Playing Pickleball to Win – Lessons from Atlanta – Part 2
[This is part of our Lessons from Atlanta series. Each deal with a specific lesson that we can learn from the focused pickleball battles that take place during tournament play. These lessons apply to non-tournament play as well. If you missed Part 1, click here. Other than some outliers (like time outs and referees), tournament play is the same as competitive non-tournament play, and the lessons from tournament battles can be learned and applied by players at all levels. You don’t have to be a tournament player, you can benefit from these lessons learned in Atlanta.]
When we are playing pickleball, we often determine our results based on, well, our results. Our win/loss record. But are they the right results to look at?
I’m going to suggest an alternative way to evaluate your play that day that is more productive for you and your game.
During the 2022 Atlanta Open, I competed in two events over two days: first in Mixed Doubles and then in Men’s Doubles.
On Saturday, Sarah Mitten and I went 4 and 2 in mixed doubles. We won the bronze medal in the Mixed Senior Pro event.
On Sunday, Marcus Luke and I went 2 and 2 in men’s doubles, and we finished out of the medal race.
By the usual metrics we use when playing pickleball, Saturday was a better day than Sunday.
A much better day. 4-2 with a bronze medal versus 2-2 and no medal. Pretty simple to see, right?
Let’s dig a bit deeper and see if we feel the same way at the end of this article. Seeing how my play that day can be evaluated through a lens that differs from the usual win/loss metric might help you when you find yourself losing more than winning (or even the same amount).
On Saturday, Sarah and I played four matches that were decided by the following cumulative scores: 22-3, 22-8, 22-7, and 22-7. We won 2 of these and lost 2 of these matches. While there were some excellent rallies in these matches, and the teams battled, it is fair to say that these matches were not that close.
Sarah and I also played two matches with the following scores: 17-15 and 15-13. Like the earlier matches, these matches had teams battling and good rallies. But unlike the earlier matches, the outcome of these matches was in doubt until the last point was won.
Here are the stats from playing with Marcus on Sunday in the Senior Men’s Pro
We played four matches. The cumulative scores of the two matches we won were 15-8 and 15-8. The cumulative scores of the two matches we lost were 28-21 (a 3-game battle) and 15-13 (a tough back and forth that could have gone either way).
Going still a bit deeper, the team that Marcus and I lost to in the 3-game match was the 6th-seeded team and ended up earning the bronze medal on the day. The team that we lost to 15-13 was the 5th seed, had beaten a solid 4th seed team, and had taken the top seed (Sperling and Weinbach) to three games before losing (the cumulative score of that match was 34-25). This team then lost to the second seed, one spot outside of the medal round (that match was a bit lopsided, at least in terms of the score).
When you look at the days a bit more in-depth, you see that one day was not dissimilar from the other.
On the “winning” day, we won the close matches (17-15 and 15-13). On the “losing” day, we simply were on the other side of those same matches (28-21 and 15-13).
In other words, the matches, the effort given, and the general level of play was not vastly different from Day 1 to Day 2. Yet the conclusion that would generally be drawn is like night and day. Like yes and no.
One day we were winners, and the next day we were losers. Nothing, but a handful of points, differentiated the two days. And yet the conclusion drawn as to each would make each day seem nothing like the other.
You will feel great one day and despair the next. Yet each is, essentially, the same, particularly when you think about it in terms of the things you control.
Avoid the pitfall of using win/loss as your metric for the day.
Instead, consider using one or more of the following more useful and accurate metrics:
1. Did I give my best effort today?
This does not mean that you played the best you have ever played. That is unfair to you as you are a human being with all that comes with it. If all you can give today is 75%, then did you give 100% of the 75% you had available with you today?
If you answered “yes” to this question, we suggest you won today. You did everything you could on the court. The results are what they are. You did what you could when you were playing pickleball. There is nothing else you can ask of yourself.
2. If you are working on your game (have a plan and desire for improvement), were you intentional in your play today?
Did you try to do the things you set out to do – that will help you improve your game? Note that we are not saying, did you do everything perfectly? It is. Did you work towards your improvement goal while you were out there?
If you answered “yes,” then you are good to go. You did what you set out to do today.
3. Did you get what you came for today?
We have yet to meet a player who says they got into pickleball to “win more games” or similar. What we usually hear as reasons to play pickleball are “fun,” “friends,” “exercise,” “learning,” and the like.
If today at the courts you saw your friends, got some exercise, or whatever else it is that drives you to play pickleball, then you got what you came for. How can you have lost today if you got what you came for?
If you answer yes to any of the above, then you have won that day.
When I signed for the Atlanta Open, I was looking forward to playing pickleball with my fellow Senior Pro players.
To get on the court with my friends, the amazing and talented Sarah Mitten and the awesome and tenacious Marcus Luke.
I traveled to Atlanta to give it my best on the court each match. Sometimes my best was enough to help my team carry the day. Other times the best I could give was not enough, and we fell short in the scoring column.
But each time, I gave it my all. I did not give up. I weathered the adversity as best I could. And I left it all on the court.
In the end, I got what I wanted from playing pickleball.
I came to compete, and compete I did. I came to see my fellow senior pro players, and I did that too. Finally, I came to join my partners in battle, and that, too, was accomplished.
It is true that one day we earned a medal, and the next, we did not. But that is not enough to distinguish the days. From my perspective, each day belongs in the win column.
Next time you play, consider framing your results differently. Rather than allowing a series of numbers to dictate your day for you, take control of the framework by which you evaluate your day on the court.
You may find that you are winning more than you think!
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.
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