Table Tennis by Lily Yip
1992 & 1996 US Olympian

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USATT's First Family of Table Tennis by David Fullen

I barely made the team.

March 12, 1999

I barely made the team. I finished fourth. The top four men and four women will represent the US in the World Championships and other international events. We have team tryouts every year. This is my ninth year representing the US. The competitions are getting tougher and tougher. It is not because of age or physical condition, most of the problems are with mental toughness.

I played six matches, only one did I play relaxed and well. That was my last match. The others, I played nervous and felt pressure, especially against the sixteen year old girl. Before the match, people said it will be an easy win and she was only a 2200 level player. I felt I was much better than her and should beat her without much trouble. When the match started, my muscles became tight. I stayed in the middle of the table and played safe. I couldn't block and did not step around to use my forehand. I couldn't even throw the ball straight for my high toss serve. Why, because for the past year I have not trained my mental game. I had an arm injury and did not play many competitions. I was not mentally ready to face the other girls.

The tryouts are four days long. The first three I did not sleep well. The whole night I was thinking too much about strategy, how should I play the next day. I performed poorly.

After losing to the sixteen year old , I kept telling myself to "relax". While talking on the phone to my husband, he said to me "Don't worry, just enjoy the rest of your matches." I tried hard to stop my nervousness. I took longer time between points, until the umpire signaled me to resume play. I drank water and toweled every five points. I did deep breathing exercises. As a result I performed better and better each match until the last match in the last day where I played well.

Before the last match, I didn't think about winning or losing. My match was scheduled for 2:00 p.m. and my flight home was at 3:45. I thought a little about strategy, then I watched television and talked to others for about an hour. I enjoyed this relaxed time. I was happy and had no more worries. I just wanted to finish and go home. When the game started, I played aggressively and well throughout the match. I was fully able to use my best serves, my forehand always landed on the table, I was playing like a champion.

Hopefully you can learn from my experience. When you practice, play seriously as if it were a tournament match. You should not only think about practicing your strokes and footwork, also concentrate on each ball. When you loose a point, don't rush to start again. Take your time, deep breathe, relax your muscles during the game, do some movements, walk around the court between points, take towel and drink breaks every five points. Encourage yourself to play well. Remember, play tournaments to train your mental toughness so as not to get too nervous.