7 Pickleball Improvement Sins

I don't mean to sound like an alarmist, but it's heartbreaking to see so many pickleball players, bursting with potential, stumble into the same learning traps. These missteps cost them precious time on the path to becoming the player they desire to be.

Let me clarify from the get-go—it's not on them.

Pickleball has this unique appeal that turns casual players into "pickleball addicts" in no time at all. It's not uncommon for newcomers to morph into regulars, playing 2-3 hours a day, often 4-5 days a week.

Now, many of these players—maybe even you—have never played another sport as adults. And if they did, most of them didn't have the passion and determination to get better at those other hobbies as they do pickleball.

As a result, the majority of players simply don't grasp the ins and outs of how to actually get better at a sport.

In my three-and-a-half decades as a professional athlete, I've picked up invaluable insights into improving athletic performance. In this guide, I'll shed light on the typical setbacks you might be encountering and help you maintain a steady trajectory toward your pickleball objectives.

CJ (and Tony)

Improvement Sin #1:

Chasing the Shiny Penny

You’re pumped to improve your game, and that's awesome. That usually leads to the temptation to try to learn all the shots you need to play at one time. Players see advanced players doing it, and think, "I need that in my arsenal, and I need it now." As tempting as that may be, that’s NOT the fast track to improvement. Let's talk about why "Chasing the Shiny Penny" will actually slow down your progress.

The Problem in Detail

  • Overwhelm: So, you remember that time you decided to get in shape and tried to do every imaginable exercise in the first week? How'd that go? Exactly. Trying to learn all the shots you need at once is just as counterproductive.
  • Lack of Focus: Imagine you're juggling. The more balls you add, the more likely you're going to drop one, right? Same goes for pickleball strokes—serves, volleys, overheads, lobs, etc. It's better to juggle one or two balls well than to drop five or six.
  • Comparison Trap: You watch those advanced players and think, "I've got to learn all those strokes to be that good." Remember, some of them have played pickleball or other racket sports for years.  Trying to catch up to them in a month is like trying to go from couch potato to marathon runner in a month.

The Reality Check

We are going to let you in on a little secret: You don't need every stroke in the book to be competitive. (Spoiler alert: you don’t, but we’ll talk more about that during the miniseries.)

The Takeaway

So here's the game plan: It’s crucial to know what yields the best results the fastest. Once you understand the shots you need for your game, focus on them one at a time. Once you can repeat a stroke consistently during practice and then in a game, move on to the next set of skills. This focused approach ensures that you're really learning. Trust us, focusing on one or two things at a time is the quickest route to becoming the pickleball player you want to be.

“Focus like a laser, not a flashlight.” - Micheal Jordan - Basketball Legend

Improvement Sin #2:

“Rolodex” Approach to Strategy

Many players approach pickleball with the mentality of plotting out moves for each and every possible situation they might encounter on the court. We are constantly asked, what shot should I hit when (fill in the blank)?

Players think they need to compile a Rolodex of pickleball strategies. Let’s delve into why this "Rolodex Approach" can get you stuck rather than ahead.

The Problem in Detail

  • Variables: The sheer number of variables, things like where you are on the court, where your opponents are, what your strengths are, what their weaknesses are, etc., make it impossible to create strategies for every single situation.
  • Lack of Adaptability: Even if you could develop a Rolodex of strategies, how would you adapt on the fly, which is crucial in a dynamic game like pickleball?
  • Missing the Big Picture: You might be so focused on the minutiae that you miss the overarching principles that could guide you in any situation.

The Reality Check

If we look at other sports, we find that the best athletes operate within a framework that allows them to adapt strategies on the fly. Consider basketball: Teams have offensive and defensive sets, but the game is too dynamic to script every play. Understanding the framework gives players the ability to read the game in real-time and adapt their strategies accordingly.

The same goes for pickleball. The beauty lies in its ever-changing nature; no two points or matches are the same. You can't script your way through it.

