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Playing Juniors in Table Tennis - Kill or Be Kind?

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Photo of David Powell, Australian table tennis player.

Australia's David Powell - one of the young guns I managed to keep on top of until 2010 - now an Olympic contender and world championship player!

© 2011 Greg Letts, licensed to About.com, Inc.
In my local circle of table tennis friends, I'm known for being the guy that regularly stomps on our up and coming juniors as hard and as often as I can. While many of our other top players take their foot of the gas when playing the young guns, and just try to give them a good match while keeping a point or two ahead, I treat them as an equal opponent and try to demolish them in matches.

While this sometimes makes me appear a bit ruthless, it also means that I almost never lose a game to an up and coming junior that I should have beaten.

I have been asked from time to time why I play at 100% against juniors, and although it's fair to say that I do this mainly for selfish reasons (I hate to lose to anybody, and I don't want anyone thinking that they have chance to beat me), I think that there are also some benefits for the juniors in my all systems go approach.

One important disclaimer I should make is that I don't go all out against juniors that are way below my level, and who are no threat to me. The juniors I'm doing my best to beat down are the up and coming boys and girls who are either near my standard, or who will be there soon. Juniors who could possibly beat me if they had a good day, or if I had a bad one. Juniors who hopefully should be going past me in another year or two, if they keep improving.

Benefits of Beating Down Juniors

  • It toughens them up mentally. Every table tennis player will have times when he gets beaten badly, and learning to deal with an overwhelming defeat is important. It's bruising to the ego, but there's nothing like a bad loss for a reality check now and again.
  • It separates the fighters from the quitters. I've smacked down many a junior in my day, and some juniors just keep bouncing back harder. They are always eager to ask me for another match, confident that they'll get me this time. And if they don't, they are constantly creeping closer to victory!

    On the other hand, there are other juniors who avoid playing me whenever possible - I can see from the expression on their faces when they learn that we have to play that the last thing they want to do is have another go. Guess which juniors tend to end up the better players?

  • It demonstrates without question to the junior what level they are at, and what level they have to reach in order to play at the top of our local competition. You can talk a good game all you like, but you can't argue with the facts as shown out there on the table. It also shows clearly to the junior what aspects of their game are working, and what are the holes in their game that need fixing.
  • It gives them a target to aim for. Our juniors don't get a lot of national or international play against other juniors, so playing against myself and the other local top players is the next best thing. If they know that they still have a lot of work to do in order to beat us, then they'll probably work harder than if they think that they have already arrived at the top levels.
  • As one of the few high level long pip players in my local area, it also gives them a chance to practice against high level combination bat play, which they won't get if I take things easy.
  • Finally, when they do break through and beat me, they know it's because they were better on the day and fully deserved the win. Of course, I make sure that I give them a sincere congratulations as well!

Benefits for Me

Let's be honest, while it's nice that there are a number of benefits for them in trying my hardest against our best juniors, I'm still doing it largely for my own benefit! Here's some of the reasons behind my attitude:
  • I want to establish a clear psychological advantage over the young guys and girls. If I can get them believing that they just can't beat me, then they might not try as hard against me compared to other top players, and it will take them much longer to finally get past me.
  • I don't like taking a chance when it comes to up and coming juniors. They often make rapid jumps in level, and I don't want to be 2-0 or 3-0 down before I realize that they are playing much better than I expected.
  • I find it difficult to take things easy in a match and then just switch on in the final stages. Other local top players seem to be better at getting to 9-all and then playing two good points to win the game 11-9, or allowing the match to go to the final game and then winning the last game easily. I'm not very good at that, so I find it much better to just go hard right from the start.
  • As I mentioned at the beginning of this article, very rarely do I drop a match that I probably could have won if I had been trying hard all the way. Every now and again one of our top guys takes things a little too easy, plays a few too many highlight reel points, and ends up on the wrong side of the scoreboard against a junior he should have beaten.

Conclusion

While beating down on the up and coming juniors is definitely in my best interests, I don't agree with some other players who feel that I should ease up and just give them a good game to encourage them. As you can see, I think there are a number of benefits for the junior in facing my best game every time. And as someone who hates to lose, I don't think that I could take my foot off the pedal against these young guns anyway, I'm all too aware of what could happen if I do!
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