Pickleball Points: Be a perfectly positive pickle

Now that we have started 2019, let’s get off on the right foot and make pickleball a positive experience for yourself and others. In fact, if you hope to make any improvements, you first need a positive personal attitude — otherwise, your efforts are wasted.

It has recently come to my attention that in 2018 some beginners were intimated by more experienced, “better,” players who ridiculed how they hit the ball. I haven’t seen this myself, but I would bet you that those intimidating players are not “better” players. “Better” is a relative term that sometimes gets embellished as it bounces around and gets enhanced in the brain.

We can’t change human nature, but if you reach out to me or one of our outstanding Delaware Pickleball Ambassadors, we can introduce you to another, friendlier, group, because the vast majority playing pickleball are indeed wonderful folks. Even with a lifetime in sports, I have never experienced any other sport with such a high percentage of great people.

And, oh, heck — while I am housekeeping, there are also complaints that a few players are so competitive that they yell at or intimidate their doubles partners. We had plenty more of them in tennis, and I always tried to use logic to appeal to these overly competitive players.

Think about it rationally. There are only two reasons your partner is making errors. They either haven’t learned yet how to hit the ball properly, or they cannot execute their shots because they are very nervous because of the competition or you.

If they don’t know how to hit the ball properly, there is zero chance they are going to learn in the next 20 minutes of your match. If, on the other hand, if they make errors because they are nervous, then yelling at them for inadequate performance will only lead to their making more errors.

If you want to win, then positive reinforcement is about the only thing that is going to motivate them to a higher level of performance. Maybe the better player should figure out a strategy that might reduce the number of balls hit to their partner.

Speaking of motivation — a team member from college became a very well know motivational speaker and life coach for some of America’s most famous corporations. His name is Dr. Roger Flax, and Roger and I both played tennis at the University of Maryland when it was in the Atlantic Coast Conference.

We played universities like the University of Virginia and University of Carolina, steeped in tennis history with great players and teams. We went undefeated one year against all of them, and I guarantee we did not accomplish that by being negative!

When attending the U.S. Tennis Open several years ago, I asked Roger if he had any printed materials I might share with our pickleball community. He called recently and told me about his upcoming book, “No Stopping You: How to Win the Game of Life,” which is expected this spring.

At the conclusion of each chapter, he summarizes with “FlaxSeeds of Success.”

Here are some tips Roger offered for being a positive pickle:

(1) The dream is not to become the “Federer, Agassi, Laver or Gonzales” of pickleball; it’s to have fun.

(2) Set a goal for each match, called the “FEWW” goal. Strive for...

F=Fun, E=Exercise, WW= Win/win: Both sides win… everybody had a great time on the courts!

(3) Avoid the word “you” when pointing out a mistake or mis-shot your partner made. For example, instead of saying, “You didn’t follow through with your stroke,” say “Try swinging low-to-high with the follow-through, and watch what happens.”

Critique the action, not the person. The word “you” can be toxic and irritating to your partner!

Use the PEN approach after the match, for giving constructive feedback: State your purpose [P] on the constructive point. Give an example [E]. Then briefly and non-threateningly state the negative [N] result. While doing this, don’t use the word “you,” which makes it a personal attack versus a constructive moment.

(4) Focus on the next point, not the last. When you lose a close point, take a deep breath, quickly analyze what you did incorrectly, and move on to the next point, dispelling any thoughts of the previous one.

(5) Watch your non-verbal signals when your partner misses a shot. Body language messages can damage your camaraderie and fun as much as verbal.

(6) Don’t take yourself too seriously; take getting better more seriously!

(7) Communicate, communicate, communicate. It’s a small court, with four people running all over it. The more you communicate, the better your team does… and the better you play! Silence is not golden.... but should be positive.

(8) Lessons learned: Whether you won or loss, think of one lesson learned from the match that you can take forward.

Be a perfectly positive pickle in 2019.

Vaughn “The Baron” Baker is a Senior Olympics gold-medalist in pickleball, and is public relations director for the First State Pickleball Club (FSPC) and captain of the Ocean View Crew pickleball community. He spent his career working with top tennis professionals while working for Wilson Sporting Goods and introducing the Prince Tennis Racket and Wimbledon Tennis Lines. For more information, visit PickleballCoast.com.


By Vaughn Baker

Special to the Coastal Point