Let me begin by explaining what I believe about:
Your Journey to 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.
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!
This 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!
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.