CJ Johnson Headshot
CJ Johnson
Tony Roig
Tony Roig

Finding Your Way Out of the Desert and Improving Your Pickleball Game

Are you ready to stop playing the same as you did yesterday?

I want to challenge you to think objectively about yourself and your game. Only then can I make accurate recommendations for you to adopt, and only if you are serious about improving your pickleball game.

And let’s be clear, I’m not talking about the mere “desire” to improve. What I’m describing is taking action to improve.

Here’s a forewarning, this article is filled with some “tough love” that players sometimes need to make a change. If you are not in the mood for this sort of discussion, I recommend skipping this piece.

In our last article, I shared my journey with you and concluded with these words:

My pickleball journey has been a series of mountains. Every time I crest the peak of the mountain I am climbing, I see another mountain waiting behind it. Another challenge, should I choose to accept it.

No matter what mountain you are currently climbing, know two things:

1. You can climb the mountain (sometimes you need some guidance – which CJ and I are happy to provide) and

2. As long as you want to continue climbing, there is always another mountain waiting for you on the other side of this one.

As we sit here, it is impossible to know where our pickleball journeys will take us. We may be playing each other in the Nationals Finals one day. Why not?

Navigating Through the Desert and improving your pickleball game

The picture of being on a mountain and having another mountain to climb on the other side resonated with many of you, including Steve. He posed the following question in response to our mountain analogy/metaphor:

“Tony, in your recent blog and podcast, you mentioned that there’s always another mountain beyond the one we’ve just climbed. True enough. What comes to mind, though, is the thought that after I reach the top of whatever mountain I am currently climbing, I may have to cross the desert to reach the next mountain. Now, this could get very philosophical/theological, and we don’t have to go too deep in that direction. Still, it would be interesting to hear your thoughts on crossing the desert to reach the next mountain (Reprinted with Steve’s permission).

The desert question has made me think about what is perhaps a more complex landscape to navigate than simply mountain to next mountain. As Steve pointed out, there can often be deserts between these mountains. This flat space between mountains can cause us to sometimes grow frustrated with our game and apparent lack of improvement. It can also cause us to sometimes lose our way and end up heading in the wrong direction.

When CJ and I hear from a pickleball player who has become frustrated or feels stuck because they have reached a plateau in their development, it is as if that player is stranded in the desert between the mountains without a compass to get them to their next productive challenge. They end up walking up and down the sandy desert dunes with no direction to their game.

Based on what we see out there, this ends up being the reality for many players (I warned you this is a tough love article).

At the risk of having too many metaphors/analogies, these players end up in a groundhog’s day pickleball cycle. Each time they go out to play, they do the exact same things as the last time, expecting a different result. Over and over. They are no longer making any progress in their game – despite wanting to and often even working at their games. Their game remains stagnant and, sometimes, even backslides relative to their peers.

So – to answer Steve and possibly you, how do we find our way out of the desert we find ourselves in from time to time?

The answer is orienteering (definition of orienteering: “the action of determining one’s position correctly”).

The reason you are stranded in the desert is because you cannot find your way. You need to know where you are in the desert and how to find your way out of the desert. Only then can you find the next mountain to climb.

The Foundation of Your Game

If you have been wandering in the desert for a bit and are still looking for your next mountain, it is time for some help. Think of it as empowering yourself to navigate the terrain you are traversing.

In other words, you need a guide who can give you the direction you need. Better yet, you can work to learn how to become your own guide. By learning to be your own guide, you will have the tools to help you navigate this game – not just today but for the rest of your pickleball journey.

And here is some additional tough love: many of you reading this article will not seek the help you need because you will incorrectly conclude that the guidance I will describe below is “beneath” where you are in the game.

Here’s the reality CJ and I discovered about two years ago: we cannot use the term “fundamentals” in our videos and articles.

Why can we not use such an apt descriptor for our teachings? Is it because the term does not correctly describe the sum and substance of what we are teaching? No. “Fundamentals” are at the heart of everything we teach – these are, after all, the keys to playing amazing pickleball. (the keys to playing ANY sport well)

We cannot use the term “fundamentals” because many (if not most) pickleball players will tune us out after we use that term. The moment we say “fundamentals,” a good number of players think, “that is not for me – that is for beginners.” This erroneous thinking is hugely detrimental to a player’s ability to progress.

Players Lost in the Desert

I will share some real-life examples that occurred with players I recently played with and have known for many years. These players range from skill levels 3.5 to 4.5. I was at a few different open plays and mixing into different groups.

Two players had mechanical errors in their games that were easy to diagnose and correct. The errors were repetitive and were simple trajectory errors. You could work backward to determine the flaw in their stroke mechanics causing the error.

Neither player had any idea of the source of the problem, much less how to fix it. They were stranded in the desert with no way of getting out. But the thing is, not only were the problems easy to diagnose and fix; these players were more than capable of doing it themselves. Provided they had the requisite tools to do so.

If you are not sure where to find the tools, they reside Inside the Pickleball System that CJ and I put together. There they sit – available for any player who joins the class – waiting to be learned and used.

In addition to fixing the mechanical flaws in these two players’ games, the same process can be applied to correct strategy errors and improving your pickleball game.

When I played with another group of experienced players who have been playing as long, if not longer than I have, the game was extremely lopsided in favor of my team. To be clear, I was not hitting shots above their level. The game was lopsided because our opponents made the most basic mistakes in their positioning: not making it to the NVZ line as returners.

This strategic flaw was repeated again and again with no recognition of the pattern by any of the other three players on the court, including my partner (another seasoned player).

