Pickleball is proven to improve mood , reduce depression and boost self-esteem . It also encourages good communication , team building and leadership skills as well as social interaction — all essential for maintaining positive mental health .
Mental Performance Good pickleball players exist in a constant state of “ performance readiness ,” meaning they are physically prepared and mentally ready to hit the next shot , react to a hard volley or drive from the backcourt at a moment ’ s notice . The mental gymnastics of analyzing an opponent ’ s strengths and weaknesses , calculating and executing shots from extreme angles and depths , and then resetting to do it all over again — often several times in a single point — is both tiring and overwhelmingly satisfying . Not surprisingly , maintaining focus is a central part of performance readiness .
What do the top pros say about staying focused and mentally sharp during their matches ? Ben Johns indicates that he takes the “ less is more ” approach and tries not to overthink things : “ My general routine is resetting to ‘ neutral ’ before every point by focusing on the next one . I also try to be encouraging and positive with myself .”
Jessie Irvine has successfully incorporated mental skill techniques that she learned as a tennis player and coach . “ Whether it ’ s focusing on the ball , on the point , on strategies , on staying in the moment , having the ability to focus is critical ,” she says . “ This is especially relevant in a sport like pickleball , where there is very
Jessie Irvine . Photo courtesy Bruce Yeung .
little time between points . It is a race to 11 , so the focus and intensity must always be present .”
The underlying point here is that , at all age and skill levels , great players often separate themselves from good players not by their physical skills but by their mental approach . So if you want to improve your pickleball game , consider sharpening your mental game .
Irvine believes that as players ’ ratings climb , their results become more dependent on mental performance . She indicates that when players first start learning the sport , they need to focus more on the physical performance , such as shot techniques and making their body strong enough to play without injury . As they improve , it ’ s more important to focus on aspects of mental performance , including analyzing player tendencies , strengths and weaknesses . “ A lot of the time , the difference between a 4.0 , 4.5 , and a 5.0 is not reflected at the physical skill level but is a testament to the player ’ s skill at executing these mental performance techniques ,” contends Irvine .
So the next time you walk onto the court with paddle in hand , remember all the positive mental health benefits that you ’ ll receive just from playing that day . And if you are serious about becoming a better player , consider incorporating mental performance techniques into your pickleball tool belt . •
Kent Lindeman is the executive director of the Association for Applied Sport Psychology , the premier organization elevating sport and human performance through the advancement and application of excellence in mental performance and mental health . He was a medalist at both the 2019 US Open and 2019 USA Pickleball Nationals .
Ben Johns . Photo courtesy Bruce Yeung .
JANUARY / FEBRUARY 2021 | MAGAZINE 43