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What got you started playing table tennis and how old were you when you started?
I come from a very sporty family. So the question was never whether I was going to play a sport, rather which sport it was going to be. My older sister was already playing tennis and my parents did not want us to play the same sports. So, I had been trying out various sports, when my cousin who was a professional table tennis player took me to Statisztika, one of the best table tennis clubs in the world. I immediately knew I found MY sport. I was eight at the time.
Did you start off training seriously right from the beginning?
Not at all! I mean I started out with going twice a week, with all the other beginners. But soon, I was picked out as a “talent” and I was put into an advance group. By the time I was 10 I found myself at practice every day – I should add willingly :) .
What do you feel is your greatest victory on the table tennis court?
One of my greatest victories happened in California against a really good male (he used to be an over 2500/2550) player. Before our match he came up to me and told me that I had no chance to beat him. He was basically trash talking. Well, he managed to make me super focused and determined and I ended up beating him… actually not just once but twice during the same day in two separate events. And it has happened to me a couple times that when really good and well known male players teased me or made fun of me before the match I ended up playing my best and beating them :). What can I say, I like to rise to a challenge.
How old were you when you played in the Hungarian National Team? How long did you play for the Hungarian National team?
I played for the Hungarian National team from age 14 till age 19.
I think you stopped playing for a while at the age of 19; what were some of the factors that made you decide to stop playing?
Honestly, I felt really burned out. There I was 19 year old and my entire life had been revolving around playing table tennis. And let me add that being 19 in Europe is very different than being 19 in the US. In Europe most people have a lot more freedom to explore things from an earlier age. But in any case, I felt the urge to try something new. So I applied and got accepted to one of the best Hungarian Universities, Eotvos Lorand University, to study for my MA degree in Psychology. It was a good excuse to stop playing for a while. I needed a break…
And how long did you stop for?
I stopped playing for 5 years… I didn’t even touch my paddle…
What got you to come back to the sport?
I moved to the US because I got a scholarship to study Sport Psychology at JFK, my second masters. I came naturally that as I was learning theories of sport psychology I was relating them to my former athletic experiences. And thinking about the theories I was studying in relation to my experiences as a player made me want to play again. So, there I was in sunny California and I was playing inside! But of course, I really enjoyed it and soon I also started playing tournaments. For fun, but also to actually seriously put some of the sport psychology techniques that I studied to test. And guess what? They worked :) – and not only did I enjoy playing again but I was also competing successfully.
Did table tennis originally spark your interest in sports psychology?
Yes, It was through table tennis that I was first introduced to the idea of sports psychology. When I was 14 I had to see a sport psychologist, we all did in my club. I was very reserved towards her and to the whole idea at first, but then soon I realized how much sport psychology could help me. At one point, I was challenged by injuries and sickness, so I used visualization while I couldn’t practice and it helped me tremendously. From than on I respected the power mental strength could have on performance.
And did that ultimately play a role in your return to the sport?
Yes, what a good point! it’s very interesting. I never really thought about it in this way but it’s true! First, Table Tennis sparked my interest in sports psychology then Sport Psychology sparked back my interest in table tennis.
At this point, how do you see table tennis and sports psychology working together in the niche you've created for yourself in the table tennis world?
I am in a position to increase the use and visibility of sport psychology in table tennis.
What is working and competing at Spin like for you?
SPiN has a really nontraditional sport environment. It’s really interesting working and competing there. I meet many interesting people and also lead social events, organize tournaments, coach and compete there.
I notice most of the higher rated players are guys; things can get a little competitive?
Yes, everybody is very competitive. They make a big deal who lose against who… but it’s all part of the game ;)
How do you handle that stress as one of the few females around who can give those guys some competition?
Usually guys don’t like playing against female players. You know, they are always expected to win, which can be a lot of pressure, especially when they play against very good female players. It’s easier for me to play against guys because it’s less pressure for me. But otherwise, I handle the stress the same way than against women; I use my Game Face routine, breathing, and positive self-talk.
Do you see yourself as a role model for some of the girls and younger women moving up in the rankings; showing that you can be competitive without losing touch with your feminine side?
I think it is the wrong question to ask. I mean have you ever heard anyone asking male table tennis players about how they could be good athletes and attractive at the same time? I really don’t think the two, meaning being feminine and competitive are mutually exclusive.
Are you more a fan of skirts or shorts in women’s table tennis?
I like both. I used to be more a fan of shorts but lately I have been playing in skirts :)
What does women’s table tennis need more of to encourage more young female players to start participating?
We need more women players and role models who can encourage young women to start playing. Also, we have to show that table tennis is not a male only sport. In addition, having new clubs and after school programs could help a lot.
Tell us a bit more about the Game Face Program.
Is this the first time that this method has been used in table tennis?
What makes the Game Face Program unique?
It’s a holistic program that incorporates mental and physical skills. It is a unique approach because it is tailored to table tennis and teaches you how to manage all aspects of your game. Just like having your personal application.
Do you know any other sport psychology publications that are specifically tailored to table tennis?
I am not aware that they exist. Not yet anyway.
Are workshops or individual sessions in this method available?
Yes, I’m offering workshops and individual sessions as well. I am also in the process of finishing the online video tutorial program, which will be available in June 2012.
What can players gain from reading about the Game Face Program?
Game Face Volume 1 is a quick read, it provides you some good tips how to deal with stress, with competition, and with discipline in all walks of life and this book provides good advice, based on cutting edge psychological theories, for dealing with all of the above. You walk away from the book having learned that you need to control your reactions after you make mistakes, behind the table or behind your desk.
Related Questions to Table Tennis Mentality
Is it possible to always achieve being in the zone?
It’s a really good question. I would say it’s possible to bring out your best every time when you step to the table. Every day is different and all you can do is bring the best out of yourself on any given day. An athlete can only peak 4 or 5 times a year. When you are in the zone you forget everything around you and are fully in tuned with your body and mind. All you can see is the ball.
Most players have bad days where they just don't seem to be capable of executing, can this be avoided totally or just reduced?
As I mentioned before you can only bring out your best for that day. With that is said, on the days when your maximum is say 60% you most certainly can still minimize the negative self-talk and stay in focus. With applying your Game Face you will make sure that you deliver 60%.
Are there 'exercises' that have worked specifically well for you for your mental game?
Visualization has been a very helpful technique in increasing my confidence and also preparing myself to handle stress much better. Deep breathing is another very powerful technique that I have been using when I am faced with a challenging situation.
A lot of people say it comes down to hard training purely, is this partially true?
It’s definitely true but I believe in quality over quantity. Whenever an elite athlete trains it should be focused on the particular techniques and skills that he or she wants to work on. Just training without a plan and specific goals can do more harm than good. How you approach training, whatever routine you develop, will ultimately determine how you perform during competition. It is in your muscle memory. As I explain in my book, your Game Face routine starts with practice. You need to train the way you want to perform. Having a clear strategy and making the most out of your training sessions. Mental skills are the same. You have to practice them during practice in order to be able to rely on them during competition.
How important do you think the mental game is? More important than the technical side, 50/50 or less so?
I would say that after you master your table tennis skills 70% of the game is mental. If you are mental game is strong it can give you the necessary edge to beat players who are more skilled than you are.
The Chinese team is known to have sports psychologists to help them with their training and preparation for competitions, do you think this gives them an advantage?
Of course it gives them advantage but their technique, table tennis skills and game are just already spectacular.
What kind of things would they be discussing or doing with a sports psychologist to help their performance?
How they keep their Game Face On when they need it the most ;)
Seriously I would say: breathing, visualization, pre-performance routine, focusing techniques… etc. Maybe we should ask them!