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Inner Winner Pickleball - 5 Pillars of Mental Pickleball Toughness
Yes, Pickleball…is a game of great fun but it also can be very, very frustrating! Ever played a Game, League Match, or Tournament when you and your partner are up 10-3…your opponent starts making a surge…10-4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9… your heart starts racing, your breath shortens, muscles tighten as you slam a high easy put-away volley into the bottom of the net…after the mental “Choke…two points later they close out the match to WIN gold.
Many of us have first-hand experience with a game like the above and it’s very frustrating. And to help correct this, it’s important to remember Pickleball is a Physical & Mental Game…90% of Sports Performance is Mental, and 10% is Mechanics (Physical). The main problem is that 90% of players and coaches spend 100% of their time working on the physical and mechanical aspects of the game.
They often neglect and ignore the one area that ultimately separates top players in the “Winner’s Circle” from athletes in the “Loser’s Square” that are not reaching their full potential. To address and help solve this issue used my 25+ years of Sports Performance Coaching (All Ages/Levels in Pickleball/Tennis/Life…from League & Club Champions ➙ State Champions ➙ National Champions ➙ Olympic Champions ➙ World Champions) to develop “Inner Winner Pickleball” program that decodes the 5-Pillars of Pickleball Mental Toughness ➙ Preparation, Passion, Positivity, Persistence, Power.
The first Pillar of PB Mental Toughness is PREPARATION.
As Legendary Football Coach, Paul “Bear” Bryant taught “It’s not the Will to WIN that Matters. Everyone has that. It’s the Will to Prepare to WIN that Matters.” To raise your game to the next level, here are three key Preparation areas to focus on:
1) Practice with Adversity – Thru the years noticed a majority of recreational players step onto a court, hit a couple of mindless dinks, then jump right into games. And they wonder why their rec play doesn’t medal in tournaments??? To be in the “Winner’s Circle” takes Deliberate Practice with Adversity (like practicing in 108- degree heat, playing in extreme wind, drilling until you and your partner get 550 dinks in a row, playing 8-9 hours on/off at one-day tournament). When you step on the court…make each moment count…practice with purpose, intensity, and pressure.
A fun way to elevate your game and practices to the next level is to aim shots for specific targets (cones, zones or areas) and see how long or which player hits 10 targets first. With a partner or PB Ball Machine do target accuracy drills of 50 in a row+ on dinks/drops/drives/serves. Plus, for outdoor tournament players… practice and play in extreme hot/cold/windy weather. Everyone has the desire to Win, but only Champions have the desire 2 properly prepare!
Two of my students…who prepared like Champions and became Champions…Karen Brussell & Vicky Smith…received a “Wild Card” into 2022 US Open Pickleball Championships …Practiced with Adversity then battled brilliantly 2 WIN Silver Medals @ US Open + following months WIN Gold, Silver & Bronze Medals in National Pickleball Tournament in Alabama.
2) Balanced Routine & Rituals – To optimize peak performance, every player needs to find his/her best balance of lessons, drilling, individual/team practice, fitness/ conditioning, league, and tournament play + rest & relaxation.
To start finding your “Winning Combination” think back to when you’ve had the most fun and played your best Pickleball. What was your routine and routine before – during – after the competition? And during match play use Rituals (mental mantras and rituals like “Bounce Hit” to get your timing on groundstrokes, returns, third shot drops and dinks. “One-Two” for Quickness and Recovery (1 is the Hit and 2 is return to Recovery Position) for volleys and overheads.
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3) Pre-Game Mindset & Attitudes- Success is a Mindset & Mindset is what separates the Best from the Rest. When you’ve properly prepared the first two key areas (above) it naturally elevates one’s Self-Confidence + helps you Believe & Know You Can/Will WIN. In addition to Mental Preparation there’s also Physical Fitness Preparation required on how you eat, sleep, train, compete, rest, renew and refocus.
Past Macci Academy Superstar – Venus Williams – also shares this Inner Winner Wisdom with…
”You have to believe in yourself when no one else does - That’s what makes you a Winner.”
The 2nd Mental Toughness Pillar is - PASSION
it’s the energy and enthusiasm that fuels your game. Passion is your “Energy Controller” and a Game Changer. Players with a strong passion are willing to put the time, energy, and effort into mastering the Mechanics – Movement – Mindset of the Gr8 Game to achieve their Pickleball Goals.
Passion controls your Energy which impacts your Focus – Fundamentals – Flow. To elevate your game and performance results…Focus your Energy on the Present Moment…Each Ball, Each Shot, Each Target. If you miss a shot, mentally fine tune & correct your Fundamentals then immediately refocus back on your end goal to Play in the Zone/Flow.
Top players in the world (like Ben Johns and Simone Jardim) turn Passion into Perfection by…Mastering the Art of Simplicity…They Do Less & Get More. With anticipation, they “MPR” (Move with Paddle Ready), attack with their feet, and with short simple strokes…control the ball/points/play with their hands. They have mental mastery + know how to work with their body versus fight their body. Which produces high-level performances, fewer injuries, and winning results. So, if you want the Superstars’ Success Secrets 2 WIN…follow Ben & Simone’s lead…Simplicity is the Key to Victory!
