Last month I achieved a couple of big milestones when it comes to table tennis. I (FINALLY!!!) competed with a Sweden playing shirt in an international tournament in the Czech Republic. Therefore, in this post I wanted to give my impressions of what it was like to experience it and what it’s meant to me.
Representing my country in table tennis has been a dream of mine as long as I can remember. When I first started playing table tennis 25 years ago I would imagine playing alongside my idol Jan Owe Waldner and beating the Chinese national team. That dream vanished when I left the sport in my early teens. As I grew older, I contemplated the “What if I didn’t stop playing?” scenario many times in my head and out loud. Would I have reached the national team as some of my own and rival coaches were saying? Would I have won any matches or even mayor tournaments?
When I casually started playing table tennis again 4 years ago I could have never imagined what was in store for me. That I would discover para table tennis and with it re-discover my love and passion for table tennis.
I arrived in Ostrava, Czech Republic a couple days before there Czech open officially started. I needed to be internationally classified before I could play in the tournament. In para table tennis there are five classes for standing players and five for seated(wheelchair) players. I was classified when I started playing para table tennis in the UK four years ago and was classified as a class 7 player. This is the class I’ve competed in for the past 4 years. To me this classification was a formality that just needed to be done. I didn’t expect what was about to happen.
It’s like expecting to ride a bicycle only to find that the bicycle has been swapped for a unicycle.
During the classification, a medical examiner and certified classifier, evaluates my mobility by having me conduct a few exercises and observe me playing a bit of table tennis. I was surprised after the classification that the classifiers had determined that I was a class 8 player. I could not believe what I had just heard! I thought I must have heard wrong or that they were joking. They weren’t. I was to compete in class 8 during the tournament, not class 7 which is how I had prepared to play. And it was final! It’s like expecting to ride a bicycle only to find that the bicycle has been swapped for a unicycle.
With the amazing support of my coaches in Ostrava and the head coach back in Sweden not to mention the support of my wife, I managed to put the classification to the side and focus on playing the best to my ability as a newly minted 8. What got me through it somewhat was the tremendous pride I felt to be competing for the national team.
The group I ended up in was a tough one and even included highly experienced players who had already qualified for the World Championship in October. I couldn’t really get into a good rhythm in my first match. This is something I have struggled with throughout my playing careers since I was a kid. My first match is usually the worst in the tournament. I don’t know if it was my nerves that got the best of me, but the first match was not pretty.
In my second match I played more to my ability. I even feel that I managed to stretch my skill further than normal and play above my ability. It’s a strange feeling while it’s happening, and it’s only happened a handful of times in my life. I squeezed by my opponent, winning 3-2 in sets with the score in the final set 11-9. Oh, my what a feeling! I got a rush bigger than any other victory previously. Followed by a Come-on! Roar and a fist pump. I had won my first international match and was pumped! 😊
In my last match I played against the top ranked player in the group. I was told by my coach that he was ranked top 20 in the world. So no pressure…
I decided before the match that I would actively not let my head get in the way of my performance. I might need to explain what I mean. To say that I’m a sore loser would be an understatement. When thing things don’t go my way during a match I have a (bad) tendency to get overly emotional which can lead to losing more purely because of my mental state. My former coach told me that table tennis is more of a mental game than a physical one hitting the ball.
Besides my opponent’s skill, he seemed to be very experienced and had a calm about his play that I had not seen and envied. I knew I had my work cut out for me. To my surprise I managed to keep it close and put up a fight. I was THERE, competing for each point, KEEPING the game close and WON one set. No one in my group won a set off of this guy. Neither did his opponent in the first playoff round. Even though I lost the match and was knocked out of the tournament I was very proud of what I accomplished. It strengthened my belief that I can compete against top international players.
I also competed in the team event the following day. My team mate Styrbjörn and I played well and according to our coaches did better than expected. Even if we didn’t feel like it, it’s important to take small victories like the praise from a coach saying we performed better than expected.
I learned and experienced plenty during my first international assignment for the national team.
Coaching is Everything – The coaching that I received during the tournament was invaluable to me. I truly believe I wouldn’t have been able to do as well as I did, and I would not have tasted the sweetness of an international victory. The coaching I received in Ostrava is something I will keep close to heart going forward.
Keeping a clear head increases performance – Ever since I was a kid I’ve not been a gracious loser. I easily get upset and can shout excessively in anger. As a kid I would cry after losing an important set or match. I know this is a bad habit and a vicious cycle. Throughout the tournament I managed to keep my cool and not get to my bad habits. (Except for once in the last day. But more on that in another post…)
Representing your country internationally feels AMAZING – It’s been a dream of mine since I was a kid to represent Sweden in Table Tennis. But, being in Ostrava, Czech Republic with a great Sweden team and amongst some of the of the best players in the world it was surreal. I’ve gotten a deeper desire to experience it again and I know I’ll have to work even harder to reach the next goal and milestone. But no matter what happens; I will always remember I competed with the blue and yellow shirt with a “SWE” and “M. POLASH” on the back! 😊
Did you know that...
- In the Para World Championships that took place in October, Swedish table tennis players Ingela Lundbäck and Anna-Karin Ahlquist won Silver and Bronze respectively
- There were players from 32 countries and 4 continents playing in the Czech Open