Learning tricks to help you conquer the “head-game” of pickleball
When I’m on the road, I often get questions about the emotional side of pickleball.
Prem, do you have any suggestions for how to get rid of the butterflies when I play in a tournament?
“Prem, I get so close to winning, and then I let up and end up losing the game… Help!”
“Prem, it seems silly, but I swear, ever since my JV coach told me I would never be any good at sports, I have stopped believing I can win — even when I play teams that I KNOW I should beat…”
No matter how many hours we put into drilling and practicing, when we get in a competitive situation, it’s a different ball game, so to speak. Whether you’re playing in a tournament or just find yourself matched against the best team in your club, it’s easy to crumble when the pressure is on.
The emotional side of sports can have a lot to do on whether you win or lose a game. A bad call, repeated net shots, or miscommunication between you and your partner can cause any team to perform worse than their potential. Recognizing when your head is getting in the way is one element in helping to perform better; being able to turn a bad situation into a good one is the third.
If you’re looking for drills to help overcome the mental component of pickleball, here are some simple mental tricks you can try when you are practicing, along with some of the best (if somewhat bizarre) solutions I have come across to address the nebulous mental aspects of competitive pickleball.
I hope you’ll continue the conversation by posting a comment below to let me know the best solutions YOU’VE got in your arsenal.
Play Games with The Scoring
Build Yourself a Handicap, Then Come Back for the Win
This is an especially good one to use when you are playing with lower-skilled players. (For more tips on playing with higher- or lower-skilled players, check out my most-shared article How to Graciously Get to Play with Better Players (a.k.a. How to Make Sure You’re NOT That Person Everyone Hates Playing With) The idea is to be risky at the beginning, go for the tricky serves, go for the corner lines, take the shots that you don’t usually make, and let the other team get ahead. Then, once they get to 6 or 8 (or even 9!) points, try going into a more conservative, consistent, reliable mode of play. This way, you’ll get a little practice on your risky shots, while also developing confidence that you can play smart & safe when you need to.
Don’t Give an Inch
Alternatively, decide that you are going to try to Bagel your opponents — that is, rather than making your goal to just win the game, make your goal not to let them get a single point. If they end up getting 4, then next game, see if you can reduce it to 3. (Again, while keeping in mind the tips in this article.)
Pretend the Score is Different Than it Is
This seems silly, but for some people, including my wife, it sometimes seems to work. If you know that you have a tendency to let up when you are winning 9-4, do this: Every time the score is called, repeat to yourself, the opposite score (so pretend you are down 4-9) or maybe even 0-0. Get to know what position is most motivating for you personally, and pretend that that is where you are — even when you’re not.
Solutions for the Emotional Aspects
Bach Rescue Remedy
The best cure that my wife and I have found for the inevitable pre-tournament jitters is called: Bach Rescue Remedy. It is available at most health food stores, Sprout’s Markets, Whole Foods, Henry’s Markets, etc for about $12. We like the spray, although there are lozenges & tinctures as well. Don’t ask me why it works, but most of the time, it just does.
This is the one I know the least about and have the least experience with, but it came into my awareness recently and I think for some you, it might be just the right thing. Corporations such as Hewlett-Packard, Motorola, and all four branches of the U.S. Military, are now using HeartMath techniques to teach employees how to become more mentally and emotionally balanced, and provide for individual and organizational transformation. Educators have found that school children can better manage their behavior, and improve their ability to absorb academic information by using the techniques. Who knows what it will do for your pickleball game. For a brief explanation of what HeartMath is how to use the “Freeze Frame” technique, see this description of the PBS special on the topic.
Emotional Freedom Technique (EFT)
Now this is the one that will probably seem a little bizarre at first, but again, I’m including it here because I have seen it work wonders for myself and others. It’s called Emotional Freedom Technique, or EFT. Sometimes it’s also called Tapping because it consists of tapping on various acupressure spots on the face & torso. (Hey, if they can perform painless surgery in China using a little acupuncture, it’s got to be more powerful than most of us know.)
In one study conducted at Oregon State University, there was a 38% difference between the free throw performance of a group who used this technique over a placebo group.
There aren’t many EFT resources out yet for Pickleball, but there are plenty on its effectiveness in other sports.
What works for you to manage your stress? What’s your biggest struggle? Please take a quick minute to share your comments below.
Here are a few videos that may pique your interest & convince you to find out more about EFT — And most importantly, not to just read about it, but to actually TRY IT and USE IT on a regular basis. It won’t just change your pickleball game, it can change your life.