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The Mental Game Of Table Tennis

Confidence, Concentration and Composure


Bill Cole, MS, MA
The Mental Game Coach™
Silicon Valley, California


I've been the mental game coach to top national and international table tennis players, and have played table tennis myself for over 30 plus years. I've really enjoyed helping these boys and girls develop mental toughness, focus and desire, and they've had excellent results:

  • ITTF North America Cup, Hopes Challenge Champion
  • US Open Finalist
  • U.S. National Championships Bronze Boys Medalist
  • U.S. National Championships Cadet Boys Gold Medalist
  • Butterfly Canadian Junior & Cadet Open, Cadet Single Bronze Medalist
  • Butterfly Canadian Cadet Team Gold Medalist
  • U.S. National Championships, 21 & Under Women's Singles Finalist
  • U.S. National Championships, Junior Girls Singles Finalist
  • ITTF North American Championships, Junior Girls Team Champion
  • USA Junior & Cadet Open, Cadet Girls Singles Champion
  • USA Junior & Cadet Open Junior Girls Doubles Bronze Medalist

They have been named to such teams as the U.S. National Cadet Boys Team, the U.S. National Mini Cadet Boys Team, the U.S. National Junior Girls & Cadet Girls Team and the ITTF World Hopes Team.

How is your mental game? Do you have the level of confidence you want? Are you able to concentrate at an intense level for the entire match, and over the course of the tournament? Can you relax and remain composed, even in the face of relentless match pressure?

Here are three powerful mental game strategies you can use to improve your table tennis.

  1. Confidence Is An Inside Job: It is amazing how often we see a table tennis player deflecting a well-earned compliment on their game from their coach, a parent or a teammate. With a verbal wave of the hand they push away this sincere, potentially confidence-inducing energy and tell everyone that what they did "was not so good". Then you see the people around the athlete kicking into overdrive, attempting to convince them that they indeed did well. Again the athlete adeptly tosses these observations aside. What happens as a result of this verbal dance? The athlete does not become confident. It seems as though no one can get through to some athletes, and they think that nothing they do is really ever good enough. Well, I have a saying I use about confidence. "No one becomes confident from what they are going to do, or from what they did badly. People only become confident from what they did well." This proof of success concept is what gives us confidence. The athlete thinks, "Well, I did it before, I guess I can do it again". What does this have to do with you and the compliments people try to give you? Believe them. Let those good wishes come in. Allow them to wash over you so you feel happy and proud about your accomplishments. This is what is meant by "confidence is an inside job". The only person who can give you confidence is yourself. People cannot "give you confidence" if you don't let them. If you are continually rejecting the good wishes from others, you block this positive energy from infusing your confidence.

  2. Composure Is Accepting What Is Happening: Many table tennis players fight not only the opponent--they fight themselves. They fight themselves by being self-critical, judgmental and by tearing themselves down when they make mistakes or lose points. They act like their own worst enemy. It's almost as if they don't like themselves. They don't like this and they don't like that. They whine about how they wish things were different. They complain about bad luck. They complain about what is distracting them. They certainly don't approve of what is happening. But composure is different. Composure is about calming down, stopping the internal fight with yourself, and accepting what is happening. Acceptance does not mean you approve of or like what is happening. It simply means you accept the reality of the situation. Once you do this, your mental and emotional strife falls away and you gain a new clarity about the match. You start seeing the ball well and moving well. You are more relaxed and able to withstand the pressure and stress. Perhaps you could even take this acceptance to the next level and actually become grateful for the situation. This "gratitude attitude" would help you enjoy the situation, embrace it further and play better.

  1. To Concentrate, Tune In, Not Out: Everyone thinks that in order to concentrate well, they need to "block out" distractions. Rather than doing battle with distractions, and attempting to ward them off, it's better to simply "tune in" to the proper cue. There are two types of distractions, internal and external. Either type takes our attention away from the correct cues we should be focusing on. To tune in, focus on various aspects of the ball. First, clear your mind by taking some deep breaths as part of your pre-point ritual. Then relax your muscles. Now complete your ritual. As part of your ritual, focus on the ball as you hold it, or as the server holds it. Take a very sharp look at it. Can you see the lettering on the ball? Is there a slight blemish you can see? If you are serving feel the weight of the ball. Feel the ball touching your hand. Using your vision and sense of feel puts you into "sensate mode" where you begin to enter the moment, the now. The now is where you concentrate, and your object of concentration is the ball. Anything else you think about is a distraction. Don't even think "about the ball". Just watch the ball. As you feel and watch the ball, you are automatically concentrating. You don't have to force it, or block out any distractions. You are simply in the now, focusing.

How does it feel to know some key elements of the mental game of table tennis? Now you have more insight about how to concentrate, remain relaxed and composed and how to become confident. Work diligently on your mental approach and it will pay handsome dividends.


For a comprehensive overview of your mental abilities you need an assessment instrument that identifies your complete mental strengths and weaknesses. Here is a free, easy-to-take 65-item sport psychology assessment tool you can score right on the spot. This assessment gives you a quick snapshot of your strengths and weaknesses in your mental game. You can use this as a guide in creating your own mental training program, or as the basis for a program you undertake with mental coach Bill Cole, MS, MA to improve your mental game. This assessment would be an excellent first step to help you get the big picture about your mental game.


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Copyright © 2014 Bill Cole, MS, MA. All rights reserved.


Bill Cole, MS, MA, a leading authority on sports psychology, peak performance, mental toughness and coaching, is founder and CEO of William B. Cole Consultants, a consulting firm that helps sports teams and individuals achieve more success. He is also the Founder and President of the International Mental Game Coaching Association, an organization dedicated to advancing the research, development, professionalism and growth of mental game coaching worldwide. He is a multiple Hall-Of-Fame honoree as an athlete, coach and school alumnus, an award-winning scholar-athlete, published author of books and articles, and has coached at the highest levels of major-league pro sports and big-time college athletics.


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The Mental Game of Table Tennis


Bill Cole, MS, MA
Sports Psychology Coaching

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