CJ Johnson Headshot
CJ Johnson
Tony Roig
Tony Roig

Make Pickleball Fun Again

Are you finding that pickleball has become less fun for you than it once was?

I have experienced this in my journey and recently have heard from many players that their relationship with the game has diminished. For example, a friend told me, “I do not feel like I’m having fun anymore. I do not want to lose pickleball.”

It seems to happen after the first couple of years of play. Some of it may be a natural process because the sport is no longer new – it has lost that mystery that is normal when we discover a thing for the first time. But some of it, I suspect, may be the result of other factors, some of which we have control over.

In this post, I discuss several potential causes keeping players from feeling the same sort of joy or excitement when playing pickleball. I also share some thoughts about each in the hope that they might provide a perspective or tool to help you get past that hurdle and make pickleball fun for you again!

The list is not intended to be exhaustive. It is compiled from personal experience as well as my conversations with several players. If we missed anything in there, please let us know at Tony@WeArePickleball.com or CJ@WeArePickleball.com. We want this to be a constructive conversation about optimizing your relationship with pickleball.

How do you make pickleball fun again?!

Internal Obstacles

First, let’s explore internal obstacles. These obstacles belong to us and are such that we should generally have more control over them.

I cannot get better – I am stuck

I wanted to start with this one because I suspect this is much more common than we may even realize.

The obstacle presents like this:

      • I have been playing for years
      • I’m not getting any better
      • I’ve taken lessons or gone to camps, and yet I am still not getting better
      • My friends have gotten better but not me

Or some version of the above.

All of these can lead to frustration. Why should you continue to play a game when you are simply unable to improve in it – to get to where you want as a player.

I would suggest that this will be most common in players who have not yet developed strong 4.0 skills. Strong 4.0 players are able to play the game on any court with any group of players, even pro players (not saying the 4.0 will win, just that they can play on the court).

Thus, 4.0 is a sort of acceptable level of improvement. Once there, a player can shift into cruise control and just enjoy playing. The player will not:

make as many silly mistakes and will generally feel confident and comfortable on the court.

win every game but will be “in” (competitive) the games that are played.

feel out of place or blown off the court in any situation.

Let’s explore the underlying premise of the obstacle: frustration from a lack of improvement up to the acceptable 4.0 level.

Is this obstacle simply too high to be overcome? Is it a lost cause? Or is it attainable, requiring some focused work and study of the game but attainable in any event?

I hope that you answered that it is attainable because, for 99% of us (you included), a 4.0 level of play is indeed attainable.

Will all of us look the same as 4.0s? the answer to that is “no.” But we can all play at a 4.0 level.

To continue your improvement, you first need to take a step back from the game. For example, say you are used to playing three or more times a week. Maybe keep the one that you really enjoy going to for now and step back from the others.

Once you do that, re-engage the other days with a focused pickleball improvement plan. That might be self-work and study. You will get a pickleball book and set some time to drill against the wall or by yourself on the court.

To become a well-rounded 4.0 player, make sure that you work on all Three Pillars: Mechanical, Strategic, and Athletic.

Too often, we hear players say things like, “What does mindset have to do with my game?” Nothing, unless you want to improve and become a well-rounded player. 😏

You can also rely on a path that has been organized to give some form to your improvement plan, such as the WeArePickleball Success Path that includes all the tools and guidance you need to see serious improvement in your game. CJ and I have spent countless hours putting together this path to help players like you achieve their objectives.

If you are having mechanical issues with your game, consider a lesson or clinic. For strategic help, consider a clinic where you can play while the instructor points out optimal and suboptimal play. If you want to jumpstart the process, consider a camp – though make sure it is a camp that covers all of the pillars (as we do during our immersive WeArePickleball camps). For a further discussion about tools for your improvement, you can listen to our Bonus Pickleball Therapy Podcast (Episode 58A) on Apple, Spotify, or wherever you listen to podcasts.

As you work on your game, your relationship with pickleball will begin to include the tools you need in order to play the way you want to play. There is no magic to it. Regardless of how great you are as a human being, you are not born a pickleball player. Improvement requires some dedication and work on your part.

The work itself should be rewarding – you will be out there working towards your goals. And as you do the work, you will start to see its fruits. You will feel physically better. You will play better. Importantly, you will have more fun playing pickleball.

