When you find yourself in a threatening situation, your natural reaction is to tighten all your muscles and hold your breath, and that’s the last thing you want to do. You need to find ways to counteract those natural tendencies. You want to be relaxed and calm. You want to be breathing properly, so you can think clearly and handle whatever comes your way.
While pickleball is hardly life-threatening, our bodies and minds react to conflict with our opponents similarly, If your opponents discover you're the weaker player, you will be their main target. It's hard not to get flustered. Or after a particularly bad run of luck, it's hard not to think you've lost it and won't be able to get it back. But you have to keep your composure to help your team finish the game.
Great pickleball players (like all great athletes) seem to have an innate ability to be relaxed and comfortable in pressure situations. But these are skills that can be learned. Taking lessons from coaches of other sports can be valuable, as the mental game is similar in many of them.
Many pickleball players are discovering the benefits of yoga and proper breathing techniques (see "Yoga for Pickleball" for more information). Meditation and visualization techniques can also play a huge part in helping the mind relax and overcome the fear that accompanies tension.
Even if you can't practice all of these techniques in depth while you're on the court, you can develop mini-versions of your usual routines that can be done between shots. When you find
Let's face it: when you play with people who have roughly the same physical skills and teamwork, winning or losing depends on the mental ability of the athletes. Improving your mental game helps you perform at your peak more consistently.
Learning how to focus is what helps prepare you for success. When you're distracted by mistakes or setbacks, you need to refocus. Practicing this focus is what makes it easier, more automatic—just like any other skill.
"When you play with people who have roughly the same physical skills and teamwork, winning or losing depends on the mental ability of the athletes."
Recently I've been visualizing myself playing pickleball while I'm off the court. Many professional athletes do this, and I've found that it is getting easier to do. Interestingly, it's like watching a movie of myself in my head, and in the same way that the game seems so simple when you're watching from the sidelines, so it seems when I'm watching myself on the court. I can see the larger aspect of the game well enough to choose the right shots and the strokes flow easily. With that view in my head before a game, I feel better prepared to go out and win.
Pickleball is a fast sport and players don't have lots of time to think before they act. One good part of the speed is that you don't have time enough to bog yourself down with too much thinking. On the other hand, if you're indecisive or you second-guess your shot, you'll miss your opportunity. You must be confident and trust your abilities, including your mental abilities. They're as important to practice as all the rest.
Read more about the Mental Game in "Your Inner Opponent."
My best to you,