I get a lot of questions from players who are looking to improve their game but are hardly getting enough court time to play much let practice. Then, I get more questions from players who are trying to play Smart Pickleball™, but are confused and frustrated when their partners don’t do the same. And then there are the many, many people who are frustrated by better players who won’t give them the time of day.
Now, I do have some specific ideas that you could try, and I’ll mention some of them later in this article.
But, first, I want to speak to what these, and many more technical pickleball questions have in common.
So many questions I receive are about what OTHER people are or aren’t doing, and the answer always comes back to YOU.
You’ve got to find your point of power and take action from there.
You’re never going to be able to control what your partner, your opponents, or the snooty players on the other court do.
(And for that matter, you can’t control your spouse or children either–despite your best efforts.)
So you’ve got to find what you CAN control and make the most of the situation from there.
Let’s take the issue with better players not wanting to play with you.
The question I receive goes something along the lines of “Prem, I really want to improve my game. I have read your book and do drills at home in the driveway, but the better players where I play won’t even make eye contact with me let alone play with me. How am I supposed to get better if they won’t play with me?”
If that sounds familiar to you, first of all, let me apologize.
I am sorry that you’ve been treated that way by better players. In a widely-shared article I recently revised called “Tips for ‘Playing Up’ and ‘Playing Down’ in Recreational Play” I do my best to advocate for ALL players to remember where they started and find ways to make time to play with weaker players because what goes around comes around. But unfortunately, not everyone will take my advice. So, on behalf of snooty pickleball players of all levels, I apologize.
For better or for worse, it is NOT within your power to MAKE them change…
So now that we’ve got that out of the way, what CAN you do? How can YOU find your point of power in this situation?
First off, what NOT to do:
While it IS within your power to do so, I do NOT recommend printing out the article I linked to above, shaking it in their face and saying “See here?? The Pickleball Guru said you should play with me to improve my game!!”
I wish I could tell you that that’s all you had to do to get better play, but that would be the OPPOSITE of rapport-building, and it’s not going to make anyone happier to play with you, so, please: Don’t bother.
Instead, try going through these 3 steps. You can do them in your head, out loud, or even better, on a piece of paper or in a journal.
Step #1: Pause, Feel the Feeling, & State the Big WHY Behind It
This could be as simple as saying to yourself something like, “Man, I’m pissed! I REALLY want to improve my game and these guys won’t even give me the time of day.”
Or, “Gosh, I feel helpless! It doesn’t seem to matter what I do against these players, they seem to take my best shots and eat them like a piece of candy!”
The goal here is to give yourself a little bit of time to actually FEEL the feeling and notice how it’s hooked you. Paradoxically, that is often the only thing that will allow you to even just SLIGHTLY get some perspective and start to get “unhooked” by the feeling.
Step #2: Shift Your Attention to Your Point of Power
Now, it’s up to you…If you want to, you can spend allllllll your time and energy thinking about what an idiot so-and-so is, but at the end of the day (I hate to tell ya) it’s not gonna make a damn bit of difference.
So ask yourself, “Assuming nothing about this situation changes, what can *I* do differently here?”
Just asking yourself this question will probably give your brain access to a different solution than it could find when you are stuck in the “They are such an idiot!” or “They are so much better than me and I’m never going to win,” narratives.
Start brainstorming your options.
I promise you there are MANY more possibilities than you were considering when you started this process.
You’ll know you’ve found your point of power when the ideas you have start with “I could say x,” “I could do y,” or “I could decide z…” and also have a good chance of productively changing the situation.
Hint: You are NOT in your point of power when the idea you have for changing the situation starts with “Well, they could stop doing such and such…” or “They could start saying such and such…”
When you have one of those ideas, it’s no big deal. Just remind yourself, “Well, I can’t make that happen, so, again, what CAN I do?”
Step #3: Take Action from Your Point of Power
Once you have some ideas for what you could say or do differently in this situation, the next step is to TAKE ACTION.
That means actually saying or doing something productive that you probably wouldn’t have done otherwise.
If they won’t practice with you, go hit against the wall.
Go practice your serve.
Or, here’s a revolutionary one: Be vulnerable!
Don’t be vulnerable with an ulterior motive. Be vulnerable for the sake of fostering human connection.
Between games, park yourself near someone you feel like you can talk to and say, “Dang, I feel frustrated today. I really want to improve my game and I just feel stuck. I read this article from The Pickleball Guru and I’ve been trying to find my point of power in this situation, but I’m just at a loss.”
Even saying THAT much, reaching out to someone else, asking for help, IS finding your point of power and acting from it.
It may or may not change your situation that day, but at least you’ve DONE something DIFFERENT, and that alone will give you a sense of satisfaction you wouldn’t have found by complaining about the “idiots” on the next court over.
Surprisingly, in some ways, WHAT you do is less important than just doing something different.
As long as you do SOMETHING out of the ordinary with the intention of changing your situation, you are going to start to feel better.
Because the truth is, the satisfaction of having what we want only lasts a minute or two and then it’s over and we’re on to wanting something else.
Even if you won the US Open or Nationals, chances are you’d still be on the podium getting your medal when the satisfaction of winning would start to drain away and you’d begin wondering, “Hmmm, I wonder if I will be able to do it again next year…”
It’s human nature.
Happiness doesn’t come from having what we want.
We don’t want what we have (because we already have it).
We want what we don’t have.
(It’s called Hedonistic Adaptation and for a more in-depth (and still humorous) discussion of this concept, check out “What is Hedonic Adaptation and How Can it Turn You Into a Sucka?” “What is Stoicism and How Can it Turn your Life to Solid Gold?” or “Seek Not to Be Entertained” from one of my wife’s favorite bloggers, Mr. Money Mustache.)
Long-term satisfaction comes from know that we are taking action and making progress toward our goals.
Or, Acknowledge Your Choice NOT to Take Action from Your Point of Power, and Accept What Is…
Now, there are a lot of options you might have that you choose NOT to act on.
One of the BEST ways to get to improve your game and play against better players, even when the best players at your local venue won’t play with you, is to TRAVEL and PLAY IN OTHER PLACES. Ask any good player, and you won’t find one who won’t agree that they made a quantum leap in their game when they left their home courts and played somewhere else.
But, maybe you are choosing not to prioritize travel because you are prioritizing work and a steady flow of income instead.
Just acknowledge that if you wanted to do something different, you could do that (and face the consequences), but you are choosing not to right now.
Another way to create more court time or to set up a better system of rotation at your courts is to get more involved on an organizational level. Take on more responsibility. Reach out to a new venue and find out what you need to do to get pickleball started there.
But, maybe you are choosing not to take on more responsibility because you don’t want to added stress or the time commitment.
That’s understandable, too.
Again, acknowledge that if you wanted to do something different, you could do that (and face the consequences), but you are choosing not to right now.
Look for What’s Different
Somewhat magically, I often find that when YOU make a mental shift, it just so happens that it shifts the dynamic around you in favorable ways, too. And the crazy thing is, it doesn’t really even seem matter whether you decide to action or you decide to accept what is.
Maybe someone you’ve never met before will show up at the courts that day and give you a challenge. Maybe you’ll find an earring on the court that belongs to one of the people who haven’t given you the time of day and they’ll invite you to play out of gratitude for returning it. Or maybe nothing out of the ordinary will happen. It doesn’t really matter.
The point is YOU will feel better either way, and, there’s an excellent chance that you’ll be a lot closer to getting what you wanted in the first place.