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The Ping Pong Microcosm
Recently I have experienced a rather depressing phenomenon, something extraordinary for me in that I had not been through something like this that keeps on repeating. It’s this: I find myself ahead in a game, maybe 8-3 or 9-3 – in other words, way ahead – and then all of a sudden the score is 10-9 or even deuce. My big lead has vanished, wiped out, and then, low and behold, the other guy is ahead! This nightmare keeps on happening … and I lose most of these games. What is going on here? Am I in the Twilight Zone, or what? (Righteous people want to know.)
Now here’s the thing that is particularly irksome about this (yeah, I admit I get irked quite easily). I’m pretty sure I’m better than most of these guys, but I’m losing! Darn it! (Okay, damn!)
Well, I’ve been thinking about this maddening situation, and I think I may have come up with something that will help me and others who describe similar scenarios. (And, no, it is not choking or the ‘yips,’ as they say in the pseudosport of golf.)
Here’s the probable cause: When you’re way ahead, there’s a tendency to loosen up and relax which leads to playing carelessly. You’ve lifted your ‘guard,’ in a manner of speaking, and you’ve given the enemy the chance to infiltrate the walls of your fortress. It may begin insidiously with your blowing the first few points of your giant lead, but by the time he’s only one or two points behind and about to breach the castle’s defenses, your confidence will have vanished and it’s no mystery as to why you’ll probably end up holding the short end of the stick (i.e., losing).
Okay, so what to do. For openers, you shouldn’t have changed your beginning style of play – that which secured your giant lead in the first place. Just don’t start letting up and playing overly cautiously or tentatively. Regain that which you had at the outset by taking back control and dictating the play. Playing strong again – without over hitting or making wild shots – this will renew your confidence. Remember, a winning placement shot is as good as a ball hit 100 miles per hour. Also keep in mind that you win points by making your opponent make mistakes by concentrating on his weaknesses. To win a point does not always require that you do something spectacular. And this is also important: Make a conscious effort not to play down to this guy at the other end of the table. You’re probably better than he is, but only if you’re playing your game, not his.
You can learn something every time you play – win or lose. If you win you can get overconfident (cocky, even), and then you can easily fall from your perch. Keep things in perspective. Now in the case I cite above, losing 8 points in a row might make you believe the world is crumbling but, c’mon, get real. Rest assured, the earth will still spin even if your rating drops a few points. Stay calm and keep fighting. That is the mature approach in fending off Doomsday. And keep this in mind, too. Don’t let frustrations build and get the better of you. Never, I say NEVER!, let net cords or table edge shots that fall for winners for your opponent make your emotions run the gamut from upset, angry or irate. Your fuming thereafter will cost you. Besides, you’ll get those points, too. That’s life, Bunky. It’s the way the ball bounces, as we used to say in third grade.
Just one more thing. There are plenty of ping pong players out there who have very good physical skills. But get this: Good skills alone don’t necessarily always translate into victories. Two players with equal skills, for example, may produce one consistent winner and one consistent loser. It points to the fact that there are other dimensions involved in the game. Maybe one guy wants to win more than the other. Or the corollary, maybe one guy hates to lose more than the other. Even less talented athletes can sometimes be more successful than their talented brethren if they are committed to the sport and spend more time to improve. They possess an intangible. It can be called desire, and that can be a powerful force.
Summarizing: (This may be trite but it’s true.) Just keep on trying. Don’t give up. If you lose, than you lose. Consider the loss in a game of ping pong a microcosm for dealing with any setbacks in life (social, medical). Confront these matters – don’t give up. If you lose at first, so be it. But it doesn’t mean you ultimately lose, because wars are not decided by one battle but by many. Lao Du (By the way, I’m thinking of changing my name to Confucius.)
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