Pickleball mindset
By: CJ Johnson | January 5, 2024 |

Attitude Adjustment: How Can a Shift in Thinking Boost Your Pickleball Abilities?

Just like a pickleball game filled with its good shots, interesting line calls, and unpredictable bounces, my Peloton journey was speckled with life’s complexities, surprise detours, and the influence of external factors – perhaps that’s a reflection of what you have experienced in your pickleball journey.

A few years ago, I set a New Year’s goal to increase the number of minutes I rode my Peloton Bike from 8,000 in 2020 to 10,000 in 2021.

(If you want to hear a few details of the story, here’s the link.)

I’m happy to report I did it!

Yes, on December 31, 2023, two years after I set the initial goal, I clocked a total of 10,201 minutes.

 You read that correctly. It took me two years to reach a single yearly goal.

In my decades as a professional coach and athlete, I’ve learned that progress is never a straight line. It’s filled with triumphs and setbacks. To reach your goals, you must be willing to adapt, step out of your comfort zone, and push your limits.

This brings us to a crucial point: why do so many pickleball players struggle to improve their games?

Most pickleball players fall into one of two categories.

    1. Those new to sports.
    2. Those who have never engaged in a sport to the extent that they have pickleball.

That means for many pickleball players, the athletic journey is unfamiliar territory. They’re not acquainted with the skills needed to learn a sport – the give and take, the constant adjustments, and the art of steering their progress for the best results. It’s like learning to navigate a new rec play group: which courts should you play on, what is the paddle rotation, and how many stay on and go off.

As the new year rolls in, I know many of you are setting sights on improving your pickleball game. It’s that season of fresh starts and ambitious goals. But before you leap into action, there’s a foundational step that’s not often discussed and too often skipped. I believe it is the reason most players struggle with their improvement journey. They fail to get their mindset right.

Successful Athletes have a Growth Mindset.

Let’s explore a concept that might just be the secret sauce you need to transform your play – a growth mindset. This game-changing perspective comes from Carol Dweck’s insightful book, a must-read for anyone looking to enhance their life, not just their sports skills.

In a nutshell, think of a growth mindset like stepping onto the court ready to learn something new every game. It’s about believing your skills can grow stronger with a bit of sweat and practice. Every challenge is a chance to up your game. Yes, the growth minded players see mistakes as a chance to improve.

On the flip side, a fixed mindset is like thinking your athletic ability is set in stone and you can never improve because you are not talented enough or don’t have a sports background. You are scared of flubbing shots and are often fixated on what your partner thinks of your play. In the fixed mindset, players see mistakes as a reason to beat themselves up and feel down about their game.

Mistakes? We all make them, but…

For growth minded players, mistakes are not defeats but powerful coaching moments, guiding them on what to improve next. This mindset fosters resilience and adaptability, essential qualities in an athlete. It encourages players to see every serve, volley, and shot they make in a pickleball game not just as a moment in a game for success or failure but as an opportunity for personal growth.

For players with a fixed mindset, mistakes on the pickleball court are like personal fouls. They see them as evidence of their shortcomings, not as chances to get better. Instead of learning moments, these blunders feel like dead ends, telling them what they can’t do rather than what they can improve. This mindset can lead to a fear of taking risks or trying new strategies in the game. It’s like playing not to lose rather than playing to win and grow. Each error, instead of being a stepping stone to greater skill, becomes a stumbling block, reinforcing the belief that their abilities are just not up to par.

When it comes to your pickleball game, what mindset do you have?

It’s important to note that we can be a combination of both mindsets and that mindsets can be changed.

Kicking off the journey to get to the right mindset to improve begins with understanding where you currently stand. To get a clear picture of your pickleball mindset as it is right now, consider these questions – they’re your starting line for this powerful transformation.

    1. When I miss a shot, do I see it as my lack of ability or an area to improve?
    2. How do I react to playing against stronger opponents – with excitement for learning or with apprehension?
    3. Do I avoid new strategies for fear of failure, or am I eager to experiment and learn?
    4. When I lose a game, do I feel discouraged about my skills or motivated to practice more?
    5. Do I welcome constructive feedback from qualified coaches, or do I take it as a personal critique?
    6. Am I open to reviewing my play and practice sessions on video, or do I feel reluctant to see my performance?

