Just two days ago the weather was beautiful and I had taken an early morning drive to Athens Georgia, for my first visit to the Athens Georgia Table Tennis Club. The UGA Bulldogs were playing a nationally televised football game that night at Notre Dame, and Athens seemed unusually quiet. Sean O’Connell founded the club and brought table tennis to the East Athens Community Center. I was anxious to see the progress he had made, and there couldn’t have been a more beautiful day for it.
A mere forty eight hours later, I find myself back home watching trees fall, as gusts from Hurricane Irma made there way across Georgia. Not since General Sherman’s march to the sea had there been such anticipation of death and destruction in Atlanta. The shelves of the Piggly Wiggly stores were stripped of bottled water and batteries. All lawn furniture and barbecue grills were taken in. Every car had a full tank of gas, and people contemplated retreating to their basements, to enjoy two days off from work.
Truly severe weather is no laughing matter, and thankfully I expect to be back coaching, training, and playing, very soon. As I return to training it occurs to me how quickly conditions change with our sport. As quickly as the weather can change, so too can the climate in the places you choose to play. I am most comfortable playing on my own tables. With few distractions, predictable table bounces, and a familiar environment, I usually am at my best in the friendly confines of my own club. Most of us have a favorite club, a favorite table, a favorite brand of ball, and even favorite types of opponents.
I have been told looping shots in Denver, Colorado don’t act at all like they do at sea level. Tables play differently, depending on the type of floor they are on. Playing in a bar is quite different than at an Olympic training center. Butterfly three star balls feel and play differently than Nittaku three star balls do. Most players appear to be able to adjust fairly quickly to changes in their playing environment. Some don’t. One of the hardest adjustments is playing against new and unpredictable players.
Playing the same people all the time, and only training against the precise shots of your coach, does little to prepare you for a tournament environment. I’ve recently tried to overlap training sessions to allow for training with multiple partners. To acclimate yourself to a tournament environment, you have to get tournament experience. If you only play in clubs or recreationally, don’t be surprised if you struggle a little at new venues. It seems that almost every tournament holds some surprises. Good tournament players expect the unexpected. The climate of the next place you play may be like nothing you have experienced before. Prepare like it’s a hurricane, and maybe it will turn out to just be a tropical storm.