20 Apr 2020

Lockdown, unable to practise on the table but you can still improve your level; it may seem impossible but research has shown that progress can be achieved by focusing on mental simulations through specific psychological techniques.

The ITTF High Performance and Development team shows you how.

by Dominique Plattner

It is of paramount importance to have your mind and body under control. A great deal of practice is needed to be able to master this art, especially within a sport like table tennis as one of the psychologically most demanding and complex sports.

Imagery / Visualization

Imagery, also for many of us known under the term “visualisation” can be useful for pre-match preparation, during the match, for post-match analyses, the preservation of existing skills, correcting mistakes and analysing past performances.

How does imagery work? While practising new skills, our brain cells form new connections with other groups of cells and the amount of myelin (membrane, that surrounds nerve cells) increases. The function prevents the signals from “leaking out”, improving memory and therefore skills. Imagery is able to shorten the time our body needs to implement the new skills simply by “just thinking” of them.

The PETTLEP-Model of imagery: Using the functional “equivalence”

The PETTLEP model is based on work by Jeannerod and explains how certain areas of the brain are activated during both physical and imagined movements. PETTLEP stands for:

  • Physical: Imagine the relevant physical characteristics
  • Environment: Imagine the environment where the performance takes place. Use all your senses (sight, touch, hearing, taste, smell).
  • Task: Imagine details of the relevant task.
  • Timing: Can be in “real time”, or in “slow motion” to emphasize and perfect more difficult aspects.
  • Learning: Continually adapt and review to match task’s demand and your experience-level.
  • Emotion: Feel the situation, the same as you would if you were present and try avoiding debilitative emotions, such as fear or panic.
  • Perspective: Use the first-person perspective (focus on timing, open skills) or the third-person one (form, positioning)
Imagery and breathing exercises

For the more advanced, maybe even professional players, imagery practice can be combined with your breathing exercises, which makes it more effective. I would recommend in the case of having enough experience with abdominal breathing and imagery practice.

  • Cut good points, in which you succeeded, out of your match videos, or it could also be a specific, well-performed table tennis technique in your practice.
  • Find a quiet place.
  • Prepare your electronic device, so that you can act it out promptly.
  • Take a seat or lay down.
  • Do abdominal breathing for three to five minutes.
  • Open your eyes and let the electronic device act out your highlight video 10 times in a row.
  • Close your eyes and do abdominal breathing for three to five minutes again.

You have to follow some rules to gain the highest benefit from imagery. It should be done ideally with the help of a sport psychologist very close to competition conditions and at least for 30 minutes per day.

Let’s dip into the last mental technique for today. It seems to be a very simple one, but quite to the contrary it is very tough to master.

Self-talk

Self-talk is a key component of applied sport psychology practice.

Self-talk can be expressed either internally or out loud and has expressive, interpretive and self-regulatory functions.

You have to differ between three categories of self-talk. On the one hand you have the positive/motivational one, which is based on positive thoughts and speeches (e.g. “Well done”), on the other you find the negative one, which consists of negative thoughts and speeches (e.g. “I am so bad”).

In general, negative self-talk shouldn’t be used; however in some cases it may enhance motivation and performance. The last kind of self-talk is neutral, also called instructional self-talk. e.g. talking about tactics or strategies – “short and heavy spin”.

We can’t say that negative self-talk is always bad and the positive one is the one and only successful method. Yes, in many circumstances it is but maybe it isn’t ideal for everybody. Additional research is needed to make clear which kind of self-talk is most beneficial for an individual.

Connect between words and belief

One of the most important things regarding self-talk is the connection between your words and your belief. The definitive aim of this technique is to use words and beliefs, which are reachable and believable. The positive self-talk habit development is done in three steps:

  • Choose signal words or very short sentences (“Strong”, “I feel strong”)
  • Practise different scenarios. Once the development and automatisation of the habit is done, create familiar and comfortable statements for different situations (“I am a great player”)
  • Imagine/visualize a positive image. The choice of the words should help you to immediately recall a visual picture, showing yourself how you want to perform. The combination of the right words and the visualized image sends the body a very strong and positive message.

Bear in mind: All psych-down techniques should be practised during practices or in less important competitions. The goal is to automatise them and then implement them within your major events.

Read more

If you are interested in reading more about this topic, check out the extended version of this article: https://www.ittfeducation.com/techniques-of-sports-psychology/

If you would like to share your experience with other mental/sport psychological methods or to receive more information about it, please write to Dominique Plattner.

The ITTF High Performance and Development team wishes you all the best for implementing sport psychological techniques and all the best for your future competitions.

Meanwhile stay healthy and both mentally and physical fit!

High Performance and Development Coaching In Depth Athletes Mima Ito