If you are frustrated with where you are in the game, you hold the solution in your hands. There is not a shot that I (as a pro player) can hit that you cannot learn to hit. There is not a strategy that I know that you cannot learn. We are all capable sentient beings who can learn and grow regardless of background, age, or current situation.

I am losing too much – I am not meeting my expectations when I play

This one is a bit different than being stuck in the game. This one arises from a set of expectations that has crept into your game over time.

Think of it like this. The first day you stepped onto a pickleball court, you could hardly keep track of the score and had no idea what to do out there. You did not expect to win that pickleball game. And, importantly, I would suggest you did not think anyone else on the courts expected you to win.

You were able to play without expectations … for a while. Just going out there and enjoying the game, moment by moment. “Wow, what a shot?” “Oops, I missed that one.” Just a kid on a court having fun.

Then one day, something happened: you won a bunch of games. Your friends started telling you how good of a player you have become. You started getting invited to the “advanced” groups or courts.

All of a sudden, expectations became part of the package. You were no longer a kid on a court having fun. Instead, you were now “a good player” expected to win games. Or at least expected not to lose against the “lesser” players.

With expectations comes pressure and the eventual disappointment of losing a game you “should not have” lost. This can become a spiral. The more pressure you put on yourself, the more anxious and uncomfortable you will feel on the court. Your play will suffer as a result, and you will lose even more pickleball games.

Self-doubt creeps in, and you wake up one day wondering why you are playing this game, to begin with? Why go to the courts if you are not having fun?

For you to make pickleball fun again, the solution might be to reframe your relationship with pickleball and, in the process, lower or remove the expectations; or at least reframe them.

Other than giving you a different perspective below, this post is not long enough to cover all of the topics that might help you improve your relationship with pickleball. For that, we recommend the following resources:

Mental and Emotional Training for Tennis | Compete – Learn – Honor By Peter Scales

The Inner Game of Tennis By Tim Gallwey

Full disclosure-these are affiliate links. Your price remains the same, but your purchase helps support our work, including posts like this one. You can ignore the “Tennis” references in the book titles – the books apply equally well to pickleball.

Read these books and put in some work on the mental and emotional parts of the game. In the long run, they are more critical than any shot you might work on to improve your game. The best third shot in the world is of no use when you are fighting yourself on the court. It is part of what we call the Athletic Pillar: you need the whole you if you are going to play your best and also going to enjoy the game fully.

If you are no longer having as much fun when playing pickleball as you once did, ask yourself whether perhaps you would benefit from reframing your expectations out on the court. Move from “Did I win all, or even most, of my games?” to “Did I honor myself, my partner, and my opponents today?” or “Did I compete out there – give it what I had to give today?”

Note that the question is not “Did I play the best pickleball I could possibly play under any circumstances?” because that sort of question is already loaded against you.

Each day will find us in a different place, and we go to the court in the place we are at. As long as we gave the game what we could on that particular day, then we have done what we could and should not drop our heads just because we lost one, some, or even all of our games that day.

Pickleball is such a beginner-friendly sport with so much to offer us: exercise, activity among friends and meeting new ones, interesting puzzles for our mind to solve, an opportunity to keep growing as a person, and others. What pickleball offers us is not limited to a simple Win/Lose proposition. If you play the best pickleball of your life and give it your all, but your opponent is the local pro, will you have a W or an L after the match? And is it the L that defines your experience that day?

Setting expectations that are not in line with what pickleball offers you is a recipe for unmet expectations that will leave you feeling frustrated and, perhaps even, not wanting to head out to the courts the next time there is play.

Consider reframing the expectations that you set for yourself the next time you go play. Ask yourself what really matters from your relationship with pickleball, and then ask yourself at the end of the day whether those expectations (the real ones that matter) were met. I am confident that if you set more constructive expectations in line with what pickleball means to you, you will enjoy your day on the courts a whole lot more.

External Obstacles

In addition to the internal obstacles, several external ones might limit your game and inhibit your fun on the pickleball courts.

The impact of COVID

It can be said with reasonable certainty that COVID has had a negative impact on many players’ relationships with pickleball. If it was even available, indoor play became more challenging. Open play that had provided so much “easy” access to games went away. Groups stopped playing for a bit or modified their formats, making it more difficult for players to find their tribes.

COVID will likely transition from being a pandemic to just being an endemic part of everyday life. As we move into this phase, some of these limitations should ease. But, just in case, read the “Clique” sections below for some suggestions on how to keep pickleball as part of your life.

