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How to Improve Your Mental Game on the Pickleball Court

How to Improve Your Mental Game on the Pickleball Court

  • Pickleball is full of unexpected bumps. You'll miss serves, shank easy shots, and maybe even clash with your partner or coach. It's tempting to give up, but that's the difference between good and great players.

In pickleball, mistakes are inevitable. 

There will be times when you miss a crucial serve or hit an easy shot into the net. Your partner will frustrate you, your coach will be a little too hard on you, and you’ll want to throw in the towel – err, the paddle. 

It happens to everyone. What separates decent pickleball players from great players is their ability to move past these frustrations, refocus, and get their game back on track. 

Great players are mentally tough. They can bounce back from mistakes because they have spent just as much time working on their mental game as they have on their physical game. 

Pickleball coach Steve Dawson sums it up the best. 

“The happiest pickleball players are those with the shortest memories, “ he says in Dan Jamal’s book Pickleball: The Ultimate Beginner’s Guide to Fun, Friends, and Strategies. “There are two undeniable truths about competing. Someone will always be better than you, and you will always lose again. Those two absolutes will never change.”

If you’re hoping to improve your mental toughness – and, in turn, your pickleball game – you’ve come to the right place. Here are some of our best tips for improving your mental game. 

Start Before You Step on the Court

A positive mindset is crucial to staying mentally tough during a pickleball match. Developing a positive, strategic mindset starts well before you lace up your sneakers and hit the court. 

Many players do this through affirmations. Before you start your match, repeat some key phrases over and over. Try affirmations like: 

“I want to stop driving the ball long on so many shots. I will hit the ball with less power so I have more control.”

“I will hit my next five serves in bounds..”

“I cannot lose.”

To come up with your affirmations, think about what holds you back and what actionable things you can do to improve your game. Repeat these phrases like a mantra until you believe them. Develop an affirmation that reframes your fears into something positive. 

Keep Your Emotions Under Control

Have you ever played someone who wears their emotions on their sleeve? Whenever they miss a shot, they mutter under their breath or tap their paddle on the fence. They criticize themselves or their partner after every missed point. As the game progresses, you can feel their frustrations mount. 

The game isn’t over, but you can tell you’ve already beat them. They are so frustrated that they can’t focus. You keep your cool, stay consistent, and nab the win. 

Keeping your emotions in check on the pickleball court is crucial. It’s natural to feel frustrated, annoyed, or discouraged after a mistake or a bad rally. It’s OK to feel those emotions, but it’s not helpful to make them obvious to your opponent. In Pickleball: The Ultimate Beginner’s Guide to Fun, Friends, and Strategies, Dawson recommends thinking about flushing your mistakes down the toilet. 

When a match gets tough, maintain your poker face. Acknowledge your mistake, then leave it in the past. Move on to the next point, and don’t let your opponent know you’re frustrated. You’ll be back on track in no time. 

Take It One Shot at a Time

When you’re falling behind in a match, it can be easy to think of everything you need to do to retake the lead. Whether you’re trailing by two points or eight points, it can feel like you have a mountain to climb. 

Mentally tough players push these thoughts aside. Instead of thinking about how many points they need to win to pull ahead, they take baby steps. They focus on the next shot and the next shot only. As the ball heads toward them, they don’t think about hitting a winner. They think about maintaining a good technique and hitting the ball over the net. 

Think of each pickleball point like building a house. You don’t put the roof on before adding the walls, and you don’t add the walls before laying the foundation. When you feel frustrated, take each point one shot at a time. With each successful shot, your confidence will return. You’ll be winning points again before you know it. 

It’s Time to Get Your Head in the Game

Working on your mental toughness will not only improve your game, but it will also make pickleball a lot more fun! Having a positive mindset, keeping your emotions under control, and taking the game one shot at a time will improve your pickleball experience, but are also skills you can carry over the rest of your life. 

“Surfers have a saying, ‘All days are good days when you get in the water,’” Dawson says in Pickleball: The Ultimate Beginner’s Guide to Fun, Friends, and Strategies. “They don’t care how big the wave is. I look at pickleball in the same way. As long as you get on the court, all is good. We are so lucky to play pickleball.”

Isn’t that the truth? The next time you head to the pickleball court, use these mental strategies to keep your head in the game and enjoy playing a game you love.

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