Maybe it’s all the time spent playing under the Olympic rings at Squaw Valley or maybe it’s the upcoming Engage Golden State Championships—but I thought it would be great to share some tips that can help every pickleball player train and compete like an Olympian. Now don’t worry, this tip isn’t about working yourself to physical exhaustion, it’s about the tools used to develop mental toughness in Olympians. Specifically, I want to make you aware of these super useful tools: Self Talk, Visualization, and Arousal Control.
Do you ever find yourself getting frustrated on the court (and you’re lying if you tell me you don’t)? It might be a surprise to you, but what you’re saying in your head (or uncontrollably out of your mouth) really does affect your performance.
Let me illustrate. Recently, my serve was suffering from a case of the yips and I was lost in my head every time I was up to serve. I was thinking about the last serve I hit out, what I needed to avoid doing, fearing before I even hit the ball that the next one was going out. So with all of these thoughts going through my head, what do you think happened? Yep, another serve out of bounds.
So you might imagine a change in self-talk might change my outcome?! What happens when my inner dialogue is focused on the many great serves I’ve hit, to be confident that the next serve is going in, and talk through the key points of a successful serve? Undoubtley, my serves started going in. It was almost magical, by changing the focus of my attention I was able to change the physical outcome.
Now surely, if you’ve watched the Olympics, then you’ve seen the lugers and bobsled drivers mentally weaving their way down the course with their eyes closed. Did you know that with enough practice visualization, your muscles will react as if they were actually executing the movements you’re imagining? With the body only able to handle so much physical exertion, you can see how Olympic level athletes continue to hone their competitive edge while resting their bodies.
So what does this have to do with pickleball you might ask? Well, that’s really up to your imagination ;-). Seriously speaking though, visualization can help you learn new skills and shots while your body rests. For example’s sake, let’s say you read the previous tip of the week and you want to start hitting that deep, soft return of serve so you can dominate the kitchen line. If you want to make the shot a natural part of your arsenal, this is where you can use visualization at home to imagine the ball being served, you moving into position, and then making the perfect stroke. I guarantee if you visualize at home, then you’ll pick up the skill that much quicker on the courts.
No, no, not that kind of arousal control! In this case, we are talking about your levels of anxiety, alertness, and excitement. Funny as it may seem, everyone has their own optimal combination of these factors. Some players play their best completely relaxed and calm, some play better with a tense anxiety, and others play their best while being complete goofballs. The key to arousal control being observant to when you play your best. Once you know how you play your best pickleball, you can use simple techniques to create your peak state. For those that play best when they are calm, they can use deep breathes to calm and relax their physical state. On the other hand, those that need to be amped up to play their best can use short, quick successive breaths and/or music to get psyched up. Again, the key that Olympians have unlocked is knowing themselves and knowing what they need to perform their best. No matter what, next time you see an athlete warming up with their headphones, you’ll know what they’re doing—gettting optimally aroused.
Where your attention goes, energy flows.
So you make the choice, focus on the negatives or focus on the positives. Whatever you choose, at least you know that you have control of getting worse or getting better.