It turns out that there is a lot to be afraid of in table tennis! Being afraid of being laughed at is gelotophobia. Maybe you fear falling down. You suffer from basophobia. Simply looking at your paddle could be scary if you have melanophobia, which is the fear of the color black. This could cause complications for you if you simultaneously suffer from erytophobia, the fear of the color red. Have you ever run into a player who has trouble keeping score? They may have numerophobia. There seems to be a lot of talk about xenophobia these days. Table tennis is no sport for xenophobes. Adult table tennis players sometimes show symptoms of pedophobia (fear of children), although this fear is typically only manifested in a tournament environment. Fear of playing a pips out player could be a form of trypophobia (a fear of irregular patterns, or clusters of small holes or bumps).
There is one phobia that particularly plagues table tennis players. Decidophobia is the fear of making decisions. A table tennis decidophobe may have no problem choosing a movie, picking out a car, or deciding whether to marry. They start to run into problems in matches, usually in the middle of rallies. Should I push or loop? Should I attack or block? Which side of the paddle should I use? A good table tennis match involves constant decision making. The player who can make the quickest and best decisions will win.
I am no expert on what all goes on in the prefrontal lobe, and can only theorize as to how to improve decision making during rallies. My theory is that we are all decidophobes. We may not all fear making decisions, but we may be prone to panic if our waiter arrives prematurely. Time, or more accurately, lack of time is what makes table tennis so terrifying. A typical table tennis rally demands multiple quick decisions. Quality training may improve ones ability to make quick decisions, but it actually does something that will prove to be even more helpful.
Training and match experience expose players to situations that will be repeated throughout their lives. Quick decisions aren’t required for every ball, because the decision has already been made. Recognition of balls that have been seen thousands of times should trigger a default response, that could be changed if there is enough time to decide on another option. Some balls are so fast that there is no time for a decision, and reflexes will have to take over.
I’ve recently incorporated a drill into training sessions with intermediate level players specifically designed to force them to make good decisions. The drill begins with a heavy underspin serve from the coach, who continues to push until the student executes an opening loop. Once the ball is in topspin, the coach just blocks until the point ends. Ideally, students will select better shots, be more patient, and make fewer unforced errors. This drill highlights how many points are lost simply by poor decisions.
Fear and panic promote indecision, which might be the worst decision of all.