Embracing failure in Table Tennis

Failure in sport and life is inevitable. It is how we respond to failure that will eventually determine our success. Making the most out of a setback is the key to achieving more and continuously improving. Players of all abilities can improve by learning to respond well to small failures such as losing a point, or even much larger failures such as not performing at a vital time and missing out on selection to a team. How can you embrace failure and turn it in to something positive?

Responding Positively to Failure

To be able to see the learning opportunity that hides within the failure it is important to challenge the automatic negative thoughts that occur afterwards. It takes a considerable and sustained effort to override automatic responses to events. However, it is possible.

Firstly, try to become aware of when you respond negatively. Notice what you say to yourself (e.g., “I’m terrible”, “I give up”). Also notice what you believe should be happening (“I should be winning”) and how this makes you fell (angry, frustrated and unhappy).

Secondly think about using some positive self-talk (e.g. “that didn’t work this time but I gave it a good try” or “that didn’t work, what can I learn from it?”). Additionally try and hold some more useful beliefs such as “trying and failing is better than not trying at all”. This will ensure that you remain positive in the face of setbacks.

Reflect On Your Performance

Responding well from failure is one thing. Being able to take away something positive from the experience is the next step. Squeezing all the useful information out of mistakes and failure can help you understand why it happened and help you improve your game in the long run.

A good way to reflect is to have a small debrief with yourself after an event or whenever a “failure” occurs. This debrief can be organised or it can be a little more unstructured, this is a matter of choice for you as the player. Try to see each problem as an opportunity to learn something new and don’t restrict the reflection to the outcome you were trying to achieve. Rather try to review everything about the experience and the preparation that came before.

Here are a few questions that you could ask yourself:

What went well?
What was good about the experience?
How can I improve for next time?
What have I learnt from this?
So if you fail to reach a goal of yours then keep this quote in mind.

Here is one of our favourite quotes by Henry Ford that we would like to leave you with: “The only real mistake is the one from which we learn nothing.”

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