I can’t believe I missed another dink. It’s such an easy shot! Why am I having such a hard time with this? If I keep missing those shots, nobody is going to want to play with me. I’ve been playing for years, I drill, and practice, and I am just not getting any better. How can I be so inept and so stupid? Does that ever sound like you talking to yourself?
Does negative self-talk plague you? I think if you’re an athlete, at some point, negativity gets into your head. The difference is better players get it out of their heads faster.
Dayne, our brains are hard-wired to protect us, which means it automatically gets negative, and often we don’t realize it. For most of us, that’s when the negative self-talk begins. What are some tools that people can use to stop negative thinking?
It’s really simple; it’s just difficult (to do). Instead of trying to stop talking negatively, delete all the “I don’t want to.” The more attention we put on the negative, the more we talk about and focus on what you don’t want to do, what you want to stop, ironically, the more we grow that negative habit. Focus on what it is, what do I want from the positive self-talk?
With mental training, I am a big believer in writing stuff down. How do you want to talk to yourself while you’re playing? List as many situations as you can think of. How would you like it to be? Don’t worry about if it’s going to get done or how long it’s going to take or what the kind of work you’re going to have to put in. Just write it all down. Before we find an answer, we got to know what that answer is about. You need to answer the question, how do you want to talk to yourself while you’re on the court before you step on the court? Let’s create that as a base.
Then when we go on to the court, it’s not about, not talking to myself the way I used to talk. That’s what people do. They just put all that negative energy into the thing they don’t want to do, and they continue to grow what they don’t want to do. Then they get upset because they keep doing what they don’t want to do, not realizing they did that. So when we walk on the court because we’ve written exact intentions on how we want to talk to ourselves while we’re on the court. We bring those intentions and thoughts and the exact self-talk onto the court.
Whenever we’re in that state of belittlement, and we go into negative self-talk. It’s not about going there because you will, I don’t care who you are, Ben (Johns) still goes there. It’s about recognizing when you go there and pulling yourself to this other place.
The “other place” is the thing that you wrote down. When you go to negative, you’ve already given yourself the key to get out of it. You already know what to do. Knowing what to do is the first step. Now, let’s repeat those.
I’m just naturally a negative person, pessimistic. I’ve had to work on this. On the court, I look at a situation, and I see the negative of it, and I used to belittle myself. So training ourselves to focus on how we want to talk and act and walk and what that feels like. That’s tough to do. But again, it’s about putting in the reps, and not leaning into what you want to fix, but lean more into what you want the solution to be.
So how do you know the solution? You’ve got to write that stuff down. You’ve got to make that part of your DNA. This is how I talk to myself (positive). Make it that natural. The only way to do that is to practice that as many times as you can.
During the match, when you fall into the negative, bring yourself back. “Oh, no, no, no, that’s right. This is what I want to say to myself. This is how I want to act.” You keep repeating that until just like everything, it becomes a habit.
One of the questions that I use and this is not original, and I’m sure I got this from one of my mental coaches along the way; if my best friend talked to me the way I talk to myself, would we still be friends? If the answer was no, I’ve got some work to do on my negative self-talk.
Isn’t that the key? Most people read those quotes, the books or watch these webinar seminars, workshops, they go, and they and they consume the info and then they go, I’m good. You know what? You’re not good. You’ve got to go put that work in. So when you miss a shot, and you want to scream at yourself, it’s OK to want to scream at yourself if you do in terms of the macro learning process, that’s OK. As long as you say, oh, no, no, no, wait, let’s go to this place instead.
You told me there are two words you like to use to bring yourself out of negative self-talk to the positive. What are they?
Those two words can change your entire physiological makeup. In times of stress or after a mistake, we have this instinctive response to X. Usually, it’s negative, and in pickleball, it’s crazy like that. The split-second “OH MY!” is accepted in pickleball, where it’s not in other sports. Asking yourself Now What is like hitting Google. When we go on Google, and we type in that search, we’re trying to find the answer. If you ask yourself Now What after a miss, your brain will give you or at least search for that answer. Then it’s up to you to put that into practice.
What happens when I notice I’m angry with myself?
You’re allowed to have a response as long as you’re pulling yourself into Now What instead of I think what people do, especially when they’re learning it, are they try to go cold turkey and they try not to say anything, not to have any kind of response.
And then what happens, you explode. Until your response eventually is neutral, allow yourself some leeway to have the “Oh, my gosh, I can’t.” As long as you’re attaching the Now What. What should I say? Or Now, What should I do with my partner? Start trying to find the solution so you can get on to the next point.
I think it’s important not to run from our negative emotion, necessarily but kind of embrace it. I’m not saying throw F-bombs and chuck paddles and all of that, but if I miss a dink, that’s an unforced error, and usually, I’m going to be pissed. That’s OK as long as I don’t allow that to step into my next point.
It’s a matter of training yourself on the Now What? Because, again, I can’t say this enough. Now What will not allow you to stay in the same negative emotion. It can’t if you say it with emotional intensity to yourself. “OK, Now What?” you’ll find the answer. Then it’s about taking the answer and putting it into practice for the next point and just repeating and repeating and repeating. Pretty soon, you won’t even have to say Now What, and it’ll be an automatic response.
Are you one of those people that Dayne spoke of, “I’ve read the article, and I got this,” or will you take action?
Hey there — I’m a professional three-sport athlete and coach who has spent my entire adult life earning a living from playing and coaching sports. Since I started coaching more than three decades ago, one thing has remained the same: My commitment to see students not as they are but as what they can become and to move heaven and earth to help them realize their untapped potential. You should know that when it comes to helping pickleball players over 50 live their best lives on and off the courts, I'm an expert. Good pickleball is not just technique; it's the mind and body working holistically. That's why I'm also a personal trainer and weight management specialist. When I’m chillin', you'll find me watching Star Trek with my husband John and our two fur babies, Shirley and Ralph. (Yes, Happy Days)