Let’s be honest: “Table tennis is not a team sport. If you want to succeed, you have to work on your own game, your own skills. If the team wins, all the better, but your own win/lose ratio is all that counts.” – Who can say this is not true?
In short: It isn’t. Team work in table tennis is actually more important than you think. Let’s see why:
Professor Yoji Yoshizawa is an expert in this field and head of the department of sports medicine and psychology at JTTA. His work includes preparation of the Japanese national team for big events such as Olympic Games and world championships. With years of experience to draw on, he has analysed all factors leading to instability in a player’s performance under pressure. In this section, we have a look at his findings and discuss the implications to help players overcome mental issues in their game. As always, you are welcome to discuss in the comments’ section.
All against one, one against all?
A little) selfishness can be healthy. But with a closer look, it becomes obvious that success can never be achieved alone, can never be a one-way street. There’s always give and take involved.
And while having a team can slow you down, the social structure and positive feedback within it can be a motivating factor as well. Sometimes being part of a team can push your limits even higher, without us knowing about it.
The importance of systematic development of the “team spirit” has already been recognized by professional coaches all around the table tennis scene.
Danny Heister, head coach of the Borussia Düsseldorf team in the German “Bundesliga” says:
“We are ONE team, and we want to win TOGETHER, helping and supporting EACH OTHER. TOGETHER, we are hard to beat.”
Richard Prause is also aware of this problem:
“An experience shared is better than experiencing on your own. More emotion, more motivation. A team world championship for example is a big and global event that can only be won as a complete team. A good team is always more than the sum of its parts.”
Alexander Daun agrees. He is coaching for the german second league Women’s team TuS Uentrup:
“Developing and building the team spirit is continuously part of my work. This entails more than just talking about team spirit, but rather is something to be worked on and lived together.
My club, my team. And me.
Our potential and talent count for nothing without a club or a team to develop them. We need at least:
- Someone to practise with
- A coach, a team mate or friend to analyse our game and help identify strengths and weaknesses.
- A mate to motivate us to play better (if only to beat them!)
- Team mates motivating and supporting us in our matches
How many of these can be replaced or are redundant? None.
Your success is my success – Give and take.
Succeeding alone on the basis of talent is always a trap. Why? Because in order to take, one has to give back at some point – with a few exceptions. We all have to realize that we are a part of the succession of people around us as well, which is why we cannot define ourselves only by our own success, but have to be helpful to others in their paths. So helping others succeed is a part of our own success as well in the end. If everyone in a team keeps this in mind, a positive outcome is ensured.
Team work and selfishness are no contradiction
Success is as much a result as a mental state of positive self-awareness. The less we focus on negative motivation, the more we are concentrating on the things that help us. Finding a positive approach to a lot of usually de-motivating factors can be a task for a player looking to get better.
For example: Playing against weaker opponents on a regular basis in training is not going to be beneficial to both parties. But taking the opportunity to work on a specific shot or combination can not only help the opponent get better – but it can also be a rewarding experience for us as well, especially if we help the opponent work on this specific detail as well.
Being passive in training and helping the partner work on his topspin other some other shot should never be a chore for us. We can just as well turn it into a safety practice for our block shots.
So a small switch in our perspective can turn into a completely different state of mind. And with a more positive mindset, a player can concentrate better on his training and his abilities, work harder and more ambitious, which in turn can motivate other around him as well as play into his own healthy selfishness. A win-win.
Envy – no place for that!
Envy or holding a grudge are huge de-motivating factors and can prevent a good development. Successes of other players are always built upon the time the training partners invested, so for them the success of someone else becomes their success as well, which leads to more motivation, more positive feedback and more fun!
Team spirit – step by step
So far we have been talking about helping others. But what can be done to help US? A lot!
It can be beneficial to us to realize that we a not an indispensable part of our team, but that the responsibility of the team’s success rather lies on many shoulders besides our own. Keeping everybody motivated to achieve their goals should be as important as the success itself.
For that we need a common goal, and a unified approach within the team if we want to utilize our potential as much as possible. There is a direct connection between the motivation of the team and its success.
Building up team spirit means voicing our own ambition and helping other achieve their own. So there has to be at least one person in the group who
- Initiates the communication about everyone’s goals
- Collects the ambitions
- Sets a plan in motion that incorporates the wishes of all team mates and keeps track of the progress during all the team matches.
Alexander Daun continues:
“It is my task as a coach to initiate the team building. But in order to create a team, every player has to contribute and participate actively. You cannot just decide “Now we are a team”, but have to have a goal, structure and rules. Everyone has to have the will to become a team.”
It takes a bit of planning and and thinking about how to achieve this goal.
Creating an agenda
1.) What do we want as a team?
Finding the answer to this may not be as easy as it sounds. Different team members may have different opinions and goals. The aim of this topic should be to voice these opinions and openly talk about them in order to find a common goal.
2.) What are our individual strengths and weaknesses and how do we achieve our own goals?
Our team’s success may not only depend on everyone playing their best table tennis. Each member may also have a role to play during support and training. It may be fruitful to once in a while think about our role within the team and if we feel comfortable in it. Again, the main goal should be to openly talk.
3.) How can my personal goals be connected to the team’s goals?
Once the discussion about everyone’s goals has started, we can start to look for a solution that works for all players involved. It is crucial for everyone to know that he or she can rely on her team mates, this can avert tension and negative vibes within a team. At least these 3 topics should be discussed:
a) What is the development plan for every player?
b) How much work is that player willing to put in?
c) What role will a player have inside the team and how much effort will he or she invest in order to fill it out?
4.) Discussion about implementation
These individual plans may be quite different, so the next step has to be to find answers to these questions:
How often do we train? Who will partner with whom at practise? At what time do we meet before a game, what will the warm-up look like?
Working on the process of becoming a team can shed light on conflicts of interest and motivation within a team. It has to be the main goal to find and work on these potential conflicts and openly discuss everyone’s wishes and aspirations. This can be the team building exercise in itself.
(Adaptation from Japanese Original by Frank Völler, Translation by Sebastian Hallen)