Over the past few months I’ve been asked in person and via emails this question:
“My game goes off the rails one day and I can’t seem to get it back. What’s happening? Please advise.”
With the US Open coming up this month, it’s a perfect topic to discuss. Or did you think “those” players never have those days?
Pickleball Addiction?? Me?
If you’re reading this there’s a good chance you’re addicted to pickleball! Do you pack your paddle for every vacation? Doesn’t everyone?
At the beginning you focused on mastering the strokes. Over time you perfected your shots. And maybe you have one shot your partner can always count on.
Then that terrible day arrives – you know what I’m talking about. You hit that wonderful dropshot and it goes right into the net! Your first serve misses, and so does your second. Nothing works! The more you try the worse it gets!! When you leave the courts, you’re sure that it can’t possibly get any worse. Your plan is to come back tomorrow to battle for your game.
You prepared for the Grand Canyon State tournament. The first match goes as expected. Unfortunately, in the second match every ball you hit goes awry. The opponents see your shoulders hunched to your neck and your walk is now duck-like. Your body mechanics say, “STRESS!” Your partner clicks your paddle and says, “We’ve got it.” But you don’t. What can you do?
Has this happened to you? It certainly has to me and most of my pickleball friends. What can you do?
Inspired Answer is…
(Drum roll please!)
I see you rolling your eyes at me. Okay, easier said than done, of course. But just how does one relax?
“It’s not a question of tennis…the question is being relaxed enough to play well…”
—Rafael Nadal, #1 tennis player in the world, SkySports.com
“But of course the instant I try to make myself relax, true relaxation vanishes, and in its place is a strange phenomenon called ‘trying to relax.’ Relaxation happens only when allowed, not as a result of ‘trying’ or ‘making.’”
–W. Timothy Gallwey, The Inner Game of Tennis
Yes, we all know we want to relax. We often think it involves going to our ‘happy place’…it remains hard to find that place under pressure.
In the first situation, you’re trying to push through the problem . What I want you to do is…take time off from pickleball! There must be something else you love to do! Re-watch some favorite movies. Pick up a good book. Find something interesting to engage your mind. It might take a day, or two days, or a week.
“Focus is not achieved by staring hard at something. It is not trying to force focus, nor does it mean thinking hard about something. Natural focus occurs when the mind is interested. When this occurs, the mind is drawn irresistibly toward the object (or subject) of interest. It is effortless and relaxed, not tense and overly controlled.”
—W. Timothy Gallwey, The Inner Game of Tennis
In the second situation, tournament jitters, I want you to take the time you’re given:
- 10 seconds between points
- 2 minutes after every game
- 2 one minute time-outs per match, per team
These are short but powerful breaks. Create a personal routine—a body mechanics pattern of relaxation. This routine creates consistent muscle memory, so you ‘look’ the same no matter how you ‘feel,’ which has the added advantage of ensuring that your opponents are unable to read your body language.
My three-year-old son Sid, gets highly upset at times. I take him in my arms and ask him to breath three times. Then I ask him to express his needs, which he can then do easily. Don’t worry – I’m not going to ask you to express your needs!
Nasal Breathing = Relaxation
My personal practice consists of an hour of meditation, followed by an hour of yoga. I focus on breathing into and out through my nose, eradicating every thought that tries to invade. But what does nasal breathing do for you?
Exhaling through the nose allows you more time for the absorption of oxygen due to the nose being smaller than people’s mouths and it takes longer. Both of these factors help reduce stress and hypertension. What a design!
Breathing through the mouth is faster, but don’t forget that breathing through the nose also warms and filters the air. Calming the mind tames your game and allows focus and relaxation.
I can see you are interested…but then you’d practically do anything to improve your game! So just do it!
“A very wise person once told me, ‘When it comes to overcoming obstacles, there are three kinds of people. The first kind sees most obstacles as insurmountable and walks away. The second kind see an obstacle and says, I can overcome it, and starts to dig under, climb over, or blast through it. The third type of person, before deciding to overcome the obstacle, tries to find a viewpoint where what is on the other side of the obstacle can be seen. Then, only if the reward is worth the effort, does he attempt to overcome the obstacle.’”
—W. Timothy Gallwey, The Inner Game of Tennis
Sometimes we (yes, me too) get so entrenched in what we do and how we want to do it, that we miss out on the fun of what we are doing. BREATHE AND RELAX. Enjoy all the wonderful NOW moments and have fun.