The Takeaway

While it might be tempting to think that there’s a detailed game plan for every possible scenario in pickleball, there isn’t. Instead, work on mastering the fundamental strategic principles that are derived from understanding the framework of the sport. Once you get that down, you'll find it much easier to navigate any scenario that comes your way.

Improvement Sin #3:

Ignoring the Mind-Body Connection

How much attention are you paying to the mental and physical aspects of the game? Overlooking this mind-body connection can be a serious stumbling block on your path to pickleball improvement. Accomplished players know that a sharp mind and a resilient body are as important as mastering the stroke.

The Problem in Detail

  • Mental Fatigue: When your mind's drained, you'll find it hard to focus or make those split-second decisions that can win or lose a point.
  • Physical Exhaustion: Skill is great, but what good is it if your body quits on you in the middle of a game?
  • Lack of Stamina: You probably don’t go out to play one or two games. Our guess is you play for several hours. For most players, it's a marathon, not a sprint. You need the stamina to last through multiple games.

The Reality Check

If your goal is to improve, then it's time to broaden your approach. Think about this: Athletes (yes, you are an athlete; what else would you call someone who plays multiple times a week for hours at a time) don’t just need technical and strategic skills. To perform their best, players need to be mentally and physically resilient.

The Takeaway

Focus on more than your paddle skills. Incorporate mindset training to boost your mental focus and regular physical conditioning to build your stamina and endurance. By giving equal attention to your mental and physical well-being, you'll be on your way to becoming not just a good pickleball player but a well-rounded athlete.

“Baseball is ninety percent mental and the other half is physical” - Yogi Berra - Baseball Legend

Improvement Sin #4:

Distractions—A Dead End

Distractions are one of the sneakiest Silent Progress Killers lurking on your journey to becoming a better pickleball player.  Whether it's fretting over the score, worrying about your partner’s opinion, or being sidetracked by the self-appointed pickleball guru, or the game on the next court, distractions can lead you down a dead-end street.

The Problem in Detail

  • Scattered Focus, Scattered Results: When you're distracted, you're not fully engaged, and that can mess up your performance.
  • The Pickleball Whisperer: Ever find yourself more focused on that person who can't stop giving "tips" than on your own game? Yep, that's a distraction.
  • Jumping Around: Moving from one shot to the next without giving yourself enough time to effectively change your technique. You can't master a new serve or finesse your volley if you don't give these changes the dedicated practice they deserve.
  • Too Many to Mention: This section could go on and on and on. There are so many things that can become a distraction. What’s one of the things that distracts you?

The Reality Check

You end up going nowhere fast. Distractions are like trying to drive with your foot on both the gas and the brake—you won't get far. These seemingly small interruptions can hijack your focus and your fun. And let's be honest, if you're not having fun, why are we even out here?

The Takeaway

Learning to manage distractions is pivotal. It'll help you not just improve your game but also fully enjoy it. Remember, pickleball isn’t just about physical skill; it's also about mental discipline. Mastering your focus is an integral part of becoming a well-rounded player.


Improvement Sin #5:

The DIY Approach to Improvement

Alright, let's talk about coaching. Many folks get into pickleball by relying on free tips from friends, fellow players, or online resources. Often, that sets the stage for many players to think that they can go it alone. Here's the thing: to seriously improve, a great coach offers an invaluable perspective that can fast-track your progress, helping you navigate the nuanced layers of the sport more effectively.

The Problem in Detail

  • Limited Self-Awareness: No matter how self-reflective you are, it’s difficult for most of us to objectively look at our strengths and weaknesses.
  • Information Overload: The web is loaded with content, but do you have the time to sift through it all to find what you really need?
  • Is the Information Legit?: How do you know if that "game-changing tip" is legit, complete, or even applicable to your game right now?
  • Lack of Coaching Experience: Let's not forget that coaching is a craft in itself. The best mentors learn from others and continually refine their methods. Without this expertise, you might think you're on the right track but could be missing out on the nuances that only a seasoned coach would understand.

