By: CJ Johnson | May 26, 2017 |

How to Turn Around a Bad Start in a Pickleball Tournament

a young man frustrated by playing poorly in a pickleball tournamentHave you ever gone to play pickleball full of confidence, ready for your best day ever then bam! It seems as if an alien has inhabited your body, at least your paddle, and nothing goes as planned?

Worse yet, it happens when your playing in a pickleball tournament!

One of my frequent partners Bill and I recently played in the Folsom “Pickle Palooza”. (Don’t you love the name?!) Derik Perez is the City of Folsom’s Recreation Supervisor and an avid pickleball player. He runs a top notch tourney. He and his team work hard to secure several event sponsors which mean extra goodies you don’t always see at other places.  Not only do players get  7-8 games, but Folsom’s best donuts for breakfast and a full lunch. The tee shirt is unique as Folsom does have another claim to fame besides a great pickleball tournament.  Throw in free chiropractic care for aching backs and 10-minute massages for the sore muscles created by all those pickleball games and you get an event that attracts some of the better players from around the area!

It’s the end of ski season, and even though my playing time has been limited, I was feeling optimistic the morning of the mixed doubles. Playing in our first event together the day prior, Denise and I fought through ups and downs to finish with bronze. Bill and I play together often and the way we played in the last few outings would be good enough to make it to the medal round.

Then we hit the courts! Our first couple of games were full of uncharacteristic mistakes. The unforced error monster found both of us at the same time! Generally, we gel pretty well and our communication is effective but not today!

An hour into play we were walking back to the table 0 and 2 with our hopes of a medal round quickly fading.

My half of the team needed to get back on track fast! Taking a cue from my days playing competitive golf, I analyzed the pickleball tournament to this point and looked for things that were immediately fixable.

How are you feeling physically?

I’d gotten a good night sleep, everything seemed normal, but in reality, I was tired and my performance was sluggish. Then the realization hit me, only one cup of coffee that morning. Most days I have at least three cups.  The role of caffeine in sports performance, while highly studied is still controversial. However, my days on the golf course taught me that we are creatures of habit and it’s best not to stray too far from one’s normal routine. Whatever you do on a regular day, do it exactly the same way on tournament days.

A side note when it comes to caffeine or anything else that may affect your athletic skills. If it takes a toll on your ability to play you shouldn’t cut it out completely just trim it to a level where you can perform.

How are you feeling mentally?

It was apparent by the number of easy shots hit into the net or sent sailing wide that I lacked focus.

In the last few years, essential oils have become one of my go-to remedies for a variety of ailments. It all started by experimenting with a blend called Unwind, containing lavender the “Swiss Army Knife” of essential oils, on my husband’s pillow in the hopes he would get a better night sleep. It worked!

Since then I’ve learned to use a few different oils for sore muscles, to ease tension and you guessed it lack of focus! A little dab of peppermint on the back of my neck behind my ears and under my nose improves my alertness.

On the battlefield, Keep it simple

Four-day golf tournaments taught me that my focus and swing would not be the same day in and day out. When faced with losing concentration I needed to stay in the moment and focus on one simple thing. In golf, it was trying to watch the club head strike the back of the ball. That would typically slow down my swing and help me keep the ball in play.

In pickleball, I get the same type of results by trying to watch the holes on the ball as it moves across the court and contacts my paddle.

Why are you there in the first place?

I started playing golf at age 5 and in the years since a considerable part of my life has been spent on the practice tee honing those skills. At times the drive and competitiveness from golf infiltrates pickleball. When that happens it helps to remember why I started playing in pickleball tournaments.

First, you get to meet a lot of new people, and once you played a few events, it becomes like old home week, and there’s this great group of people you look forward to seeing. Secondly, it’s an excellent way to see if my skills are improving. Thirdly, despite being an aging athlete, I still crave the added stress a competitive environment puts on my skills mentally and physically.

Keep it in perspective; I am not making a living off of this game. It reminds me of the old Cindy Lauper song “Girls just wanna have fun!”

As I was about to hit publish on this post, Laura Fenton Kovanda called. At the end of our conversation, I asked what she did when she was playing poorly during a pickleball tournament.

Like me, Laura has been competitive in sports other than pickleball for her entire life and brings that background to her pickleball. Unlike me, she is a 5.0 and one of the best over 50 players and selfishly I wanted to see if I could glean additional insight.

“First of all realize that it will happen to all of us. There are a couple of things that I do. I focus on keeping the ball in play. Get it over the net and go to the middle. Make the other team hit just one more shot. Don’t try to hit too many angled shots or do too much with the ball. Next, I try to slow way down. That usually helps me to keep the ball in play.’

Awesome! Now I have a couple more things to try when I am playing poorly because as Laura said, it’s going to happen to all of us!

Wait a minute, is there ever a bad day on the pickleball court? Perhaps not but it’s likely we could all agree that some are better than others.

What are some of the things you attempt to change when you’re not playing well? Put them in the comment section below.



CJ Johnson

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)