The 3rd Mental Toughness Pillar is one that often makes or breaks Champions and it’s – POSITIVITY.
There is Power in Positivity. Pessimism leads to Weakness, Optimism to Power. When You…Think Positive…it helps you begin and WIN!
Positivity is your “Arousal Adjustor” or “Emotional Controller” – that can be used to handle the major pressures and stress in competitive play. During a match opponents start “Targeting” you or your partner and your confidence/shots start plummeting… What do you do to Calm Down or Pump Up your game?
3-Inner Winner Game Shifters I encourage players to use are…
- Combine Positive Self Talk + Positive Gesture (Give Your Partner High Five or Paddle Edge Tap…Next Shot/You’ve (or I’ve) Got It!), Or Positive Success Mantra –Mentally repeat strongly with great emotions, feelings & passion – “I Am Calm, I Am Confident, I Am a Champion!”
- Calm Down Technique – 4 Square Breathing – Inhale 4 counts, Hold Breath 4 counts, Exhale 4 counts, No Breath 4 counts. Inhale/Hold Positive Thoughts & Energy In – Exhale/No Breath Release & Let Go Negative Thoughts & Energy. Pump Up Technique – Listen to your favorite energizing and empowering Music and/or Jump Rope…to Elevate Your Energy, Mindset & Game.
- Stress Buster 101 – S/B/M – Smile/Breath/Move. A Smile sends positive endorphins to your brain and naturally energizes your body. Breath…the length of your Breath is directly related to your State of Mind (take Slow Deep Breaths to remain Calm & Confident and remember Short Shallow Breaths are a sign of Stress, Anxiety & Fear). Move…bounce on the balls of your feet or jog in place to energize your body, and decrease tension and stress.
Lucy Kovalova & Matt Wright – One of the World’s Top Pro Mixed Doubles Teams…frequently are in the “Winner’s Circle” because they focus on and master the first 3-Inner Winner Pillars ➙ Preparation, Passion & Positivity.
The 4th Mental Toughness Pillar is PERSEVERANCE
Perseverance means surviving the toughest conditions and coming out better on the other side. Legendary Football Coach/NFL Executive Vince Lombardi sums it up brilliantly… “Winners Never Quit & Quitters Never Win.”
The Winners in Pickleball & the Game of Life are the players who have…Grit, Determination, Resilience & Make NO EXCUSES. They view losses and mistakes as learning opportunities to advance their game versus obstacles to deteriorate their game. As shown below in the Inner Winner Mindset Chart.
Navy Seals are some of the toughest human beings on the planet and they have some very valuable Mental Toughness lessons to teach us: 1) Eat the Elephant…One bite at a Time…Segmentation… divide big challenging projects/tasks into small pieces…complete them one by one within 24-Hours. 2) Visualize Success…Vivid & Full Detail w/all 5-Senses, Repetition – visualize a play over and over until it’s subconsciously automatic, 3) Positive Imagery... see and feel yourself playing successfully center court at the Club, League or National Tournament Championship.
So, the next time you’re playing in a big high-pressure match or tournament…prior to the event use visualization & positive imagery…seeing you and your partner on Grandstand Stadium Court playing with ease and effortless perfection, then joyously stepping onto the Medal Stand to receive your Gold Medals at Indian Wells National Championship (or your highest and best goals and dreams). Visualize 2 Realize…Your Full Potential & Success!
The 5th and final Mental Toughness Pillar is POWER
Originating from the age-old cliché…The making of a Champion begins with an Intense Burning Desire of the individual. This intense burning desire, drive, determination, and Will Power is a major key that gets and keeps players in the “Winner’s Circle.”
Speaking of Will Power…it comes in All Ages/All Levels…Pickleball 4 All Academy…
Power can also be achieved by understanding and mastering Pickleball’s Mechanics – Movement – Mindset. For Stroke Mechanics…remember Simplicity is the Key 2 Victory…and learn in sequential order the 5-Dimensions of Pickleball: 1) Consistency, 2) Direction, 3) Depth, 4) Spin, 5) Speed.
For Movement & Court Coverage…successfully simplify your footwork into side shuffles and diagonal shuffles. For Mindset…Master the 5-Pillars of PB Mental Toughness ➙ Preparation, Passion, Positivity, Perseverance & Power.
Lastly, to be successful in Pickleball not just for a season, but a lifetime…remember it’s a Physical & Mental Game…90%. Sports Performance is Mental, 10% Physical…Develop a well-balanced routine training your Body/Mind/Sport…then Enjoy & Excel in the Gr8 Game the “Inner Winner Pickleball” Way…Have fun and Happy Pickleballing!
Joy Macci ✧ 214-223-3738 ✧ DrJoy@JoyofPickleball.com ✧ Global Pickleball Coach/Author/Speaker
Tennis Channel selected her as one of America’s Top 100 Coaches in 2022.