The mental side of the game

The mental side of the game: how to think table tennis


In his article The Ultimate Guide to Table Tennis Psychology, Ben Larcombe writes about the importance of the mental skills training required by successful table tennis players. He analyses each of the nine points that he identified as being crucial to any player who wants to compete at high levels and achieve best results.

The following is a very high-level summary of the points mentioned in his article, so be sure to read the full version since his guide is very comprehensive:

1. You need a positive attitude

When you have a good positive attitude in table tennis you’ll find you can improve faster because players with a positive attitude work harder, do not miss training sessions, listen to advice from their coaches and never give up. If you don’t already have a good positive attitude, here are some tips to develop one:

  1. Make friends with hard-working players.
  2. Read articles or blogs with tips on how to improve, watch videos of table tennis games and listen to encouragement
  3. Focus your efforts on learning and improving. Whether you win or lose the most important thing is that you take something from the experience.

2. Fuel your motivation

Table tennis should be your greatest passion and this in turn increases your motivation and drive to continue training and playing even when you are going through a difficult or tough period. Like many other things in life, motivation grows when you love what you do.

3. Set your goals to be more focused

You can set goals for yourself, or ask your coach to help you set short, medium and long-term goals because these help you focus all the more on your development in the sports. It is important to not just set goals, but also to have a system for measuring and assessing your achievements. This way you can see your improvement through time in a much better way.

4. Communicate better

Even though table tennis is an individual sports, communication is a key ingredient that can help you develop your skill more and more. If you stop to think about it, you will find that in your table tennis life you have a lot of interaction with people–coaches, players, friends, family, support staff, opponents. You should be able to work alongside these people, and to do this, you need to be able to communicate your ideas, thoughts and feelings, whilst listening to and learning from others.

5. Talk to yourself in a positive way

“Come on. Next point. You can do this.” We all know how important it is to encourage yourself in a positive way. It is a great way to overcome difficult moments during a game and that is why you should absolutely master the ongoing dialogue you have with yourself and turning it into positive words of encouragement.

6. Picture it, then win it

Have you ever tried to imagine yourself playing against an opponent before an important match? Mental imagery can be used to create a realistic interpretation of your upcoming performance and prepare yourself to compete at your best. You will find that mental imagery can help you recover from errors or poor shots by picturing the correct stroke and self-correcting.

7. Dealing with anxiety

Anxiety is part of who we are and we should embrace it, deal with it, and use it for our advantage. Not everyone deals with anxiety the same way, but if you are ready to accept that feelings of anxiety are natural then you can learn how to reduce feelings of anxiety that can hurt your game, instead focusing on understanding how you can perform better when under pressure.

8. Understanding our emotions

Emotions define us–some feel angry or even frustrated when the opponent hits the net and wins the point, some shout out with exultation when they win a good rally. These are all emotions and as a table tennis player, you need to accept that these emotions are all part of our sport. The next step is to learn how best to use these emotions to improve, rather than disrupt your performance.

9. Time to concentrate

Focus. Focus. Focus. Maintaining concentration during a table tennis match is very important. Train yourself to find things to focus on, to ignore distractions coming from your surroundings, such as shouts, noises, and environmental conditions. You should also learn how to regain concentration quickly, and how to stay in the present by ignoring previous points or the future final outcome of the match.

Your turn to try

Think about each of the nine mental skills covered above and see if you can apply them to yourself. And make sure you head over to Ben Larcombe’s website where you can find a goldmine of articles on table tennis.

HiTT Academy is the largest table tennis club in Malta with over 100 registered members. We hold lessons for all age groups from 6 years and up, offering opportunities in local and international table tennis competitions, training camps and workshops. Learn more about us on or find us on Facebook.