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Interview with Paralympian Csonka on Mental Preparation (by Dora Kurimay)

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What helped András Csonka the most in getting a silver medal at the 2016 Paralympics?

I had a chance to interview Andras Csonka, a table tennis player and Paralympic silver medalist (category Man Class 8) about his mental preparation for the 2016 Rio Paralympics. Andras shared with me that his journey to become a silver medalist at the Paralympics was a long one.

 

How long was your mental preparation?

It took 4 years and I worked really hard to get here where I am now.

 

What kind of mental preparation were you involved in?

I believe in continuous learning so I have put lots of effort in self-improvements. I completed a Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain course in 2013. I also completed a Neuro Linguistic Program (NLP) and worked with András Benyák (international NLP trainer). But I felt that there was still something missing. Table tennis is a very specific sport and not all the NLP techniques (like future pacing, swish etc.) can be adopted during the matches. You need to get into your optimal brain activity level because everything is extremely fast and I think this is one of the keys to be able to succeed in table tennis beside techniques and physical skills.

Thanks to my investment in these various self-improvement techniques, all areas of my life improved; my work, my family, my private life and my communication got much better than before.  And overall, I got much more relaxed.  However, initially these positive results didn’t show up in my table tennis game. My coach, Peter Aranyosi, told me that we could only achieve great results in table tennis if we got serious and applied science to our work. Therefore, we got a Performance Diagnostics Team for me (coach, nutritionist, physical and coordination trainer etc.)! We started checking physical markers every two weeks to measure my physical fitness and mental state at the Hungarian National Sport Institution.

I started using meditation with a very specific device that tracked my brain activity and I also started using another specific sleeping device to track my optimal sleeping patterns. I measured everything and got in a very specific routine. I got very motivated to do my 3-7 minute meditation every morning at the same time. I decided that I would keep this routine regardless how well things were going and how my scores were according to the brain activity device at the iPhone and Android application. At the beginning I didn’t do well but I kept going and I could do almost the maximum score at the end (the device measures your brain activity). I was also completing courses (such as creative thinking, intuition, turnaround managment class) at Budapest Metropolitan University and I could transform some of this newfound knowledge into table tennis.

Moreover, I took project management class where the key was to register and measure everything. I started to track and measure everything in table tennis. I tracked every match, who I played against, how I played and what I should have played during tournaments. I reviewed my notes and reminded myself what I should do differently in the future. I stopped watching television because I realized that my brain was much more relaxed and functioned much better if I didn’t watch any television. I trained with Bosu pillow, it made my right footwork tremendously stronger and my footwork improved a lot (I was born with lack of oxygen and it’s hard for me to move my right side). All these things helped me impressively and my mom told me that I was already an Olympic champion even if I didn’t get any medals because I had improved so much in all areas of my life both physically and mentally.

 

Why didn’t you choose to go to China for training camp?

I decided not going to China because I couldn’t have met Dr. Peter Kovacs, analyzer of Performance Diagnostics Team, every week and we couldn’t have finished the work the way we started. I was also afraid that my game would have been taped and analyzed. Many people were surprised about this choice but the decision was right for me.

 

Many people don’t know but you got a fever right before you left for the Paralympics, how could you handle this situation? 

I tried to stay very positive and I did everything how we had planned them. Two weeks before the Olympics we calculated everything how and when we were going to do all the elements of my routines. I did everything (sleeping, eating, training, stretching etc.) how it was planned and how they told me to do it. I recovered in few days and I am very thankful for the medical team who helped me to bounce back very quickly. After I recovered everything went the way it was planned and truth to be told during the whole Paralympics I didn’t even feel that I was at the Olympics. It felt like I was at a regular tournament. I only concentrated on keeping the specific routine that we planned.

 

What was the most difficult moment at the Paralympics? 

When we had to play against the French team I was really tired but I wanted to do well in the team competition. I didn’t have any energy. I had nausea and I had to keep going. After we finished the team match I couldn’t move and I was lying on the floor for 5 minutes. I had so much lactic acid [I have even more than most players do because I was born with lack of oxygen] it was incredibly painful.

 

Why do you think you could do so well at the Paralympics?

I was able to follow the routine and plans we created regarding eating, sleeping, training habits. And I put 4 years of hard work into the preparation. I was doing 30 minute autogen training or meditation with my specific device during my 30-minute waiting time before my matches. I only focused on the tactics during my matches. I could also focus on my pulse and do the technique to calm my self down if it was necessary. I was even able to anticipate my opponents’ shots much better during my matches than ever before. I was able to read the serve of my opponent with my left eye and at the same time I could read the movement of my opponent with my right eye so I could receive the serve and place it extremely well. I think this could happen because of my previous trainings. I also felt like I was in a regular tournament because I did everything the same way I did at home so it didn’t feel like a Paralympics. I also followed every planned instruction exactly the way it was planned and I could concentrate 120% during my matches. My optimal balance coordination and brain activity helped me to get in the state of flow during my matches. I worked on these two things (on my balance coordination and optimal flow brain activity) a lot in the last year or so. I could bring out my best performance when I needed it the most.

 

What is your advice for others?

You have to do everything consciously and build all the important features of your game. I did the hard work and training, I planned everything and got into my routines. You just have to decide in your head what you want and go for it because everything is possible! ☺

 

What are your future plans?

I am going to start a coaching course and I would like to share my knowledge and help young athletes in the future.

 

About the Interviewer:

Dora Kurimay is an author and mental performance coach with a long pedigree in table tennis as a player.  Her book is available on Amazon.

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doraI had a chance to interview Andras Csonka, a table tennis player and Paralympic silver medalist (category Man Class 8) about his mental preparation for the 2016 Rio Paralympics. Andras shared with me that his journey to become a silver medalist at the Paralympics was a long one.

Updated: October 24, 2016 —
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