly and a lovely level of topspin was on the ball.
When it came to the game I was tense, nervous and I wanted so badly to prove myself that it was a mess. I was so tense that I missed the ball over and over I served into the net, I missed the serve, I basically unforced errored myself into a loss of 11-1 11-1 and 11-5. I was humiliated, only made worse by the immortal words "well done you are hitting the ball much harder". I picked up my stuff and left. I thought I had hit table tennis rock bottom. So I did what any self respecting person does in that situation. I called up my mum. She reminded me why this happens to me and why I do these things. I always liken myself to Andy Murray in the way I approach things. I am a guy who is easy to read and I wear my heart on my sleeve. It gives me drive and passion to win but it also means that I get into my own head. Tension in table tennis means that you miss shots as everything needs to be less of a strike and more of a stroke. When I am missing the stroke becomes a strike and every technique goes out of the window. My Mum talked me through it and make me realise I need to chill. I need to find some methods to relax and approach the points individually (later Ben would also text me similar advice). I was very positive when I left this conversation I felt I had learnt a lesson and I would improve as a player for it.
Actually I was wrong, it took another big psychological hit before I hit rock bottom and it taught me my final lesson of this phase of training.
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