Saturday 27 August 2016

How to Deal with Losing Confidence When Your Best Shots Start Going Wrong

So recently I started a new job with USA Table Tennis as the Digital and Social Media Coordinator, you can read that article here. I had a busy couple of months doing media coverage and PR with the US Olympic Team as well as covering the US Nationals and Super Camp. After finally getting back home I covered the Rio Games.

As you can imagine my blog took a back seat but I'm happy to say I'm hoping to get back on track. Thank you to everyone for their submission replies to my email the other day. I loved this question from Roger, so I decided to go with this one first.

Regaining Confidence
Image from USA Today
Roger's question was 'How do you regain confidence when your best shot starts going wrong?'

Restoring Confidence in Practice

Obviously there are two occasions where you can lose confidence, one is in practice and the other is in the middle of a match. A player's form fluctuates on a regular basis, that is a normal element of playing a sport. With the highs and lows in training also comes movements in confidence. When we are training well our confidence grows, when we are not in good form our confidence depreciates.

One of the main confidence busters in practice is doubt. On occasions when you are putting a lot of hours into practice and your form hits bottom you may start to wonder whether you are wasting your time. It is important to remember that all players experience lapses in form. So when you are lacking confidence in the training hall, how can you restore it?

Employing a Confidence Drill:

This is one of my favourite concepts, the confidence drill. Usually a confidence drill is the one drill you can execute better than any other drill and sometimes centres around your best shots. Successfully repeating a drill helps your confidence build, especially if you begin to feel like you can't possibly miss.

My confidence drill is backhand to backhand and then I choose a ball and pivot to hit a forehand anywhere. The great thing about this drill is that with the forehand going anywhere it is hard for the training partner to anticipate where the ball is going, which leads to a high success rate as long as you can execute the forehand. A high success rate is the best way to build confidence back up.

Whenever training isn't going well I turn to my confidence drill to help me feel more positive.

Increase Focus on Consistency:

Missing simple balls is the easiest way to destroy your confidence. When you miss a ball which you really feel you shouldn't miss then you start to recognise that something is not going right. Often missing easy balls can be frustrating and emotion creeps into play causing you to distract from the practice or game itself.

Again as above, change the drillset to focus on restoring confidence. Simplify drills and strokes, reduce power and focus on more repetitions. Once you get your touch and form right at the basic level then you can build back up from the foundation levels.

Confidence Crucial to Match Success
Image from

Restoring Confidence in a Match

During a match is probably the worst place to have a dip in confidence, this can be caused by a number of different elements such as:

- Losing a string of points in a row
- Losing a lead
- Missing easy balls or simple executions
- Being genuinely outplayed

There are others of course and it is a psychological battle to stay positive. Losing confidence goes hand in hand with negativity but not always. Here are some things you can do when your confidence in a match starts dwindling.

Evaluate Your Shot Selection and Execution:

It is very important not to get caught up in negativity so you are able to focus on the issue at hand. Why are you missing your best shots?

- Are you making the right shot selection for the incoming ball?
- Are you reading the spin correctly?
- Is your body in the best position to execute the shot?
- Is your stroke technique satisfactory?
- Are you trying to do too much with the ball i.e over-swing, overpower

The list could go on. One thing I find important is to constantly focus on why I am missing shots, especially when they are my best ones. Sometimes losing confidence can detract your attention from very easily solved problems. Always be aware of why you are missing.

Stay Relaxed:

This one is very important. Often for some of the reasons stated above, we can start to get too tense. Being too tight can have a massive impact on your touch and can have big repercussions for your matchplay. Here are some pointers:

- Don't stress your strokes too much, fluid motions are the most efficient.
- Take your time, rushing will increase your rate of errors
- Try and keep your head clear of negative thoughts and focus one point at a time
- Try and focus on placement and control ratio over powerful shots until confidence comes back

Utilise Set Plays:

The best thing to do when you are losing confidence is to win points, I don't think anyone can argue with that. So you need to look to the simplest way to win points, set plays.

Set plays are pre-trained, highly probably structured points which give you a high possibility of winning a point. Every set play starts with a good, reliable serve with a pre-determined response.

Essentially a set play is a well trained point structure where the outcomes of every play are predictable to a high percentage, allowing you to preempt your opponents and hopefully win the point.

When I am struggling in a match or at a tight place i.e 10-10, I almost always look to my set plays to make sure I win the point. Each player has their own unique set plays, often more than one.

If You Don't Have Confidence to Attack, Change Tactics:

If I'm missing attacking strokes frequently in a match I like to change tactics and focus more on out-smarting my opponent. I reduce powerful attacks and replace them with short play, control and strong placement.

If you can't win points from doing your usual gameplay tactics then it is important to realise that before the match is over. When I can't attack I try to focus more on forcing errors and stopping my opponent from attacking. If I can do that then sometimes I will be able to reduce their confidence while restoring mine at the same time, a perfect way to turn the tables and scoreline on its head.

