Need Advice on Dealing with Nervous Tension During Crucial Table Tennis Matches

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The problem I'm grappling with is that when I find myself in these high-pressure situations and my opponent seems to have all the momentum, my emotional tension gets the best of me. Not only does it make my wrist feel stiff, but it also affects my legs, making them feel as heavy and immobile as if they were made of stone. This lack of mobility and agility is really affecting my performance and making it hard for me to bend and move effectively on the table.

Typically, deep breaths do help, but when the tension is so overwhelming that it starts affecting my legs, deep breathing alone doesn't seem sufficient.

So, I turn to you, the experts and enthusiasts of this sport, for any advice or tips you might have. How do you deal with nerves during crucial matches? Are there specific exercises or practices that have helped you stay loose and agile, both mentally and physically, in the heat of the moment? Any guidance or personal anecdotes you could share would be greatly appreciated.
 
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The most helpful thing is to play a lot of matches, especially matches where winning counts for something (even if it's only a slice of pizza). Deep breathing is more effective if you take a deep breath and hold it for a few seconds; this forces your pulse to slow and for most people has a more powerful calming and focusing effect than deep breaths alone. I like drills where staying loose and agile is key, especially random or semi-random drills with lots of movement and transitions like bh-middle bh-wide or serve-push-loop-drive. Fatigue is a good way to simulate some of the effects of tension, so doing these drills when you're tired can help dealing with nerves during match play.
 
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Physically, you can bounce lightly before every point, lean forward slightly in your ready position, like the professional players. I do mini squats to remind myself to stay low. I also like to rotate my waist to remind myself to use my bodyweight properly for FH.

Tactically, you should be vigilant all the time, notice when your opponent is gaining momentum as early as possible, and mix up your serves/shot selections to keep them from getting comfortable.

Mentally, my coach suggested to have a cue word to say to yourself, could be "relax", "recover", "spin it" etc. Simple fundamental things that you should do. He also suggested saying something funny to yourself to break the nervous atmosphere.
 
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Whiskey, its like violence, if its not helping then you clearly haven't used enough.
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It is a game, treat it like a game. Always try to get the pleasure, even from the losing and amazing points made by your opponents. I found this tactic the most effective one. I had one opponent that I was losing to 5 games and haven't won a single one, but once I played with him recreationally, not on the tournament, where he and I were both relaxed and having fun, I realized that I was just making a way bigger deal out of it. Instead of seeing my opponents as enemies, I started seeing them as friends and it's much easier and fun to play against friends.
 
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Learn to play with a low bounce no spin serve and attack at crucial points. If you are getting nervous then probably you are thinking of scoring a point immediately on a service receive mistake or if you are receiving then you are thinking of hitting the ball hard. Both these situations are counter productive.
Instead, prepare yourself to play at least 15 ball rally on that point and don't try to finish the point by making rash decisions. The whole idea is to slow the process down and give yourself a least resistance path to think and act.
 
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The problem I'm grappling with is that when I find myself in these high-pressure situations and my opponent seems to have all the momentum, my emotional tension gets the best of me. Not only does it make my wrist feel stiff, but it also affects my legs, making them feel as heavy and immobile as if they were made of stone. This lack of mobility and agility is really affecting my performance and making it hard for me to bend and move effectively on the table.

Typically, deep breaths do help, but when the tension is so overwhelming that it starts affecting my legs, deep breathing alone doesn't seem sufficient.

So, I turn to you, the experts and enthusiasts of this sport, for any advice or tips you might have. How do you deal with nerves during crucial matches? Are there specific exercises or practices that have helped you stay loose and agile, both mentally and physically, in the heat of the moment? Any guidance or personal anecdotes you could share would be greatly appreciated.
I guess the first thing IMHO is what level are you playing at and why is the situation high-pressure? Maybe it is because you really don't like losing and I get that, but for something to be truly high pressure, I think the consequences matter. For me, IMHO, unless you are a semi-professional or professional, high pressure is really a privilege you have accepted. Professionals can lose some of their livelihood and many may not be able to guarantee their jobs without performance. If you are one of those people, I think things are a bit harder, even if the solution is broadly the same.

The key is to figure out how to play your best table tennis under various situations. Sometimes playing handicap matches or betting money can produce similar feelings in some people. If so, figure out what it takes to produce your best table tennis while playing under such stresses. It is not the same answer for everyone, but I find that in general, expecting to play good table tennis or needing your best table tennis to win in general is a dangerous idea. You have to be on some level be expecting problems and focus on the process of solving them no matter the results while playing. The opponent has to play well for the match to be good, and you have to respond to good play for the match to be great, so the key is to practice executing under some stress as well as how to manage it. There are many practical ideas, from practicing meditation to studying sports psychology to breathing better (breath contro,l I think is the biggest physical thing one should do) but if you can, address the question of why you are letting the results get you so worked up in the first place. In the infamous words of Hina Hayata, "Everyone loses at some point, it is okay to lose..." - if you cannot accept the possibility of losing as part of life, the fear of doing so will antagonize you and make you play worse in many cases. That said, there are some rare players who play better with it, so it is all about finding what puts you in the right state of mind to play your best table tennis. You can't be too relaxed but you want to prevent the stress level from hurting your performance. The professionals sometimes need sports psychologists, so the main thing is to realize it is not an easy problem and as long as you face it with tools that put it in perspective and play more and more, it should get better.

For me, I had to change my whole approach to table tennis and just accept that losing to good players is always a possibility and that since I don't train everyday and I am not young anymore, why should I be acting like I have no right to lose? I have to continue to learn and hopefully improve - that is the bottom line. The real stress of performance I leave to bigger things in life.
 
