I’ve been tinkering at the edges of this article for the last month, without being able to quite get a grip on the approach I wanted to take. I’ve thought about it, let my subconscious work on it, mind-mapped it, and tried to lay it out point form, and still not really got a good handle on what mental toughness in Table Tennis really is.
It’s all in your head…
I think part of the problem is that mentally toughness is something that you can’t easily define or measure. It’s easier to compare the standards of players than it is to judge their comparative mental grit. Did player A lose to Player B because he is less mentally tough and allowed an edge ball to get to him? How do we know? Maybe Player A looked despondent after the edge. But is he really despondent or is he trying to fool the other player? One interpretation would say that he is mentally weak, while the other indicates that he might be mentally strong. Which is right?
With these difficulties in mind, I think I’ll take a different path from that of my usual articles. Instead of coming up with my own definitive answer for you to read (although I may add a few comments here and there in the weeks to come), I think I’ll just ask the questions and I’ll put the answers from anybody who wants to email their 2c worth to me in the appropriate place. So without further ado, here are some of the questions that I would like to pose to you, dear reader, about the subject of mental toughness in Table Tennis.
Mental Toughness, Table Tennis and…
Does a mentally tough player enjoy pressure?
Would a mentally tough player play better under pressure? Or maintain his level regardless? Or have a smaller drop in standard than most people?
Are you mentally tougher if you can lift your game for the big matches (i.e. World Championships, Olympics), or are you mentally tougher if your game is always the same?
Would/must a mentally tough player win more of the close games than he loses?
Are you mentally tougher if you win a lot of close games, or if you are so mentally tough that you don’t have many close games?
Will to win
Does a mentally tough player want to win all the time? Or just when it is important?
Is having a killer instinct the same as being mentally tough?
Would a mentally tough player do whatever it takes to win?
Can a gentlemanly player be mentally tough?
Does a mentally tough player need to use gamesmanship or psych out his opponent?
Would a mentally tough player take advantage of a perceived weakness in his opponent’s mental toughness?
Is the behaviour of a player linked to his mental toughness? Are they completely separate?
Would a mentally tough player show or hide his feelings? Would he be tougher because he’s willing to show them and not care what the opponent thinks, or because he’s able to hide them so the opponent doesn’t know?
Would a mentally tough player make excuses for the way he is playing?
Environment vs Heredity
Are people born mentally tough?
Can it also be developed or improved upon?
What is the mentally tough attitude towards nets and edges? Your own, and your opponents?
Can a mentally tough player be distracted? Or should he be able to block out all distractions?
Some players can use the crowd to help them lift their game, while others are affected by crowds. Which player is mentally tougher – the one who needs a crowd to bring out his best, or the one who needs quiet to play well?
Would a mentally tough player ever cheat?
What would a mentally tough player do if he thought his opponent was trying to cheat?
Does a mentally tough player admit his mistakes or ignore them?
Does a mentally tough player adjust his game plan according to the opponent? Or stick with the game plan regardless of who he faces?
Would a mentally tough player lift against certain other players? Or would he be mentally tougher if he is just as tough against everyone?
Would a mentally tough player care what his opponents say about him?
Are you mentally tough if you have the unswerving belief that you are the best? Or are you tougher if you admit that some people are better than you and work to beat them?
Are you mentally tough? If so, why?