This “simple” error is corrected in Step 3 of the Return of Serve Wellness check inside the Pickleball System. With all due respect, there is no reason why players with the combined experience of these players should not have immediately identified this “basic” error and the devastating effect it was having on their game.

Here is MORE tough love: What holds these players (and hundreds like them) back from gaining the knowledge they need to navigate out of the desert?

An erroneous belief that a program like the Pickleball System is not for them – it is just “too basic.”

If you want to make meaningful – lifelong improvements, you must develop a mastery of the fundamentals of the game.

Just like building a house, you start with a foundation. Then come the walls. But they don’t go up all at once. You begin with the first row of blocks at the bottom and then another and another. You need to build your pickleball game the same way, using fundamentals.

The majority of players lack a foundation for improving their pickleball game.

As a result, they get stuck and cannot advance further. A fundamentally sound approach to pickleball will allow you to grow without ever compromising the foundation that your growth is built upon.

I am sure there are ways you can gain the knowledge in the Pickleball System without joining a class. You can take lessons from an instructor in your area, provided that the instructor is taking the time to teach you what the instructor knows. If the instructor is fixing the problems for you, you are not gaining the knowledge to navigate the desert yourself. Every time you lose your way out, you will need the instructor to point the direction to you. What happens when you lose your way in the middle of a game, and that instructor isn’t there? You need to be able to orienteer.

There are better ways to navigate unknown terrain than this piecemeal approach.

Would it not be better to learn how to navigate the obstacles and paths you are sure to find along your way? Learning sound fundamentals and understanding why things are as they are is what allows you to find your own way. Classes where an instructor simply tells you to hit the shot a certain way will not equip you to walk your path.

Another often relied-on source of knowledge that does not end with you knowing how to navigate your way is YouTube.

CJ and I are fans of the platform as a great way to share a tip or three about some part of the game with thousands of players at a time.

But YouTube is not a substitute for a complete program like the THE Pickleball System. If you were to watch every single YouTube video out there (and there are thousands), you would undoubtedly be more lost than when you started. It is just another piecemeal approach.

Conclusion – Finding Your Way Out of the Desert And FINALLY Improving Your Pickleball Game

Let’s tie it all together:

    1. There are times when you will find yourself in a pickleball desert. You will feel frustrated and stuck.
    2. To get out of the desert and continue your improvement as a player, you will need to know how to navigate out of the desert.
    3. Navigation begins with a solid foundation for your game. These much maligned “fundamentals” are not below you as a player. The best players in the game rely on fundamentals to play amazing pickleball.
    4. To master your own navigation, you will need to acquire the knowledge of pickleball that will allow you to diagnose your game and make the appropriate adjustments. For example, knowing your objective when you are on the serve side will allow you to solve the puzzle much better than if you have no idea what you are trying to do out there (other than win the rally, which is not an actionable objective).

The real question for you, then, is:

What is your plan to acquire the knowledge that will empower you to navigate your own course as you continue your pickleball journey?

If you are not sure, consider giving The Pickleball System a shot. The System is a class designed to give you the navigation tools you have been lacking so far. We are so confident in the System that we offer a no-questions-asked money back guarantee.

If you still are not sure you need the System but are ready to learn more, consider taking an introductory course

You will learn several of the most important concepts in pickleball. These concepts will transform how you think about and play the game. These concepts will start you down the path to becoming your own navigator. You will also learn more about the System and have the chance to register for our next System class.

Stop floundering alone out in the desert. It is time to gain the knowledge to let you play your best pickleball.

See you in class.

6 Comments

  1. John A. Rogers on January 1, 2023 at 12:14 pm

    CJ and aAToney,

    I greatly appreciate all the helpful information you provide. I am interested in your class. Are these lives classes at a set day/time or do you provide handouts/videos to watch at one’s leisure?

    Please advise…Thanks

    John

    • CJ Johnson on January 4, 2023 at 8:06 pm

      Hi John, the Pickleball System is both. There are recorded videos, handouts as well as live coaching classes. If you can’t attend the class lives (no need to attend the classes live they are recorded). You can get all the information you need at https://wearepickleball.com/system/

  2. Kelly Patterson McGrath on January 1, 2023 at 5:33 pm

    This! It makes total sense and it works. I learned to play initially without mastering the fundamentals properly, without understand the “why” of shot placement and so much more (and I spent a lot on lessons).
    The Pickleball System has provided me with the tools and techiques that I can action immediately on the court and has made me a better player in a very short period of time. The information is provided and taught in many different ways that appeals to different learning styles. I still have mountains to climb, but I feel confident that I know what I need to change to improve – and that is very empowering.

  3. Mayruth Guenter on January 2, 2023 at 1:35 pm

    I have enjoyed all your emails and free webinars. I have learned so much. I LOVE pickleball. I’m 71 and always enjoyed sports so was “over the moon” at finding a game i can play and a game at which i can work at to get better. I love the analogy of the conquering the next mountain. I have been climbing my particular mountain for quite a while. Partly because of my age and partly because i live in a small community where we only have outdoor pickleball weather for maybe 5 months. Anyway, my mountain is the 5th shot drop. It is so crucial to improving. I have had some improvements so i know what it can do if i get consistent at it. Thanks for all you do for us.

  4. Troy Smith on January 14, 2023 at 1:00 pm

    I am having trouble getting online? Could you share the website address again.

    Troy Smith
    troydeansmith@gmail.com

    • CJ Johnson on January 15, 2023 at 3:09 am

      Hi Troy, I think you mean the link for your course. https://oct22course.wearepickleball.com If you have difficulty remembering it you can access it under the members tab at the top of this site.

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