In 2016, I was selected as a US National Team Coach. Throughout 2016, as I talked with many national team players, one main topic continued to rise to the surface – OVERPLAYING!
The biggest upsets happen when you play normal.
This principle applies to everyone…. Olympians and national team players and intermediate players and beginners. If you are playing against a great player, you must play within yourself, play your normal game. Obviously, you need to make a plan against that specific opponent and make tactical adjustments as needed, but if you panic and try to play outside your normal level, you will be inconsistent and beat yourself. You must know what you are capable of and stay within your range. If you give a simple push and your opponent rips a 90mph forehand past you on the first point, what do you do? You adjust your receiving accordingly, stay calm and play your game. Adjust your game, but still play your game.
Trying to play 500 points higher than you have ever played in your life will lead to tactical suicide.
When playing higher level opponents, why can’t you go wild and just swing for everything. Typically, you can’t consistently do this because of their ball quality – their serves are lower, pushes are heavier, banana flips are spinnier, loops are deeper, blocks are quicker, etc. Against that quality of shot, there is no way that you can just go into “wild man” mode and smash everything. But if you stay within your consistency range, try to play your normal shots with quality, trust your rallying ability, and maintain consistency, you really do have a chance for that upset you have always dreamed about. I’m going to wrap up this article by giving you 3 quick stories to further illustrate my point…
True Story #1
Last week at the Badger Open, I played an unrated opponent who was better than me. Before the match, I was talking with him, and he somehow got the wrong impression that I was like an amazing player. Within the first couple points, I hit a couple of very good shots. Leading 5-1 in the first game, I severely injured my neck. It didn’t matter. My opponent was already off his game because he was overplaying me. He thought that I was like 2700 so he had to go for big shots. He beat himself and gave me the 3-0 win without me doing much at all. This is an example of overplaying.
True Story #2
At the 2016 Arnold Challenge, I played Yichi Zhang. The first game he was on fire hitting ridiculous forehand and backhand winners. I panicked and overplayed the next 2 game being extremely inconsistent. After the match, he sat down next to me and said, “What are you doing? Why did you play like that.” I explained that he was on fire so I needed to raise my level. He explained that he was only on fire the first game; after that, he played his normal level. Had I played my normal game, I could have won, but my panic-mode-all-out-hitting style gave him an easy victory. This is an example of overplaying.
True Story #3
At the 2014 US Open, I was playing in the top 32 of men’s singles against Tao. He had just destroyed a 2700 4-0 in the previous match, and I knew that he was a top contender to win the US Open. I had a really week goal of trying to score 5 points each set, wow, what a weak goal. The first game he didn’t do anything special and I really overplayed it just merely beating myself point after point because I was up against a “superstar”. After the first game, I had a serious conversation with myself and I convinced myself that he was playing a normal 2500 level and that it was 50/50 match. I won the next 2 games. Credit to Tao, he did raise his level and win the next 3 games by making some tactical adjustments. He stayed level-headed, didn’t panic, and made the right adjustments. So why am I giving this scenario? To brag to the world that I was leading 2-1 against Tao? Nope. That has nothing to do with you. The point of this story is to get you to understand that your greatest win will come when you can play normal. Play your normal game and don’t panic.
After a big win, often players and coaches come up to me and say, “What was your secret? What did you do?” Of course, there was the pre-match planning, the during-the-match adjustments, but the one main thing that always rises to the top…
Playing Normal – Playing within the Normal Consistency Range!
If you want further information on this topic and dozens of other topics, I would encourage you to attend our Mega Training Camp here in Akron, Ohio December 27-30. Register now and save $80. http://samsondubina.com/mega-training-camp
See you soon!
Coach Samson Dubina