Mentally Preparing for Pickleball
Arthur Ashe is one of the greatest tennis players of all time. He once said, “One important key to success is self-confidence. An important key to self-confidence is preparation.”
Mental preparation is critical to your success on the pickleball court. Talent will get you halfway there — the right mindset results in victories and champagne showers. Well, the champagne may be flashy, but you get the point. Some people can walk onto the court and begin playing, but others need pregame sessions to exercise their minds.
Here’s how to mentally prepare for pickleball and get the most out of your game.
The best way to prepare yourself is to get hyped. Find your favorite form of motivation and use it to get pumped up.
Many people listen to their favorite music beforehand. Listen to something upbeat, positive and motivational to get your body moving and emotions in check. A 2021 study shows pregame music listening increases power output compared to those who don’t listen to music.
Power isn’t necessary for every pickleball serve. Lightning-fast aces can be a terrific aggressive approach, but you’ll want a measured hit each time.
Take 20 to 30 minutes to listen to warmup music. Make a playlist with Eminem, DMX, Dua Lipa or whoever gets your blood pumping.
Rid Your Jitters
The pregame jitters are real. Don’t believe it? Take it from the professional athletes themselves.
Bill Russell, an 11-time NBA champion with the Boston Celtics, threw up before games because he was nervous. Josh Allen, the star quarterback of the Buffalo Bills, admits to throwing up before games because of his jitters.
It’s hard to control what your body needs to do, but find ways to mitigate the pregame anxiety. Some pickleball players warm up by stretching or taking a jog beforehand. Light exercise is terrific for warming up your body and your mind.
Whatever you choose, make sure you’re in the best environment for your headspace. Some people need to be around others for motivation, while others want to meditate in solitude.
Talk the Talk
How you view yourself on the court is critical to your performance. Self-confidence can make the difference between pickling an opponent or getting pickled yourself.
Talk the talk and remind yourself of your abilities. Estimates show 4.2 million people play pickleball, and you’re the best player out there. Showing up without confidence sets you up for failure. The last thing you want is to fault on every serve because you’re nervous.
Talking the talk also means communication. If you’re playing with a partner, you must verbalize nearly every movement on the court. Pickleball courts are 20 feet wide, so that’s a lot of ground for two people to cover. It’s hard enough doing it by yourself! The average pickleball player can cover 7 feet at once, so 6 feet are unaccounted for between you and your teammate.
If you’re playing doubles, discuss strategy with your partner beforehand. You’ll feel better mentally knowing your plan going into the game rather than winging it on each serve.
Manifestation is a vital part of religions like Buddhism, Christianity and Hinduism. How you envision yourself goes a long way in your performance on the court.
In your mental preparation, picture how you’ll perform. Think of how you’ll counter every move your opponent makes. Anybody can return a groundstroke, but what if your opponent does a backhand punch? This can easily throw you off. Watch your opponent in other matches to see their tendencies and what shots they use the most.
In duos, how far apart do the other pair stand? Can you take the angle off by splitting the middle?
Look for any advantage you can find and visualize yourself doing it beforehand.
Embrace the Pressure
The legendary Billie Jean King said it best. Pressure is a privilege, and we should embrace it. You have to earn pressure to be great. When the pressure is at its highest, you should embrace it.
Imagine you’re in a pickleball tournament with 31 other people. After four terrific games, you’re in the championship. The pressure is on because you’ve advanced to the final round. However, a shift in mindset changes everything.
You’re in the finals because you’ve accomplished what 30 other players couldn’t.
Get Psyched and Have Fun
It’s a no-brainer why pickleball is one of the fastest-growing sports in the U.S. Pickleball is fun and brings out the best competition in everyone.
Mental preparation for any sport is vital, especially in pickleball. It’s about getting in the right headspace and psyching yourself for the game. You know what motivates you best, so listen to hype music and get some practice so you can hit the court at the top of your game.
Jack Shaw, is writer and pickleball enthusiast. He's been writing for 5+ years about sports, fitness and both physical and mental health. His writings have been published in Sports Medicine Weekly, Pickleball University and Better Triathlete. When not writing, you'll find him out on the court or in the gym.