In this interview with Paul McCreery we get an insight into his training regime and dealing with pressure amongst more fantastic advice. A must read.
Who was your main inspiration and why?
1. I would have to say Colum Slevin as he was the first real Irish legend who put table tennis on the map for our country, beating players like Olympic medallist Eric Lind when he was World number 3, and also playing in the German Bundesliga. As a coach I would say John Murphy was my biggest inspiration, as he knew individually how to get the best out of me, and he always had belief in me (even when I didn’t have it in myself!), which are 2 hugely important qualities for a coach. He was always able to flex his style with the players, and knew when to work us hard but also how to keep us calm but focussed. He understands the importance of building a positive mindset into your game and was able to raise the professionalism of table tennis in Ireland into unchartered territory, helping us to beat countries and players we were never able to before.
How often did you train when you were at your peak?
2. My training frequency and intensity varied hugely throughout my career. Typically when I was studying at the University of Nottingham for 5 years, I would train on average 12-16 hours per week on term time, and then 2-4 hours of strength and conditioning training per week. (Gym hours would be focussed around gaining explosive power from legs as well as building up core strength.) However, in summer and off term time I would be on training camps abroad averaging 20-26 hours per week. As a part time player, I had to be strategic building up to major international events not to over train, and found I typically peaked followed by a few months of training 20-26 hours per week up to about 1 month before the event, where then I would focus on match practice, and more serve receive based training, rather than structuring training around footwork exercises. I also found multiball the week leading up to major events especially practicing little things around the net like flicking, half long with forehand, helped me feel mentally prepared and tactically sharp around the table.
Can you share any tips on how to cope with pressure?
3. I would say try to cultivate a mindset where you see pressure as a necessary pre-requisite to high performance. I found reading the ‘Pressure Principle’ by Dave Alred helped me to embrace this mindset and would recommend to anyone who wants to improve their relationship with pressure. Personally, I found that self-enquiry and knowing how pressure affects you on the table is a good step in the right direction. For me, it used to inhibit my movement, so anytime I felt pressure I would always focus on good movement first and then the rest of my game would kind of fall into place. Again, recognising how it affects you individually and then using focus and positive self-talk to overcome how it affects you during matches is critical.
Did you have any plans or routines to help you focus in training and matches?
4. I always felt when I was warmed up physically before matches, I was able to focus from point number 1. I would advise building specific warm up exercises, squats, lunging, resistance bands, dynamic stretching into your pre-match routine. Although I felt music and pre-match visualisation did increase my performance on occasion, warming up my body so I was ready to move quickly with confidence was the strongest predicator of performing at a high level. Another thing which I found before matches that helped me feel mentally strong before matches was practicing the things you’re best at; for me that was forehand counter loop, and half-long forehand with spin. I would recommend experimenting with some little exercises where you practice your strengths before matches and see how you then feel on the table.
Which areas of your game do you think could be better?
5. I felt that my backhand could have been better at some points in my career. Although I quickly realised that I didn’t actually need to have the flashiest backhand or most powerful backhand to beat top 100 players. I needed to be smart and structure my game around my strengths; forehand half-long, forehand counter loop, and flicking. I realised if I was able to plan my serve and receive so that I could get these balls in early in the game, I could mitigate against any weaknesses in my backhand and force my opponent to play forehand forehand rallies where I felt dominant. I also think with the introduction of the plastic ball, and with a lot of players playing strong backhand flicks now, it is vital to structure your training around receiving these balls and learning to play against them. You need to update your training routines to reflect how the game evolves and try to stay ahead of the curve. This is where working with different coaches and training abroad on camps can help as you gain exposure to different playing styles.
Some of Pauls Achievements
-7 World Championships
-3 European Championships
-4 x Irish Senior National Champion (2013, 2014, 2015, 2017).
-3 x Commonwealth Games Athlete for Northern Ireland (2010, 2014, 2018).
-University of Nottingham Sportsman of the Year (2015-2016).
-Premier British League Champions with Sycamore TTC (2013-2014).
-Multiple BUCS Gold Medals in Individual, League, and Cup Events (2012-2016).
-Winner UK School Games (2012).
Thank you Paul for a very insightful read. We hope our TTFit users can benefit from this great advice! Until our next interview…