Don’t think

A few weeks ago my recreational table tennis season had ended. Germans tend to say “Nach der Saison ist vor der Saison”. It means “After the season is before the season.” Off season is a great opportunity to get some practice in.

After a pause of 30 years, during the end of 2021, I had started to play again. The process comes with a lot of hickups and crossroads. I pretty much sucked after I starting again but am seeing progress. It’s both confusing and fun to notice how awkward certain movements feel. I guess that’s what learning can feel like. Recently I got a 1-1 training session in and realised, during certain sequences of hitting the ball, how much I’m thinking about proper movements on how to perform a shot. It results in movements that are much less fluid. What happens is for many of my shots I’m in the process of altering my technique. Why? Because a lot of my movements, which I learnt by myself when I started playing table tennis as a kid, simply don’t represent proper technique.

Throughout this process I got curious about the mental aspect of the game, too. Which is why I recently started reading the book Bounce: The myth of talent and the power of practice. On page 179 the author, Matthew Syed, writes: “The problem was not a lack of focus, but too much focus. Conscious monitoring had disrupted the smooth workings of the implicit system. The sequencing and timing of the different motor responses were fragmented, just as they would be with a novice. They were, effectively, beginners again.”

This perfectly sums up how I feel whilst trying to practicing the new shot techniques. I think about how to move my legs, my hip, my elbow, my hand and how to hold the racket. And in what exact sequence. When I pause I continue to think. If I executed the technique properly and what I need to adjust. Additionally, I’m listening to input from my coach.

OVERLOAD. Too many thoughts to process which prevent fluid movements. As soon as the training sequence is faster, which means more balls coming my way, I stop (over)thinking and just act intuitively. There is simply not enough time to think.

Lesson learnt. Don’t think. Just do.