What Table Tennis taught me about hitting my number.

What Table Tennis taught me about hitting my number.

05 Nov 14:00 by Ben Cantrall


My love affair with TT started years ago. Dad had an old table under the house and one day it meandered up to the back verandah. This table had several dead spots and a slight lean that only endeared it further to me. I have vivid memories of being an 11-13 year old, playing my oldest brother in law, Steve (who would have been 27 at the time) and being soundly, relentlessly beaten. Always.

Several tables, 10 years and a bachelor pad later, we had a table in our garage. At one stage I was clocking up 10-14 hours per week on the table, on top of a full time job and part time university. What an attractive romantic prospect I must have been. 

Playing sports has taught me many things that help in sales, not least how to be a gracious loser. Table tennis holds a special place in my sales education. 

Just keep getting the ball back over the net.

It’s very difficult to beat someone who just keeps putting the ball back on your side of the court. Putting the ball back over the net doesn’t guarantee you’ll win the point, but it means you won’t lose. In the workplace, my suggestion is to recognise what constitutes putting the ball back over the net! In my job as a recruiter, it’s meeting with clients and organising interviews. As a business owner, it's all about paying your bills! I know if I consistently do that, things take care of themselves. No exceptions.  

It’s all about time on the table.

I noticed very early on that the more I played, the better I got. I am a huge advocate for people putting in to work the amount of time and effort that they feel happy doing so. Outstanding results rarely come by luck though- it has to be said that people who are professionally successful dedicate more of their time to improving, learning and executing than others. 

All you can worry about is the next point.

It doesn’t matter if you’re 10 points down. It doesn’t matter if you’re 5 points up! Living in the past will make you depressed, living in the future makes you either anxious or complacent- 3 emotions that aren’t conducive to positive action and solid performance.

When things are going terribly at work- which will happen (see, 2020), the temptation is to wallow in misery. When things are going great, we want to take our foot off the gas. Human nature! TT taught me- just keep worrying about the next point. Stunning comebacks and runaway victories are all built one point at a time.

Sometimes you’ve got to go for it.

You know that interview question “how would your friends describe you?”… if you asked my friends, they would say I’m safe. Boring. The kind of guy who reads the paper and has jumpers with elbow patches. In some ways, they are right! While I don’t play with reckless abandon, I believe that opportunities do come up and it’s important to take a risk and go for it when they do. The tricky part of this recognising which opportunities to take! Do you know what a great opportunity actually looks like? The better you get at what you do, the more you can take.

You play your best when you move your feet.

Simple really- you can get to more shots in a more attacking position. What does that look like in sales? From a literal perspective, the more meetings you attend the more opportunities you’ll find. Figuratively, moving your feet is about seeing things from a different perspective-you will see new ways to overcome challenges and to deliver value. 

Let your paddle do the talking.

I am not big on the trash talk scene. Like I said, my friends would describe me as boring- More Henrik Stenson than John Daly. I am a firm believer in letting my results do the talking. In sales roles it’s easy- there’s a whiteboard on the wall with your name on it and a number next to it. I like to let the whiteboard do the talking here.

 You can lose the battle but win the war.

12 years after Steve mercilessly beat up an 11 year old, we squared up again. That day my paddle was feeling particularly talkative and I was happy to give him a taste of the medicine he forced down the throat of a pre-pubescent child (metaphor, no actual forcing of medicine here). Hitting your number is the same. You can have times when you don't get the results you are after despite your best efforts. Improvement only happens when you stick at something. Hang in there and your fortunes will change. 

While being significantly out of practice, I'm still up for a game of TT. If you'd like to play someone who can't socialise while playing and has the facial expressions of an accountant looking at spreadsheets, reach out. I'm sure I've got many more lessons to learn.

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