CJ Johnson Headshot
CJ Johnson
Tony Roig
Tony Roig

Be the Cucumber – Cool and Calm

A friend recently related a story that we have all felt at one time or another. She felt like all the balls were going to her. This feeling increased the pressure on her. The increased pressure resulted in her not playing as well as she can. And so on it went, feeding on itself. When she left the courts she did not feel at all good about the experience that day.

What, she wondered, could she have done to avoid the downward spiral she had felt earlier that day?

I am not going to address the illogic of players targeting in recreation play (which this was). That is a subject for another day. Plus, despite there being plenty of materials out there convincingly providing the reasons not to target in rec play, it still happens. So let’s address it from the standpoint of our friend – the targeted player.

What can she do?

Short answer: be the cucumber.

What in the world am I talking about? I shall elaborate.

Does the cucumber worry about what the other vegetables in the crisper drawer think about it? Does it feel pressure when the lettuce, carrots, and celery are all picking on it, trying to get it to make a mistake? Does the cucumber lose sleep over a popup or missed dink (to err is to be cucumber after all)?

The answer to all of the above is no. The cucumber is the coolest customer in the crisper (say that 3 times fast).

It is cool because:

  1. It understands that it is an honor just to be on the court with the other vegetables that day – to be able to partake in a great activity (thank you Coach Pete for sharing this concept),
  2. It knows that it is but a cucumber, valuable and worthy, but still prone to errors that cucumbers make, and
  3. It appreciates the learning opportunity given to it when the other vegetables decide to hit every ball towards it (though such behavior is unfair and disrespectful to the cucumber’s partner – that is something that lays at the feet of the opponents and not the cucumber).

It can be stressful when you feel that the eyes of the world are squarely upon you as you miss dink after dink. Embrace the opportunity presented by your opponents: more shots = more practice = a better you in the long run. Remember to honor the game and your role in it.

Be the cucumber. Cool and collected. Confident and calm. No matter what challenges come your way.

Tony Roig

Hola. Hello. Konichiwa. After 40 years playing tennis, I am now a full-time pickleball player and professional. As a 5.0 rated Senior Pro Pickleball Player and an IPTPA-certified Master Teaching Professional, my focus is on helping players like you learn to play their best pickleball. In 2016, shortly after starting to play pickleball, my friend Tom and I jumped into the highest division at the first US Open in Naples, Florida. That morning it became clear just how much there is to learn in this seemingly simple sport – a lifetime of learning if you so choose. Since 2018, I have been on a mission to share my knowledge of pickleball so other players can enjoy the game at a higher level and attain their pickleball objectives. When not studying or playing pickleball, I like to travel with my other half, Jill.


  1. Avatar photo Brian Bailey on June 21, 2022 at 2:45 am

    Very well put. This has helped me understand better now. 😂

    • Avatar photo CJ Johnson on June 22, 2022 at 4:00 am

      Glad you found it helpful!

  2. Avatar photo Barb on August 27, 2022 at 8:01 pm

    I started playing at a different facility for just a month and jumped into the intermediate group. It was such a challenge and my opponents would always hit and continue to hit the ball at me to score a point. After about 2 weeks I found myself being more confident and after being targeted for a few shots would shout out ‘bring it on’!! It was a great challenge and I learned a lot from it. When I returned to my ‘home’ courts everyone wanted to know what I did because I was playing so much better. Being the cucumber is an awesome way to advance your game.

    • Avatar photo CJ Johnson on August 27, 2022 at 8:58 pm

      Sounds like you had fun Barb!

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