Preparation for the US Olympic Trials: The Final Week

Samson Dubina

          In this blog, I’m going to describe in detail the final week of my preparation leading up to the table tennis Olympic trials.  From footwork, to video analysis, to diet, to rest – every aspect of table tennis is important to me.  I hope that you will be encouraged and motivated by reading this blog!

          After returning from training in Canada, I’ll take a two-day rest.   Rest is important both physically and mentally because it allows my body time to recover and helps me think about strategy for the next competition.   During my two days off, I’ll be doing two things.     The first thing is video analysis.  I’ll watch my opponents’ matches from a recent tournaments and study their serve and return.  Being able to block their loops or rally with them isn’t that difficult, but returning serves can be a challenge, especially in the first couple games. 
        From the very first point at the Olympic trials, I need to be pre-informed as to what my opponent will likely serve and what I can expect after my serve.  I also want to look for surprises and tendencies.  This takes tedious studying, but it is worth it in the end.  The second thing that I’ll be doing during my break is stretching and light exercise.  If I do absolutely nothing on my break, my body will become stiff.  Staying flexible will allow my muscles time to recover from the training in Canada and be ready for the trials.  I won’t be doing any new workout routines.  New exercises put me at risk for sore muscles and injury. 


   On the Monday prior to the competition, I’ll drive to North Carolina.  While traveling there, I’ll stop the car every two hours for a light jog and some stretching.  This is vitally important so that my back and neck won’t cramp up during the ten hour trip.  Most of my stretching will be movement stretching to keep my muscles warm.

     When I arrive in North Carolina on Monday, I’ll take a thirty minute walk with my wife.  As I said previously, keeping my muscles loose is vitally important before the tournament. 

     On Tuesday evening, I hope to practice about three hours at a local club.  For the first hour, I hope to do some footwork to ensure that I’m moving well and maintaining my consistency and balance in the long rallies.  The second hour, I’ll play matches.  Regardless the level of my opponent, I plan to play serious, use tournament serves, vary my shots, and focus on ball placement.  The third hour, I’ll do serving practice.  As I’ve mentioned in the last few blogs, serving is one of the most significant aspects of table tennis.  No matter who my opponent is, he can’t take away my serve.  In the rally, he can control the game, but I still have a serve.  My goal is to vary the spin, and to vary the quality of spin.  Slight spin variations won’t make my opponent miss outright, but will allow me to get an easy return for a third-ball-attack.

     On Wednesday morning, I’ll do a non-table tennis activity to help clear my mind.  My wife and I will probably go sightseeing to a local historical landmark and have a picnic lunch.  Sitting in the hotel room and watching TV is the worst thing for my game.  It slows down my mind and makes me sleepy.  Getting outside helps rejuvenate my mind.

     On Wednesday afternoon, I’ll go to the tournament gym and practice hard for three hours.  I play much better at a tournament if I have had a vigorous workout the day before.  Even if I’m slightly sore, it won’t bother me.  I hope to play a few practice matches as well, preferably against someone who I’m not going to play against the following day.  During these matches, I’ll take my time, take six-point towel breaks, and try to think about strategy.  If there are any major flaws in my game, I’ll center the last hour on drills that solve those problems.

     On Thursday morning, I’ll wake up about four hours before my first match.  I’ll probably play at 10am, so I’ll wake up at 6am.  After reading my Bible and getting ready, I’ll eat a hearty breakfast at 7am.  Breakfast will consist mostly of carbohydrates:  two bowls of oatmeal, a bagel, some fruit, and orange juice.  This should give me plenty of energy for my warm-up and first match.  At 8am, I’ll arrive at the tournament site and do ten minutes of light jogging and twenty minutes of light stretching.  From 8:30am-9:45am, I’ll practice footwork, serve, and serve return.  Before each match in the tournament, I’ll make sure that I ask my training partner to serve those serves that my opponent will be serving, for example…  backhand serve short to my backhand or forehand reverse serve to my middle, etc.  I’ll also do one drill particularly focusing on my game-plan for the match.

     Fifteen minutes prior to my opening match, I’ll put on my Nittaku Tracksuit to stay warm, go out to the hall, prop up my feet, and listen to music.  Relaxing my mind is the key.  During this time, I won’t think about strategy, I’ll just relax. 

    The qualifying tournament is single elimination, so I must perform well on each round.  My match starting times will probably be about two hours apart.  So directly after each match, I’ll eat some light carbohydrates such as granola bars or bananas, then practice briefly before the next round.  I’ll also talk to other players and ask for advice against my next rival.  Before the match, I review my notes quickly and try to remember a couple brief points.  I plan to give my list of strategies to my coach to review and edit during the match.  During the match itself, I’ll also write notes and give myself reminders.

     If I win all my matches in the qualifying tournament, then I’ll have the opportunity to play in the top twelve tournament during the following three days.  This is a giant round robin consisting of the top twelve players in the country.  The top four US finishers will qualify to play against the top four Canadian players in April.  Out of this eight-player tournament, four of the players will be sent to the 2012 Olympics in London.  Three will be from one country and one will be from the other country.  Either US or Canada will be sending a three player team.  Out of those three players, two of them can also play singles.  The other country who does not send a team can send one player to compete in singles.  Right now, I’m focusing on one stage at a time.  First, I need to perform very well in the qualifying tournament; if I play well, I’ll then move to the next stage.  Thanks for reading my training blogs!  I hope that they have encouraged and motivated you to train hard and progress to the next level!

Samson Dubina