If you want to do your game a favor, spend some time reflecting on these questions. They’ll shed light on your mindset and how it influences your approach to pickleball improvement.

Understanding whether you have a growth or fixed mindset can pinpoint areas in your game and mindset that are ripe for improvement, ultimately shaping a more skilled and strategic player on the court.

Adopting a Growth Mindset For Pickleball

Now that you’re familiar with the differences between growth and fixed mindsets, here are some strategies to foster or create a growth mindset in your pickleball game:

Now that you’re familiar with the differences between growth and fixed mindsets, here are some strategies to foster a growth mindset in your pickleball game:

    1. Set Learning Goals, Not Performance Goals: Focus on actionable metrics over wins and losses. Measure your progress by tracking specific, actionable aspects of your game, such as improved return of serve accuracy or a decreased number of errors on the return side, rather than solely focusing on match outcomes. This approach encourages a growth mindset by valuing skill development over just the final score.
    1. Embrace Challenges: Step out of your comfort zone by trying different playing styles or strategies in your games. Consider each new approach as an opportunity to learn and grow in your pickleball skills.
    1. Learn from Feedback: Welcome constructive criticism from coaches or fellow players. See it as valuable advice to improve your game, not as personal criticism. A Word of Caution: Being open to feedback is essential for a growth mindset, but not all advice is equally useful. Value insights from trusted coaches and players who understand your journey, and use their constructive criticism to refine your game while being cautious of unsolicited or unfounded advice that may not align with your path. (Not sure how to differentiate? This video will help.
    1. Celebrate Effort, Not Just Results: Acknowledge the hard work and effort you put into your game, not just the victories or points scored.
    1. Reflect on Mistakes: After each game, take time to think about what went well and what didn’t. Use mistakes as a roadmap for what to work on next. After every practice or play session, I like to use a concept from the book Sports Psychology for Dummies called 3-2-1. What were 3 things I did well today? What were 2 things I learned about myself? What 1 thing am I going to do with this information in the next 24 hours?
    1. Stay Curious and Embrace the Infinite Journey: Understand that the path to proficiency in any sport, including pickleball, is an endless journey. Regardless of your current level, there’s always room to grow and evolve. Maintain an open mind and a keen sense of curiosity.
    1. Practice Persistence: Understand that improvement takes time. Stay persistent, even when progress seems slow. Improvement in pickleball isn’t going to happen overnight. It’s like a long, thrilling rally – it takes time, patience, and relentless effort. Some days, you will feel like you’re acing every shot and other days, it might seem like you’re just chasing the ball. The key? Keep at it with passion and resilience. Every practice, every game, no matter how small, adds up. Think of it as investing in your pickleball future – the payoff is that moment when you realize you’re playing better than ever before. Remember, the sweetest victories on the court are earned, not given.


Just like my Peloton journey, where I needed two full years to hit that ambitious 10,000-minute goal, your pickleball path is similarly winding and filled with its own set of challenges and triumphs. It’s less about an 11-0 win and more about embracing the twists and turns of each game. Straight lines to success? Rarely. It’s more of a winding path peppered with highs, lows, and learning curves. This is where a growth mindset kicks in. It turns those oops moments into oh-yes lessons and challenges into chances to level up your game.

The beauty of pickleball is there’s no final destination, just an endless road of improvement. Remember, in pickleball, just as in life, there’s no ultimate endpoint, just a continuous journey of growth and improvement. So, stay curious, keep pushing, and cherish each moment on the court – every serve, every volley, every game is a step forward in your endless journey of personal and athletic growth. Let’s play on and grow on!

The Better Pickleball Academy offers a range of courses meticulously designed to enhance your game. Whether you’re a beginner looking to learn the basics or an experienced player aiming to refine your skills, we have something for everyone. Our expert coaches are committed to helping you achieve your pickleball goals. Check out our academy and take your first step towards improving your pickleball game today!

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)