Having run a successful 4 day course over the August period, I wanted to put down my 5 Fs's of Focus, everyone might have their own or think differently but these are my thoughts on where your FOCUS needs to be in a Table Tennis match.
The mental routine that I use when playing Table Tennis isn’t anything that I have ever really thought about but after reading an article by an Australian Cricketer it made me realise that the FOCUS routine I go through is like his.
It starts with the logical principle that your mental energy is a finite resource that you must conserve if you want to achieve your ultimate object of winning matches and ultimately tournaments.
I think I have 3 mental levels of FOCUS, let me explain…. firstly though there are some key things to think about, your FOCUS should ALWAYS be in the present.. not the past or the future, if the ball clips the edge or hits the net and drops over… its done.. its in the past and should be forgotten about.
This is my lowest setting of FOCUS in a match situation, it is a ‘power saving’ mode if you like, I call it FAMILIAR FOCUS, this is about you understanding the room, where you are, who is playing on other tables, that your parents are talking to someone, its about you understanding and being comfortable IN THE PRESENT in your surroundings. Thinking about what you are going to do, tactics, how they are playing, their weaknesses…
Sometimes I will pick a ‘reference point’ maybe a light on a wall or a mark, that I can FOCUS in to bring me back to the room if I should start to feel I am drifting in my FOCUS.
As the match and each individual point is about to start my level of concentration increases to FINE FOCUS. My vision moves from my ‘surroundings’ to the opponent, I get to the Ready Position, knees bent a little, leaning forward a lot with my Bat up…
My vision is on the opponent, his face but with my peripheral vision on his body, stance and position. This can give you some predictive clues as the where and how the ball will be served, the spin, the speed, the direction.
At this moment I have not looked at the ball in the opponents hand…
When serving my FOCUS is on the same elements but where I am going to serve with what spin, speed and direction.
As the opponent gets to their ‘ready position’ my concentration switches, as necessary, to its maximum level… FIERCE FOCUS. My central vision moves to my opponents hand from where the ball will be released. Once the ball appears in that ‘window’ just below the head, I would then watch the ball for the first time.
On serve you can see everything, a quick serve or a very spinny serve, you will see the ball travelling towards you. In the unlikely event that you failed to pick the serve from the hand, you will, likely, be able to pick it our in the air as it travels towards you.
With this ability to quickly decipher the spin, speed and direction, you can confidently move into position early to play and attacking shot ideally. You must ‘always’ have positive mindset in looking to win points.
Depending on the level of the game, my FOCUS within the playing of a point moves from FINE to FIERCE, 8-2 up I am playing with FINE FOCUS but 9-9 in the 5th I am using ALL the FIERCE FOCUS I have left.
As soon as a point is played I cycle my concentration back to the next level down FIERCE to FINE and FINE to FAMILIAR.
THIS PART IS CRITICAL:
You must keep your FOCUS in the present not the past. You HAVE to completely let that point go, whether you hit a winner, missed it completely or they hit the net and won the point, so I look around the room and find people that I know, your parents and friends will laugh later when you tell them what they were doing when you were playing the game.
If you try and concentrate too hard in FIERCE FOCUS all the time you will burn the finite amount of Mental Energy at such a rapid rate that at 9-9 in the fifth when you really need it the most, it just won’t be there for you to call on…
There are two other areas of FOCUS and more to do with what you should be thinking in the match
When I play, the same as you all, the right shot, with everything in the right place it goes on EVERY single time, when you are playing matches and a certain shot doesn’t seem to be working it is NEARLY ALWAYS your feet are not in the right place… so when it isn’t quite working like it should, just make an extra effort to get your feet in the right place and more often that not the shot that you are struggling with will return as quickly as it left you.
To that end the 5th and final part of your FOCUS when playing is:
When things aren’t quite going right for me I concentrate on FEET and FLOW, I NEVER stop playing the right shots even if they aren’t working as well as I would like, Table Tennis is a game driven by change, from opponents, venues, tactics, the table everything…. but you must keep playing your game and your shots and with a FOCUS on FEET and your own FOCUS, your FLOW will come back and the shots will start flowing again as quickly as they left you.
As I have said these are just my thoughts and I am really keen to hear your thoughts and FOCUS ideas. In my opinion its a massively underrated part of the Table Tennis Learning curve.
Please share and let me know your thoughts.
As requested by the participants, here are the basis of the 4 weeks courses...