Pickleball for Perfectionists | Better Pickleball Blog
By: Jennifer Hojnacki | February 26, 2024 |

Pickleball for Perfectionists

Calling all perfectionists, Enneagram Ones, sticklers, and precisionists! Have you noticed your perfectionism showing up in your pickleball game? It has probably motivated you to grow and achieve more on the court, but the pursuit of perfect in sports often comes at a cost.

Not sure if you’re a perfectionist, or how and where it’s showing up in your game? Run through our checklist of common perfectionist traits and what they might look like in a pickleball player.


How “Perfectionism” Is Helpful for Athletes

Author Katherine Morgan Schafler defines perfectionism in The Perfectionist’s Guide to Losing Control: A Path to Peace and Power. A perfectionist, she says, is “someone who “never stops noticing the gulf between reality and the ideal, and they never stop longing to actively bridge that gap.”

Let’s face it; any list of top athletes is full of “perfectionists” who do exactly that. They see the gulf between reality and the ideal, and strive to bridge it. These sports figures are incredibly disciplined, often following absurdly specific routines and regimens that are unimaginable to us. They constantly push themselves and their teams to achieve more, are never ever satisfied. They obsess over the smallest details from both their last game and their next. You see them beating themselves up on the sidelines; they seem to use that anger to fuel their next drive. Think Tom Brady, Serena Williams, Michael Jordan, Simone Biles. Their structure, consistency, and high standards for themselves and their teammates are as impressive as their records.

And what’s wrong with that? Absolutely nothing, that’s what! If you are a perfectionist, Morgan Schafler advises: don’t undervalue that impulse to explore what is possible for you. Don’t be constrained by the realistic; your mindset advantage is invaluable, in sports and in life. Don’t try to eradicate or “recover” from your perfectionism, she suggests. Instead, harness the energy from that inner drive toward a goal that is worthy of your efforts.

Pickleball offers nearly endless opportunities for improvement. There are countless ways to tap into that desire to close the gap between the reality of where you are and the ideal of where you’d like to be. Perfectionism and pickleball can definitely be a winning combination. But be careful…

How “Perfectionism” Is Hurtful for Athletes

The difficulty comes when perfection is seen as a goal and not just an inspiration. As the authors of Sports Psychology for Dummies, Leif Smith, PsyD and Todd Kays, PHD point out, “perfection has not, does not, and will not ever exist. For you, or for others. They go on to say that you will have “moments of excellence, but they won’t be perfect.” Don’t believe it? Find a gold medal pickleball match on YouTube, and watch it start to finish. No matter how dominating the win might be, you will see mistakes, missed opportunities, and lost rallies or points.

Smith and Kays elaborate on the myth of perfection in sports by saying that “the only thing you can feel when pursuing perfection is frustration and disappointment.” As a recreational player, you probably didn’t take up pickleball to feel frustration and disappointment (I know I didn’t!). So why continue down an unrewarding path that is destined to lead you there?


Tips for Pickleball Perfectionists

3 Ways to Lean into your Perfectionism
  • If you don’t have one already, organize a simple weekly training regimen. You might work with a trainer or pickleball coach, or you can develop one on your own. (If you haven’t seen it, consider our own CJ Johnson’s 8-Week Pickleball Fitness Challenge. It’s an excellent way to kickstart your pickleball fitness). Either way, you’ll love the routine and will definitely see results from your efforts. Just remember that your routine will need to evolve (we know you don’t like change!) as your game improves. Keep an eye out for ways to level up or adjust as you grow and observe.
  • Discipline is your super power! There’s a saying “you won’t always be motivated…you must learn to be disciplined.” Good news…as a perfectionist, you’re already disciplined, and that discipline can make a real difference in your game. So stick to those daily workouts, footwork drills, and other routines that keep you playing your best. But remember that discipline does not equal punishment. When you find something that needs work, and decide to drill for an hour on that skill, make sure you are working from a place of discipline, not self-punishment for your “mistakes.”
  • Track your progress. Perfectionists love to track stuff. Identify metrics for things you are working on (NOT win/loss) and track away! Serve or return of serve percentages, or your number of unforced errors, are good places to start. You might also consider a sports performance journal. Write in it after each drill session, lesson, or open play. When capturing your observations, try to make them 100% positive, focused on what you did well, not your errors.


7 Ways to Become More “Adaptive” in Your Perfectionism

Practicing “adaptive perfectionism” allows you to continue to set high goals and personal standards while retaining the ability to be satisfied with, and even take pleasure in, your performance as you progress.

  • I love this post-play “3-2-1 Exercise” from Sports Psychology for Dummies, and it is a particularly great tool for perfectionists. After you play, make a note (get out that performance journal!) of: 3 things you did well today, 2 things you learned about yourself, and 1 thing you can get to work on in the next 24 hours. Notice how there was no mention of “mistakes,” or getting “better?”
  • Make an effort to find friends/playing partners who are fun and easy going. A group who won’t add to your tendency to take the game too seriously and be self-critical.
  • Resist the urge to coach others, unless specifically asked.
  • Notice (without judgment) how you receive coaching or criticism from others. Experiment with different responses that are less defensive than your default response, just to see how it feels.
  • Change your self-talk. Notice the encouraging feedback you give to your partner (and even your opponents) and try to give yourself that same encouragement. Whether silently or out loud, tell yourself with sincerity “nice try,” “right idea,” or “you’ll get it next time” when you miss. This will help remind you that no one and nothing is perfect, no matter how hard you try.
  • Remember that just because something is simple (like hitting a deep return of serve) doesn’t mean that it’s easy, or easy to do consistently. Try not to expect to do simple things effortlessly.
  • Instead of viewing other players as “better,” think of them as “different.” These players likely have different experiences, athletic abilities, goals, and limitations than you. Their game is different from yours, not necessarily better. Who knows? They may be looking at a part of your game, comparing it to theirs, and finding you “better.”


The #1 Tip for Enjoying Pickleball as a Perfectionist

What is the most important thing you can do to become more adaptive in your perfectionism? You might be surprised.

Remain present.

In her “Perfectionist’s Guide,” Morgan-Schafler aptly points out that “When something is experienced as ‘perfect,’ it is for no other reason than because the person experiencing it is present. Your memories of perfect moments are memories of moments in which you were most present.” She goes on to illustrate this point by saying “When Beyoncé steps onto a stage, she’s not entertaining us with a performance; she’s inspiring us with a showcase of her presence.”

Pickleball is here on earth entirely for your enjoyment. It serves virtually no other purpose, and you were not put here to master dinks, volleys, and deep returns of serves. You can enjoy “perfect” moments in pickleball simply by remaining in the moment and being open to seeing the perfection in your (and others’) imperfection. So get out there, be like Beyoncé, and inspire yourself and everyone on the court with a showcase of your unique presence!

Jennifer Hojnacki

Hi, I'm Jennifer! I'm a member of the Better Pickleball team, and a pickleball fanatic who loves learning more about the framework and strategy of the game. Pickleball is the first sport I've ever played, and it has taught me more about myself than I ever would have imagined. Before pickleball I kept in shape with walking/hiking, and yoga, both of which I still love to do and provide excellent cross-training for my game. I enjoy sharing my observations and experiences with the game on the blog!