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Since people have mentioned breathing techniques, here's one method called the 'phsyiological sigh'


There's another technique that a lot of the Asian women's players do (I notice it most with the Japanese, but the Koreans and Chinese do it too) where they do a short audible exhale from diaphragm. If you watch Hina Hayata, you'll recognize her doing it before serves and it sounds like "TAH"
 
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Learn to laugh at yourself, and do so before any key moments arrive in a game.

I used to tense up hugely whenever I was approaching key points in a match (eg: 10-all in the fifth and final game). This invariably led to me making silly mistakes.

Then this one time during a match I right royally screwed up an attempted fast serve halfway through (it was nowhere near the table!! 😂) ...and the arc on the thing as it left the playing area was so bloody ridiculous I just had to laugh at it. 😂😂😂

And bingo... there was instant release of all the pent-up stress that had been building up in the match to that point. I then cracked some stupid joke about really aiming for my home table a few post codes over, and that made my opponent laugh.

Double bingo -- his focus was broken as well, and the whole mood of the match got a bit lighter right away.

That meant I could relax. I was calmer and more mellow in the final set, and I won the game.

Moral of the story: it's impossible to stay tense if you're laughing at yourself, and it's a lot harder to become over tense in the final game if you break the tension and reset your tension meter during the earlier games.

Final takeaway:

Table tennis is supposed to be fun. So have fun with it. Don't take it so seriously, especially when the result really counts.

TT is just a couple of folks taking turns to whack away at a shiny ball with funny shaped sticks, while the umpire watches on doing some wierd-arse slow motion hand jive on the sidelines... If you can't crack a decent testicle / BDSM / maturbation joke out of that scenario (and end up sharing an laugh with all in earshot) then either you're not trying very hard, or you need to find yourself a far more jovial and jocular club to whack someone's balls in. 😂😜
 
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Laughing and not talking your self to seriously definitlely helps and can sometimes even disrupt the opponent.

Instead of getting into the thought of:
What will happen If I lose.

Instead go for:
What will Happen if I win.


Think about how to win the game instead of "just winning" the game automatically and passively.
Can be point by point, a General theme of the game, finding strenghts and weaknesses of yourself and your opponent, having a plan for your next 2 serves.

Imagine the scenario of the next point and how youre gonna make it.
Play it in your head before you actually play it and use your Racket to shadow play if you missed a point for example.
Visualize yourself the way you want yourself to be and your body will help you get there.

Focus on the Things that you can control, let the Rest be the Rest.

Practice getting calm under stress, relaxing and controlling your body and mind when it is getting out of hand.
That could be slowing your breath down in a cold shower, exercising intensely and then challenging your mind to do something challenging, playing practice Matches starting at 8-8, 9-9 OR 8-10.

I can agree and Support most of the Things said here already, the slight squatting before a point, breath control etc. .

Most importantly, enjoy it and have a good time.
 
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Laughing and not talking your self to seriously definitlely helps and can sometimes even disrupt the opponent.

Instead of getting into the thought of:
What will happen If I lose.

Instead go for:
What will Happen if I win.


Think about how to win the game instead of "just winning" the game automatically and passively.
Can be point by point, a General theme of the game, finding strenghts and weaknesses of yourself and your opponent, having a plan for your next 2 serves.

Imagine the scenario of the next point and how youre gonna make it.
Play it in your head before you actually play it and use your Racket to shadow play if you missed a point for example.
Visualize yourself the way you want yourself to be and your body will help you get there.

Focus on the Things that you can control, let the Rest be the Rest.

Practice getting calm under stress, relaxing and controlling your body and mind when it is getting out of hand.
That could be slowing your breath down in a cold shower, exercising intensely and then challenging your mind to do something challenging, playing practice Matches starting at 8-8, 9-9 OR 8-10.

I can agree and Support most of the Things said here already, the slight squatting before a point, breath control etc. .

Most importantly, enjoy it and have a good time.
One of my coaches used to say that when he served, he visualized his opponent pushing his serve into the net. When he first said that, I was like wondering what he was thinking and how that could help your TT. Then I later realized that often, you are calm when you expect good things to happen and your body produces good results often when it expects them to happen. It doesn't mean it will actually happen, but the key is to find whatever mentally produces your best play. And I have found it is different for everyone, but sometimes, and you will find this more and more in modern athletes, you may have to prioritize your enjoyment of playing over how you think of some of the competitive aspects. I personally don't really separate them, I just accept that everyone is wired differently. Someone might find me too serious, and another person might find me not serious enough. That is okay, we all need to find the things that keep us in a range where we can reasonably perform, getting so stressed that you can't play is not good. People have told me that when they watch some of the top Chinese, they can see them visibly shaking in matches dealing with the pressure of defending China's record. Some get better at handling it than others obviously. But the fact that they still win despite feeling nervous says a lot for skill level and a lot for learning to play with whatever feelings you have.
 
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Things that works for me are:
1) have some ritual of starting point, it might be anything: like small pause, or playing with a ball before serve or wiping your palm as Gozo suggests and many pros do
2) I'm switching focus from game result to style/technique/tactical aspect of the game, in most cases I'm just trying to convince myself to continue looping backhand balls despite I'm afraid or not to skip attack posibilities, or to counter to specific area or anything else what I think is important in this particular game or in my gameplay in general
 
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One thing I read in "Ultimate Speed Secrets", about motorsport:

There was a driver who was always thinking about crashing. It didn't help that his mechanics kept saying "Don't worry, if you crash it, we can fix it". He kept looking at the outside wall on corner exits, hoping not to crash into it, until like a self fulfilling prophecy, he did and crashed.

What you think about and what you look at tends to become your target. Don't keep thinking about losing; keep thinking about what you will do to win and make them lose.
 
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