The Reality Check

Going it alone might seem empowering, but it's often the slow road filled with unnecessary detours. You might think you're doing great until you hit a wall. Trust us, the right coach can help you climb over that wall much faster and smarter.

The Takeaway

The role of a coach isn't to replace your effort but to magnify it. Coaches are like cheat sheets to leveling up your game, and who doesn't want to level up faster and smarter?

“A good coach will make his players see what they can be rather than what they are.” – Ara Parseghian - Legendary Player and Notre Dame Football Coach

Improvement Sin #6:

The Mythical "Magic Shot"

Many pickleball players have this unfounded belief that there exists a single, magical shot that will skyrocket them instantly from where they are today to where they desire to be. This is a tantalizing notion, but unfortunately, it's a myth. The truth is that proficiency comes from mastering the basics, not from discovering some secret weapon.

The Problem in Detail

  • Wishful Thinking: The belief that there's one golden ticket of a shot that will solve all your pickleball problems is not just wishful thinking; it's a distraction from the stuff that actually makes a difference.
  • The Illusion: When you are chasing the magic shot, or worse yet, jumping from one magic shot to the next, you get led further and further away from the shots and skills that actually will improve your game.
  • A Time Waster: The magic shot is a mirage that leads you away from what you should be focusing on -  mastering the fundamentals.

The Reality Check

You don’t need fancy shots. Whether you're just starting out or have been playing for years, pickleball is fundamentally the same game. What separates the pros from the novices isn't a secret cache of trick shots. Nope, it's the relentless, consistent execution of the basics at a high level.

The Takeaway

If you find yourself in the rabbit hole of searching for that one magical move, it's time for a reality check. Refocus on mastering the fundamentals. That's where the true magic resides. The real key to pickleball greatness isn't in some elusive trick shot; it's in executing the basics flawlessly, time and time again.


Improvement Sin #7:

The Myth of "Just Playing"

Many players mistakenly believe that just stepping onto the court day after day will morph them into better players, and it’s easy to understand why. When we first start playing, time on the court is exactly what we need to get familiar with the game. While initial improvements often come from playing alone, there comes a point when playing alone just isn't enough to level up your game.

The Problem in Detail

  • Lack of Targeted Practice: When you're just playing, you're not focusing on improving specific skills or techniques.
  • Missing Repetitions: A game doesn’t offer the repetitive practice needed to genuinely improve in particular areas.
  • Divided Attention: During a game, your focus is spread across multiple aspects like offense, defense, and reading your opponent, just to name a few, rather than honing individual skills.

The Reality Check

When NBA player Steph Curry, arguably the best three-point shooter in basketball today and perhaps the best of all time, wanted to improve his 3-point shooting, he didn't just play more games. He devoted countless hours to taking the same shot from the same spot over and over again. This type of focused repetition is what ultimately transformed him into the lethal shooter he is today.

We often share this Bruce Lee quote to help players understand the importance of repetition. “I fear not the man who has practiced 10,000 kicks once, but I fear the man who has practiced one kick 10,000 times.”

The Takeaway

If you are going to change your technique or learn a new skill, you need repetition. The path to consistency is repetition. Most amateurs practice until they get it right. Pros practice until they can’t get it wrong. Repetition and intentionality are your best friends here. Sure, games are fun and can even offer a quick ego boost, but true improvement requires a more methodical approach.

“I fear not the man who has practiced 10,000 kicks once, but I fear the man who has practiced one kick 10,000 times.” - Bruce Lee - Martial Artist

Want to Avoid These Performance Sins?

Show up to the Miniseries starting on September 9th.

Understand a framework to help you demystify strategy

Properly prioritize the shots that are actually affecting your play

See pickleball in a way you’ve never seen before

Get focused on what matters most to your game

Gain the tools to lose fewer points and win more games

Eliminate frustration and confusion

Learn to Solve the Pickleball Puzzle

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