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CJ Johnson
Tony Roig
Tony Roig

Why do you play pickleball? Is it the “W”?

We all come to pickleball looking for something. Some of us wanted to exercise or to get out of the house. Others were looking for a social outlet. And yet others play pickleball for a competitive outlet.

Whatever brought you to pickleball, I am pretty sure it was not because you were looking for a bunch of “W”s. What I mean is that when you started playing pickleball you were not looking just to win a bunch of games. It is likely that you were looking for something else.

As we start playing, however, we forget why we came to pickleball to begin with. Our focus shifts to our wins. And our losses.

Let’s unpack this winning more concept a bit. Is it the reason we play pickleball?

Pickleball involves scoring – we keep track of the score. At the end of the game, there will be a winner. And there will be a loser.

We are not tossing a frisbee or playing catch with our friends. By playing pickleball, we are agreeing to keep track of points. Both in our favor and in favor of our opponents.

We are also agreeing that we are playing a game where it is us against two other players who oppose us. We are not playing against a lane (bowling) or course (golf).

Our suggestion is not to ignore the score: it exists and is an integral part of the game while we are playing it. And it is perfectly fine for you to recognize when you win and when you lose. To try to do otherwise is nonsensical. I remember being asked as a youth soccer coach not to discuss the score of a game with the players, which was weird because the kids definitely knew who had 5 and who had 0.

What we are suggesting is to reframe the importance winning given what your objectives are when playing pickleball.

Do you want to reframe your relationship with pickleball? Then listen to the Pickleball Therapy Podcast

Let’s take a concrete example, why does Sam play pickleball?

Sam, first started playing when looking for an activity to get out of the house and hopefully get some exercise. Sam played this morning for 3 hours getting in 8 games. Sam’s record for the day was 2 wins and 6 losses.

That is Sam’s record in terms of games won and lost. That is all. It says nothing about how Sam played that day or the quality of the games. It is just “W”s and “L”s.

But beyond that, this information has nothing to do with Sam’s objective when playing pickleball. What if I told you Sam had gotten a tremendous amount of exercise left and ended the day with a pile of sweaty clothes? What if I added that 3 of the games had taken 20 minutes each – battles out there each one.

Would you say that Sam had a successful or unsuccessful day on the courts? It depends on the metric you are using. If it is straight wins and losses (W/L), then I guess it was unsuccessful. But that is not the correct metric – that is not why Sam plays pickleball.

Remember that the metric is what your mind will use to measure your results. Rather than using score or W/L (neither of which Sam signed up for), Sam would be better off using getting out of the house and exercise as the metrics.

Once the correct metrics are used, it seems pretty clear that Sam’s objectives were achieved. Sam got out of the house and also got plenty of exercise. The scores and winning or losing, while not rendered irrelevant, are recognized as not having the same import as the principal objective of going out to the courts that day.

Conclusion

I do not know of a single pickleball player who is better off because they won 65% of their pickleball games last year. I likewise know of no player who is worse off because they only won 30% of their games during the same time. What I do know are hundreds, if not thousands, of pickleball players whose lives are improved because pickleball is an important part of their weekly schedule.

When you go out to play, keep in mind what is important to you; what pickleball really adds to your life. It is unlikely to be the “W”s. Use this knowledge to reframe your expectations and know that you are, in fact, getting what you wanted from the game.

Ready to take control of your learnng? Check out our post on the  Complete Guide to Improvement

11 Comments

  1. Elaine St. John-Lagenaur on February 20, 2022 at 12:03 am

    Hi!

    I’ve “re-arranged” my attitude about winning. If I win, I’m happy, if I lose, I’m happy, because I’ve played my best, got fresh air and exercise by a beautiful lake, and I got to see all my friends. I learned that “losing” is not the end of the world, and I learn from it. I’m not dead-set on winning at all costs, that (IMO) is counter-productive if that’s all you care about. Yes, I know winning is optimal, which is why, now that I’m back on the courts after being sick for so long, I now so appreciate just being alive!

  2. Eslee Kessler on February 20, 2022 at 12:06 am

    This is very sound advice. We are out there to develop and improve our skills! To lengthen the points for sustained competition- to rise and focus! So much fun!

  3. Dale Voigt on February 20, 2022 at 12:22 am

    As a player that wins over 65% of the rec games I play; I can say there is a ring of truth to what you are saying. Personally, I would rather play my best and loose more games. (I learn more from games that I loose, then the games I win.) The rub is that the players that have the skills to beat me consistently play mostly private games. And if I would lose a large percent of the games I get invited to, the chances of being invited back again are slim. Rember if you are losing a large percentage of your games, so is your partners.

    • Cindy Horan on February 20, 2022 at 6:20 pm

      I have fun but I always strife to play better. I’m invited to play with better rec players because I’m positive, courteous and encouraging to all players who are my partner and my opponents too. They also know I want to improve my game and playing with better players can improve your game. Enjoy the journey and make friends along the way!

  4. Laurie D on February 20, 2022 at 12:29 pm

    I agree 100% with etching your own personal objectives. I love Pickleball and strive to improve. I don’t like the feeling of letting my partner down by losing. Some people live for the win, I am not one of them.

  5. Whitney M on February 20, 2022 at 3:05 pm

    I don’t disagree with the basic idea that winning is not the most important thing in Pickleball. However where I play when there are more people who want to play then there are spots available we use a system where the winners stay and the losers sit. I’ve tried to convince the people around here that it would be better to use a system that everyone plays two games and then sits one game. it’s a much more even distribution of playing and sitting but they won’t do it that way. So here if you want to continue to play you have to win

    • CJ Johnson on February 21, 2022 at 3:01 am

      Hi Whitney, clubs and other players often have different metrics than I use to judge my enjoyment. There’s a gentleman that I play with on occasion who puts a heavy priority on winning. He’s a nice man off the court but his focus frustrates him and those who partner with him. When we partner, I realize that I can’t change his metric but I don’t have to let his metric change mine.

  6. Cindy Horan on February 20, 2022 at 5:30 pm

    Winning in Pickleball is not the most important thing in life! It is a game not a life or death situation. If you play your best game and you lose it’s ok. The other team just played better and there is nothing you can do about it. Now if you didn’t play your best and you lost then the other team just played better and there is another day to improve your skills. Win or lose you had fun with people you have met playing a wonderful sport!! Pickleball is about exercising both your body and mind but it doesn’t feel like exercise!
    Have fun and enjoy the game.

  7. Stacy Lynn on February 21, 2022 at 3:03 pm

    I play for the community and because I prefer to exercise with others. To me, walking is boring and other exercise is boring without some one else involved. When I play pickleball I don’t feel like I am exercising, I am just having fun. So. much so, I wrote a book called Pickleball Faith: Inspiration On and Off the Court. It changed my life. Found this page via LinkedIn too 🙂

    • CJ Johnson on February 22, 2022 at 5:45 am

      Great to meet you Stacy!

    • CJ Johnson on February 24, 2022 at 3:43 am

      What a wonderful story. Glad you found us!

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