Table Tennis flow or ‘zone state’ is possibly one of the hardest things to master and few know how to enter that special dimension.
As a young player
Kids, enter a flow state naturally when they are engaged in something they enjoy doing. Nothing seems to affect their concentration and I believe that’s why their cognitive responses are greater than most adults. As a child, I excelled in physical activities because that’s what I enjoyed doing and when I began playing table tennis many people thought I was on speed. I played the game at such a high tempo and I was truly relentless back in my teens. I clearly remember jumping over barriers chasing the ball in between points, running around to get my forehand anywhere possible and bouncing up and down between each and every point. Where did I get that energy from? I truly don’t know, because I hardly ate in tournaments and barely slept night’s prior to events, due to excitement and anxiety. I may not have been the best player at some events but I would win many tournaments due to my Duracell bunny power.
How was I able to have this huge energy?
I believe it was due to my ‘flow state’ that I was able to enter into the zone 9 times out of 10. So how did I do it?
The answer is simple from the very first point, I wanted to win so much that my body and mind became in-sink. My mind was focused on one thing and that was winning! This meant I would think about what serves to execute and how I would follow up with a positive stroke or shots until I would come out on top. I truly felt invincible when (entering the zone) and in my mind, I believed anyone could or can be beaten.
3 Steps to enter a flow state:
- Picture in your mind, yourself playing a perfect game (before the match)
- Focus on the game and let nothing else distract you (stay in the moment)
- Have a rhythm and routine which no one or nothing can break (keeps your body and mind relaxed)
Breaking the flow
I remember when I played, few could break my flow because all I wanted to do was win and that meant I would fight for every single point. This brought fear to my opponent because they knew, no point would be given for free. Due to my youth I did come unstuck occasionally, some players would break my rhythm, some would comment and make me think about something else and some would take their time knowing I love fast tempo matches. Today with maturity and experience I am able to counter these things but now my will to win as a player has gone. This means I rarely enter into the zone because my mind is not focused on a specific task (winning).
You see entering into a flow state, in reality, is simple, you just need to focus on the task at hand and avoid all distractions. The best way to explain it is if you are in a life or death situation (hopefully you’ll never have that). But imagine a scene where you must save yourself from a potentially life-threatening scenario. At this moment your brain will shut down all other interference or distractions and focus on the task at hand (survival). This focus gives you the best possible chance of coming out alive.
This is the follow state that Extreme athletes use to climb mountains, jump off cliffs, surf the biggest waves in the world. That zone is entered by truly focusing on the task at hand. When we play table tennis, we may think about our house, family, the next match, the match before, winning or losing, etc. What we should be doing is focusing on each point as it comes and nothing else. When you learn to do this, then you’ll be performing at your peak and your performance will enhance automatically.
Today we train our minds to be distracted (by phones, mainly) and we forget to train our minds to be focused. To enhance your concentration, think of something and if you go off on a tangent come back to the original thought. In time you’ll learn to stay focused on that particular subject for a sustained period of time.