So I hope you have found this article somewhat useful and Roger I hope it has done a good job of responding to your question, again thank you for the submission. Keep them coming guys! :)

Friday 19 August 2016

MHTableTennis Reviews the Butterfly Tiago Apolonia ZLC

As some of you know I recently got my hands on a Tiago Apolonia ZLC from Butterfly after asking Tiago himself about his initial impressions of the blade. Of course he endorsed it beyond question, as he should! I prepared the blade with Butterfly Tenergy 05 on the forehand side and Tenergy 80 on the backhand and set out to the table to see how it handled. Keep in mind that I had been using a Donic Waldner Senso Carbon for years and so the increase in pace took a while to adjust to! I have now played on a number of occasions with the blade, enough so to give a review that a handful of you have been asking for, though not in video format.

Tiago Apolonia ZLC
From MHTableTennis Instagram (Be sure to Follow!)
Visual Impressions:

First of all before I even opened the box I was excited. The box is in Portugal colours which I thought was really cool. Opening the box and the blade design was the same. Red and Green for Portugal. Tiago I know is a real team player so it was cool to see some of his personality captured in the design.


Speed: OFF
Composition: Wood Outer (Double Limba Layers), ZLC Fiber Inner layers
Plies: 5+2
Rubber Combo: FH; Tenergy 05 2.1, BH: Tenergy 80 2.1


Tiago Apolonia had previously been using an Innerforce ZLC so it is no surprise that there are a great deal of similarities to be found between the two blades. Tiago himself said there were many similarities but the Apolonia ZLC was a touch faster.

Moving from a slower blade, the speed of the ZLC was noticeable instantly for me. It took me a little while to close the angle off and adjust. What I really liked about the speed of the Apolonia ZLC was it's great ability to third ball off backspin. Usually with the Waldner Senso I had favoured a slower opening, particularly on my backhand side. With the Apolonia I felt a renewed sense of athleticism as I worked my way around the corner and hit some stunning 3rd ball forehands.

By producing a concise and sharp contact it is possible to achieve a great deal of acceleration in a short amount of time and that shows when playing the 3rd ball attack.

In the topspin rallies I had to close the angle quite a lot, especially when blocking as the catapult effect was a lot more than I was used to and also on the backhand with the marginally longer trajectory of the Tenergy 80 I had to make further adjustments.

You can see in the video above from my Instagram that you can produce a lot of power and acceleration against backspin. I felt that it was a key strength which I was impressed with, particularly since I was looking for a faster alternative to my old blade but with reasonable control ratio.

Control and Touch
One of the great qualities about the inner fiber ZLC blades is the carbon layers being closer to the core. Where the Mizutani is a 5 ply blade (3 wood and 2 carbon), the Apolonia is a 7 ply and thus the inner carbon layers are softened by a double layer of outer wood. So what does this do? Well it takes the incredible speed of the classic ZLC blade and cushions it so as to achieve great touch, incredible speed and a good element of control.

Having used an OFF- carbon with a hollow handle for over 5 years, I have become a big fan of more touchy blades with good control without losing the speed effect. While it took me a few sessions to wear the blade in and the rubber, I quickly began to appreciate the balance of speed with control. You can certainly feel that it is not quite as stiff as other ZLC blades which is something I personally like.

This structure helps it balance a powerful spin oriented and accurate attacking game with some intricacies like touch for counterlooping and topspin blocking close to the table etc.

One area I felt improved greatly with the blade was my close table counterlooping. Usually with the Waldner Senso I was able to make some early counterloops and fade inside out forehands but with the Apolonia the control at high speed is incredible, especially so early in the bounce. With a short controlled counter stroke I was able to produce a very high quality counterloop with incredible pace.

I also found that once I got the hang of the angle adjustments I was able to block fast balls more comfortably and also absorb spin better on opening balls allowing me to control my placement better. The blade definitely allows for a lot more variability in what you can and can't do with different incoming balls.

Initial Difficulties
My initial hardships with the first few sessions were playing with too much of an open face when opening and having too long a swing on occasions. Making precise and efficient strokes is important as with any blade, I felt I was much better off making more concise ball contacts and slightly shorter swings to maximize the acceleration and accuracy. The real strength of the ZLC lies in it's ability to produce a high amount of spin even when accelerating forward over the ball.

I also had some trouble with my backhand block and counter, even my loop sometimes. I'm used to having a slightly slower setup so I tend to use a bit more wrist in my stroke, this was something which caused me a few problems as it sent the ball over the end, as you can see on a few occasions below.

Serve and Receive
I felt service contact was improved with the Apolonia, as with many elements of the game the double limba layer really plays an important role in increasing the dwell and contact time and gives a softer feel than regular ZLC blades.

On receive again I had to work some wrist adjustments with my flip to make it a little smoother and angle changes with my short push to keep the ball low, but after a number of sessions I'm relatively comfortable with that now.

On receiving faster serves it becomes easier to generate good acceleration with a short controlled stroke which becomes particularly advantageous when you have a little less time to react.

While training has been going pretty well, there are still a number of adjustments I need to make in the heat of a match. Obviously when you are changing blades there are still a lot of automatic responses and learned adjustments so it takes a little time to build new reactions for the new blade. I can see that the blade will bring some great improvements to my game once I make those adjustments.

Final Judgement: Winner!

After a handful of sessions with the blade, where initially I was skeptical that it might be too fast for me, it has worn in and I am convinced that the Butterfly Tiago Apolonia ZLC will be my new blade. I'm very much looking forward to seeing where my game goes with the added speed and soft touch of this blade! :)