Why You Can Hit the Ball Wrong 99 Times Out of 100 and Still Be Doing Everything Right

Pickleball, Like Life Is About the Journey, Not the Destination..

If there is one thing I’ve heard about life from pickleball players around the country, it’s this. From retirees, to people who have quit their job to build a business around pickleball, to those who wish they could, my wife Wendy and I have received lots of admiration and support for the not-always-easy and definitely-sometimes-risky choices we have made to prioritize enjoying life now rather than waiting for “someday.”
The same goes for your pickleball game. If you can find ways to feel less frustrated during your learning process, you’ll be better able to enjoy all the games and hours or, yes, even years before you achieve your “ideal” level of play.
How often have you let a lousy morning of pickleball impact the rest of your day? How many times of you replayed your bad shots over and over in your head? How often have you sworn with frustration when you miss a put-away shot?
There’s more to life than playing pickleball well (but you already knew that), and there’s more to pickleball than making every put away or drop shot.

Don’t let your frustration that you aren’t playing as well as you want you from getting better.

Sorry, Charlie, you ain’t perfect… No one is, least of all you or me.
One good way to reduce your frustration is to simply get a better understanding of learning itself so that you can orient yourself and recognize the progress that you ARE making.
If you’re like many of my students, much of your frustration in pickleball comes because you believe that if you can just do X, Y and Z you should be able to hit a good shot.
But that’s just not the way it works.

How You Learned to Play Pickleball & How You’re Going to Get Better

Just like learning to walk, talk, ride a bike or drive a car, learning to hit good shots in pickleball is, what scientists call, an implicit learning process. This means that although we can learn HOW to do it, we don’t have the conscious understanding to explain WHAT we know.
You can logically explain to someone how to figure out what the score is, but can you logically explain how to hit a drop shot? And even if you could, would someone else be able to figure it out simply by following your instructions? No, because learning to hit a good shot is an implicit process. It is something that our brain has to figure out for us — it’s not something we can just follow a recipe for and get the correct solution.
Contrary to what some of you jokesters might think, the alternative–explicit learning–has nothing to do with an R-rated classroom. ::wink, wink:: Explicit learning is how we learn to keep score in pickleball, or how we know whose turn to serve it is (most of the time, anyway).
So if learning to hit good shots in pickleball ISN’T something you can learn consciously, then how the he** are you supposed to get better?

The definition of practice is: doing it enough times (right or wrong) that your brain finally figures out how to do it right on purpose.

After all, it’s not as if some fairy godmother came and waved a wand and suddenly you could shift gears while making a left-hand turn with the radio on talking to your honey in the other seat, right? You mastered these skills through pratice.
You tried it enough times that your brain figured out–implicitly–what it needed to do, even though you can’t consciously explain exactly how you can estimate the speed of the oncoming traffic in order to know when it’s safe to turn–You just know.
You probably had to fall over on a bike 25 times before you finally figured out how to ride it, and then how did you know how to do it? You just KNEW.
The thing is, kids naturally depend on their capacity to learn and innately know that they are making progress through those 24 failed attempts and are content to keep trying ’til they get it right. On the other hand, those of us in the double digits tend to focus on the fact that we “just keep failing” and get frustrated and impatient, wondering what’s wrong with us that we haven’t gotten it right yet.
If playing pickleball well was just a matter of following the recipe, you’d be a 5.0 player in no time because you would just decide to follow the steps and get there. But because it’s an implicit learning process, we can’t just decide what we want and follow the steps. Yes, you MUST know what you want, but then you have to give your brain enough time and repetition build the neuropathways — after all, that’s what learning is.
So here’s your mantra for the month when you miss a shot during practice:

One more fail. One step closer to doing it right.

Now, keep in mind, this is true as long as you are actively learning — that is, when you are motivated to learn a specific skill and when you’re actively attempting to accomplish it.
For most players, once they achieve a certain level of recreational play, they stop trying to actively improve their skills during games, and their level of play reaches a plateau. Some players, like me, can focus on improving their skills during a match, but the majority of players get distracted during a match and fall into set patterns of play. If that’s you, then in order to really improve your game, you need to set aside time to practice drills for particular shots or movements, and then play practice points in order to integrate your new skills into your game.

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