The rise of pickleball cliques

Cliques are a part of human existence. We are built to be tribal, and cliques are just a part of that. The clique maybe by level, community, age, or other.

Since pickleball is currently the fastest growing sport in the US, likely, the cliques within will likewise grow. There are not many things more depressing to a human being than feeling left out of a group, particularly a group that the person wants to belong to.

The solution is for you to build your own pickleball tribe (or clique if you prefer). I have shared this advice with several players over the years, and they have mostly been able to do just that. It obviously requires some effort to build a tribe. You will need to reach out, and you will need to coordinate.

But I have found that those who coordinate pickleball in any community generally do not lack players who will take them up on their coordination. In this way, coordination is a double benefit: you are helping players in your area get more play or drill time (or both) while at the same time making sure that you have a tribe in which to play the game.

Already part of a pickleball group? Here are 4 Fun Ideas to Make Your Pickleball Club More Engaging.

If you are feeling sidelined in your community, start building your tribe. Invite one player to meet and play some skinny singles. And then another. And so on. Next thing you know, you will be the hub around which the pickleball spokes in your community will spin.

Not sure how to play skinny singles? Click this link.

The less-than-nice player

The last obstacle that can cause us to lose some of our enjoyment for the game is the “less-than-nice” (you can substitute whatever term best describes this player for you) player we come across on the courts from time to time – or regularly for some of us.

I have a gift for you to overcome this obstacle: I hereby grant and bestow upon you full agency not to be forced to play with or against this player in any non-tournament setting. As part of your agency given above, you may decline to play with these three powerful words: “No, Thank You.” That is it. That’s all that’s required.

If you want to read more about this technique, you can check out this blog post discussing it in more detail. But, whatever you do, do not allow the “less-than-nice” player to take away this sport that you enjoy and that gives you exercise, activity, social activity, mental stimulation, dopamine, and more. Take back your power!

Conclusion

Hopefully, one or more of the above resonates with you and can help you overcome any of the obstacles impeding your enjoyment of the game. Pickleball is a beautiful game that can add so much to our lives – detailed above. If you decide to reduce or end your relationship with the game, make sure you are doing it for the right reasons and not because of something that does not justify it and that can be overcome in any event.

If we can be of assistance to you, please let us know. CJ and I are earnest in our efforts not only to bring pickleball to as many players as possible but in our efforts to empower players in the game to enjoy it to its fullest and to have it be an essential part of their lives for as long as possible.

Along these lines (and as mentioned above), please let us know if we missed something in this post. You can reach us at Tony@WeArePickleball.com or CJ@WeArePickleball.com.

We are part of your tribe, and you are part of our tribe. So let’s make pickleball fun again!

4 Comments

  1. Jane Lindsay on October 31, 2021 at 2:01 am

    Thank you for writing this. It really resonates with me and what has happened to our pickleball community with covid. We still have limited indoor facilities (snow and cold coming here in Canada)due to covid closures and we are limited by how many people can be included due to space restrictions. Hopefully soon our new normal will bring the fun back.

    • CJ Johnson on October 31, 2021 at 6:05 pm

      Hey Jane, everything seems to be a new normal but we’re confident the pickleball community will figure it out.

  2. TAWNYA E MCEVOY on October 31, 2021 at 4:05 am

    Why is it that players want to play the great game of Pickleball, yet they (MOST) don’t read any of the rules. Neither or not understanding the game. Questions that reading the rules would eliminate this from happening. What is so hard about reading the darn rules? I read the rules before I started to play any game I played. Teachers taught me and the other kids the rules of the games we would play, understandably there would be mayhem if they did not and or injuries. Makes perfect sense to me.
    Do we lose something called common sense when we get older or is this just being LAZY? Is it only me?

    • CJ Johnson on October 31, 2021 at 6:11 pm

      Hey Tawnya, we think it’s because of the way most people learn pickleball. They pick the sport up from friends and they only know what those friends tell them. I was fortunate my friend was a rule geek and she read and shared the rule book with everyone in our club from its inception. It wasn’t until I decided I liked the game that I read the rules for myself. I needed to play the game a little to have a working knowledge of the rules that I would not have gotten from reading the book before I played. Your rules knowledge makes you the perfect person to share information with others just like Bev did for me!

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