Ahead of this weekends World Championships of Ping Pong, we were lucky enough to get talking to one of Englands top Table Tennis players, and one of the Worlds BEST Ping Pong players! Get an insight into his training, inspirations and some great advice for our TTFit users!
1. Who was your main inspiration and why?
I didn’t grow up with Table Tennis to be honest my father brought me up on Golf, Rugby and Cricket as a child and my mother loved tennis. Long story I had collar bone reconstructive surgery when I was nine years old and wasn’t allowed to play the majority of sports for two years whilst I had a metal plate in my right collar bone. I was watching the 200 Sydney Olympics and happened to watch Jan Ove Waldner in action and was pretty much hooked instantly. After this Vladimir Samsonov became my table tennis inspiration as he was so tall and played so eloquently and somehow is still competing at the highest level 20 years later.
2. How often did you train when you were at your peak?
I moved to the English Institute of Sport in Sheffield for the 2009-10 season and this was when I realised the difference between being a sportsman and an athlete. During this season as a group there were 9 sessions from Monday morning to Friday Morning each lasting 3 hours and we were expected to attend 8 of these sessions and it was a real eye opener. In addition to this we would do 4 physical training sessions a week that would last between 60-90 mins and this training is one of the reasons I believe I can still play to a high level despite being a decade ago now.
3. Can you share any tips on how to cope with pressure?
Personally I’v always believed that i have been one of the better players at coping with pressure (with a few exceptions!). There are a number of reasons for this but I must give my father a lot of credit as he brought me up on a variety of sports and whilst it was extremely fun, he also made it was competitive. One of the simple things I do at table tennis has been when it is extremely close to reduce my aggression 10-20% at key points which has always served me well when a match is close. I will always remember Linus Mernsten who was England assistant coach for two years telling us off as a group because we felt we had been unlucky in a match against Portugal. He said we are not unlucky we are the lucky ones we get to represent our country and how many people get to do that. I found that was an excellent way of enjoying my time playing especially in team matches for England and never forgot it.
4. Did you have any plans or routines to help you focus in training and matches?
Personally I never enjoyed training to the same extent of matches, because i was always a competitor but had to force myself to work harder in training as didn’t come naturally to me. I knew a few players still do that preferred to train and very seldom entered tournaments and never understood that as couldn’t understand what you were training for! My game has always been about being extremely consistent and trying to force errors from my opponents. So when I was training, generally i knew consistency wasn’t going to be a problem so would try to work on my aggression as didn’t come naturally to me. As for matches it clicked for me after a while and found what routine worked for me I’m not saying this will work for everybody but I found it worked for me. I listen to music before matches generally more relaxed music as for a long time I tended to listen to more motivational music or speeches and realised i was too pumped up for the match and then couldn’t play with a clear mind. In addition to this wouldn’t practise within approximately 15 mins before a match as I liked to conserve my energy for a match. I always felt too many domestic players especially at grand prixs (for seniors) and 4 * (for juniors) would over train on the day which would lead to tired bodies and also a dependency to training which wouldn’t necessarily be available in other tournaments.
5. Which areas of your game do you think could be better?
There are two main areas of my game which i definitely could be better. First one being my overall aggression especially on 3rd and 5th balls attacks in rallies as that is the area which dominates the professional game. This stemmed from a mental block which took me years to get over that I was simply afraid to miss I hated missing the table. I eventually realised that you have to take calculated risks and will on occasion miss the correct shot due to table tennis being more of a high risk sport than others due to the quantity of spin produced. More specifically I wish I’d worked more on my serves. I have decent serves but never really trained them and probably got away with it due to a certain degree of natural ability. Second area would be my overall fitness and speed around the court. I move pretty well for a large sized man but at the same time there is no excuse for being overweight and trying to be an elite sportsman. This area certainly doesn’t apply to everyone but is something that can easily be controlled and has probably cost me a few matches over the years which is a disappointing.