Your Journey to Pickleball Mastery

Let me begin by explaining what I believe about:


Your Journey to Pickleball Mastery

Pickleball Mastery


We begin with the undestanding that this is your journey.  It is wholly yours.  As unique as you are.  It is a journey, process or path.  It is not a destination, a ranking or a gold medal.  But unlike some journeys, no special ticket (i.e. athletic ability) is required.  It can be achieved even though some will start later in life.  It is available to anyone:  male or female, young or old.  

And though we may have difficulty defining pickleball mastery, we know it when we see it.  We believe it will bring us joy. Because throughout our lives we have taken on new challenges.    As a child, we may have learned how to ride a bike.  Perhaps we learned to play a new musical instrument, or pursued a professional education.   And like learning anything new, there were moments when we said “I got it” .  And those moments were often followed by exclaiming, “Oh no, I don’t.


Learning pickleball is a perfect metaphor for this.  Let’s follow Sally as she takes up pickleball.  


Sally is in reasonably good shape,  but never played any organized sports growing up.  She decided to take up pickleball and found a qualified instructor.  Her instructor shows her the proper grip, and demonstrated the correct way to hit a dink.  She tossed the ball softly to Sally and after a few tries she made contact.

Pickleball Mastery

Her dinks weren’t very controlled.  Sometimes they went over the instructor’s head, and some didn’t clear the net.  Some went in the general direction she intended, and others barely stayed in the court.  She felt clumsy and a bit embarrassed.  “My gosh, she is only a few feet away,” Sally thought.   “It’s not like the paddle is heavy.  And she is tossing it to the same spot every time.  This should be easy.  I thought people said pickleball was fun and great exercise.  This isn’t any fun, and I’m not even breaking a sweat.”

But her instructor continued to encourage Sally.    “Keep your wrist firm.”  “Watch the ball hit the paddle.”    And with time, if Sally concentrated on each and every motion, she was able to hit the ball as she intended.  

After some time, she got it!  In fact, she could hit the ball back every single time.  Someone inside your head said, “This is so easy”.  But Sally quickly learned it was not.


“Now let’s add some movement”,  her coach suggested.  She returned the ball with her paddle now, no longer tossing it to the exact same spot.  Now Sally had to move to get the ball.  Sometimes left, sometime right.  She even had to step forward and back.  Again she felt clumsy and embarrassed.  Suddenly Sally couldn’t dink as well as she had just a few minutes ago.  It was as if she forgot everything she just learned;  but just before she was ready to scream, she stopped getting worse.  But she wasn’t getting better!


She plateaued.  



pickleball masteryThis plateau thing was nearly as bad as the getting worse part.  “Geez, Jenny said this was an easy sport to learn.”  And everyone said it was “so social”.  “How I am going to be social, if I have to think about every shot?”, she pondered.  “And besides, I want to look good doing this.  Perhaps impress a few friends.”

And even as she worked through this plateau, Sally realized there would likely be another and another.  There were other shots to learn.  And after learning each shot, she would have to learn to move and then hit that shot.  And since most everyone played doubles, she would be expected to move with a partner. “Am I ever going to be good at this?”, she wondered.

Sally was faced with a decision.  Did she go back and hang out with the folks that played just like her, or did she want to continue her journey.  Was she willing to be frustrated?  Did she want to put in the time?   Exactly how uncomfortable and embarrassed was she willing to be?  


Frankly, this is a decision you too have had to make many times in your life.  Every time you had an opportunity to learn, develop and change you have faced this same decision.  It seems we have relatively brief spurts of progress, followed by a slight decline before we plateau.  Because to become competent and comfortable it needs to become second nature.  We have to move from consciously competent to unconsciously competent.  It takes time, guidance and practice to develop a new habit.   When our mind and body are working together effortlessly:  It’s fun!  It’s effective!  It’s mastery!


Sarah Ansboury Pickleball Magazine


I believe that the spurt you view as improvement, is not a moment in time.  In fact it was happening all along the way.  Mastery is not the destination, that moment of improvement, it is the journey through all the phases that led to that moment.  Mastery occurred when you practiced not to improve, but for the sake of practice itself.  

Mastery occurred when you enjoy the practice as much as the medal.  



22 thoughts on “Your Journey to Pickleball Mastery

  1. I live in a very small County in IL. I started pb with a small group of friends 2 years ago and had to learn the “hard way” now I am trying to learn the “best way” to play. I love the game and play locally with all ages,. Even though I am 73, I can hold my own with the better players, but I still want to get better! I have played in several places, including my home state, IN,KY, FL. Played in Senior Olympics in IL winning gold in my age division.

    1. Judy, I provide clinics to small groups like yours all the time. I plan to visit my brother in Illinois this summer. Perhaps we can work together to bring a clinic to your hometown. If you are interested, just let me know.

  2. Here in Victoria, our outdoors group has a practice time scheduled in…..We drill for an hour and then play for 2 hours……Would it be better to reverse that ratio?……P.S.- I haven’t mastered, or discovered any enjoyment in practicing alone–do you do any solo drills Sarah?

    1. Perhaps better to mix it up a bit. Maybe 1/2 drills and 1/2 play. Regarding solo drills…thanks for the inspiration Doug. Perhaps a new YouTube video is in order.

  3. Talk about this “plateauing” with my social PB friends all the time. One of us may reach a new step or level of play first but as we all continue we all catch up and we all hang out at our next plateau together for quite a while again. It’s fun in a little competitive way — trying to always keep it social with our group and not at all competition based. We may lose some friends but gain others along the way but it’s about the journey of learning a new hobby together. Like you said none of us grew up playing it — so all of our learning is unique to our current age! Fun fun fun!

  4. Love this article! I love to practice as much as I love to play. My mission statement, ” I never lose! I either win or I learn! And yes, it is my personal journey to accomplish the goals I have set for myself in a game I have grown to respect and love! Can’t wait to see Sarah at the u.s. open this week in naples, florida!

    1. *Sarah
      By the way, just watched a clip of your return after an around-the-pole shot was placed in your court. So cool!

    2. Hi Linda, Wish we could have gotten together while we were in McMinnville. I was able to attend Sarah’s clinic in Beaverton earlier this month. She is awesome…

  5. Do you ever do clinics in Ontario, Sarah? Most of us here have been introduced to pickleball in southern climes like Arizona and Florida. I just spent the winter in Naples and played 5-6 days a week on the East Naples courts so thoroughly enjoyed following your online videos and successes there! Fantastic player, fantastic coach!

    1. Mary, thanks for your kind words. I will be in British Columbia in July but don’t have anything planned in Ontario yet. But I would love to visit Ontario! Let’s talk about how we can work together to bring a clinic to your area.

  6. Altho the season’s over, is there any chance you’re going to be in AZ for a clinic/workshop any time soon??

  7. Really enjoyed your article. Love playing pb even though I just started just a year ago. Having played tennis helped. Still bounce back and forth between the two, tennis in AM pb in afternoon.
    Any travel plans to NH? Yeah far away and not much there! Beautiful country though!

  8. well said! I think each person has to challenge themselves! Strive to be all you can be and play with better players and in no time you play better each time you play!

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