Why Ping-Pong? Part 3 by Liliana Kohann

Jena Newgarden
Mastering the Skill of Concentration

So, I am playing with Joey Newgarden. He is the son of that man who created Robo-Pong (I mentioned him in my last entry blog from November, 2010). In order for me to play with him I have to get to my highest level of concentration, OR ELSE…

Joey is a busy businessman, and does not give himself much time to play, but when he plays, it’s as if the world does not exist. He is extremely focused, solid in his game, and does not waste a second on the “past.” I, on the other hand, with every bad or even with a great shot of mine start the inner process of either self-criticism, or self-wonder: “Wow, I can’t believe I got that shot…” I would think, and WHAM the ball hits me back out of nowhere. Or: “Gosh, how can I be so stupid? I know better, I should hit the ball up and forward! What’s that definition of insanity? Doing the same thing over and over, and expecting different results? Liliana, you’ve got to start practicing more!” And of course I pay the price, especially with Joey. I asked him once:

“Joey, you don’t seem to be affected by any of your bad shots. Do you ACT as if you are not affected, or you are really not affected?”

“I don’t even go there,” he said. “I just think of my next ball.”

That answer really made me think. I started working on it. Every time I miss the ball, and the bad feeling takes me to this process of self-analysis, I try to say to myself quickly and loudly: What can I do with this next ball!

I started noticing great improvements. When I stay concentrated like this, I actually win more games. I do admit that I can’t do it all the time, but I am working on it. Table tennis is the absolute best tool to improve my ability to concentrate. There is just simply no time to waste, the balls keep coming at me fast. Sometimes before I start playing games, I practice on my Robo-Pong at the high speed, changing the direction of the balls, not giving myself a second to think, and that keeps me going.

Joey just hit another great serve and I returned it perfectly for the first time. I wanted to throw my racket and jump out of joy, but no, I didn’t. “What are you going to do with your next ball?” is the only thought allowed, at least for now.

Liliana Kohann

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Why Ping-Pong? Part 2 by Liliana Kohann

Jena Newgarden

Years ago, as a child, I vowed to myself that one day I would beat my oldest brother, Slawek, in ping-pong. Once in a while I would try, and I just kept failing. No wonder! He was five years older than me, much stronger, and he had that "I am unbeatable" kind of guy attitude. Even later, when I got better and faster, I still couldn’t beat him. I was "losing" before we even started playing.

Life took its course and I ended up in America, far away from home, which is Gdansk, Poland. Every few years I’d go back to Poland, try to play with him and I would lose. It was about two years ago that I heard of this incredible place, the Newgy Table Tennis Training Center, where some man had created a robot to train with. These robots (Robo-Pong) can train with you and make you a better player. You can imagine what I thought. I started going to the Newgy Center for training and to play with the Robo-Pong table tennis robot. Eventually I ended up buying one for myself and a year and a half later I was ready to try. I knew that Slawek was not practicing table tennis at all, and I was finally really learning how to play. During my summer vacation in Poland, I challenged my brother, and I finally won! It was a hard match but I won. Yet, as I played with him, I realized how he still wins with me mentally. As I kept beating myself up for every wrong shot, he would just not waste a second on any of his mistakes. They seem not to affect him at all.

So now I am focused on improving my mental attitude. I no longer want to waste time on telling myself how bad I am, or getting mad at myself, neither in ping-pong nor in life. In table tennis there is so little time between balls, and every time I get down on myself I waste the opportunity to prepare well for the next ball. The speed of table tennis and the frequency of the ball forces me to work on my attitude quickly. It’s like I am trying to re-wire the muscle memory of my brain. The outcome? I not only see the improvement in my table tennis game but also in life. Every time I make a mistake, or something goes wrong, I tell myself: ok, prepare for the next ball, prepare for the next opportunity, because it will come, and when it comes, I want to be ready!

Liliana Kohann

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Why Ping-Pong? Part 1 by Liliana Kohann

Jena Newgarden
Speed, Intensity and… Relaxation

“Serve return, Liliana, you need to improve your serve return, and then one more thing: recover immediately to be ready to attack,” said Coach Roger.

“Gosh, I can’t even enjoy my shot! How much time do I have to recover?” I asked, already out of breath.

“Oh, about half a second.”

“Half a second!”

Yes, he was not kidding! You hit the ball and if you don’t immediately jump into a position, you loose your chance to attack, and if you are an aggressive player, like I am, you don’t want to loose that chance. One second is too long!

For me, the speed and the intensity of table tennis is what makes me love this sport. I am a creative person, I write music, poetry, I take care of three sons, I run businesses, my work load is huge and quite intensive, on top of it I am a “thinker,” I pretty much think and solve problems all the time. “Just take time, sit down and relax,” they say but if I do my head spins even more! So how come this incredibly fast sport, is my favorite form of relaxation? Because there is no time to think! I have to focus all my energy on only one thing – an orange ball. I have to hit it, hit it in the right direction, with the right spin, I have half a second to recover, and another ball comes right back at me. No time to think, just me, the ball, and of course, usually a fun opponent that is on the other side of the table, as excited and enthusiastic as I am. Earlier today one of the musicians I work with saw me a little down. I had a big problem I was trying to solve and things didn’t go my way.

“What are you going to do? Are you going to be OK?” he asked with a sincere concern in his voice.

“Oh, yes,” I said. “What am I going to do? Hmm… I am just going to go to the Newgy Table Tennis Center (we practice ping-pong here with different players and with Newgy Robo-Pong Table Tennis Robots), and I am going to SMASH(!) the ball against a bunch of guys, and I’ll feel better,” I said with an ease and conviction. For a moment he was just staring at me, and then he was laughing hard.

And so here I am. I practiced with Robo-Pong Robots for half an hour, smashed the ball at a bunch of guys, (it is mainly male dominated sport, and when one plays aggressively, they usually not only don’t mind, but appreciate the challenge), I learned that I have to recover faster, get ready for my move faster. Now I feel good, I had my great exercise, and now…. and now…. (yawn), I am truly RELAXED! 🙂

Liliana Kohann

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