The Mind Game…
Scroll down for Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, Part 5, Part 6, Part 7
Long before my pickleball life, I entered a one day, round-robin tennis tournament in Van Nuys, California. The day before the competition, my two Yamaha rackets were stolen and the only available racket was my daughter’s. She had a habit of picking up the ball by scraping the tip of the racket on the court. The scraping wore a hole in the hollow graphite frame that you could stick a finger in. Since I had no chance of winning with that racket, I decided not to take the tournament seriously and just play for fun. Players were divided into two brackets of nine players each. Because I had nothing to lose, I played out of my mind. I wasn’t thinking about it but my game was on a high. I beat all eight players in my bracket. I played the winner from the other bracket in an eight-game set for the championship. He was a better player but I was still playing out of my mind. I was ahead 6 games to 2. Only two more games and I would win the trophy.Then, I began thinking, “Oh my gosh, I’m going to beat this guy. I’m going to win the tournament.” That was the beginning of the end. When I started thinking about winning, I started losing. I didn’t win another game. I played in my mind rather than out of my mind.
The Mind Game… One Thing at a Time
By Harry Carpenter
I had my first pickleball “Oops” the first time I swung a paddle; I missed the ball completely. I’m not the only person to whiff his first shot. Learning a new sport takes time. The first time you execute a complex motion, you talk yourself through it with your conscious mind. And, you do it one step at a time because your conscious mind can only do one thing at a time. Recall tying your first bow. The process was unnatural and took several attempts. After you tied a bow properly a few times, the process was delegated to your subconscious mind where it became a habit. Once it became a habit, you could tie a bow without thinking about it. Take something more complex, like a golf swing. I was taught there are 31 elements to a good golf swing. The first few times I swung a club, I thought about each step. This step-by-step motion produced a swing like a flickering old-time movie. It wasn’t until each step was turned over to my subconscious, which can do a zillion things at a time, that my swing became fluid. When a complex task is performed by the subconscious, it is:
- Easy because your subconscious can handle an unlimited number of tasks at one time.
- Effortless because it’s unconscious.
- Graceful because it is a unified, coordinated motion, and
- Natural because you don’t have to think about it.
The Mind Game…
One Thing at a Time
By Harry Carpenter
How do you serve deep and in the court every time? Consistently drop the ball in the kitchen from the backcourt? Routinely smash a high ball and keep it in bounds? The answer is by etching the mechanics of each pickleball stroke into your subconscious mind — practice, practice, practice. By practice, I mean correctly repeating the same shot over and over. Some readers might be thinking that practicing pickleball shots is a good idea, but they don’t have an opportunity to practice. No one conducts drills where they play and they can’t get some chump to feed them balls so they can hit each shot 50 times in a row, including the serve, serve return, drop shot, dink, volley, smash, lob and overhead.
Let’s face it; the majority of pickleball players would rather play games than participate in practice drills. Well, that’s a dilemma: How are you going to practice technique if there is no one to practice with? Here’s good news; there is a way you can keep playing games and practice at home, while waiting for an appointment, or riding to work (assuming you are not driving.) You can practice in your head! Mental practice is as effective, and arguably more effective, than physical play. A study in Russia showed that optimum benefits in a sport were obtained with a ratio of 25 percent physical practice to 75 percent mental practice. Mental practice works because your subconscious mind does not know the difference between real and imagined. Vividly picturing and feeling yourself swinging a pickleball paddle and making a shot in your mind’s eye activates the same patterns of neutrons in your brain as when you physically make the shot. Mental practice forms and reinforces the software for making a stroke. Moreover, mental practice is perfect. Each time you make a shot in your mind’s eye, the swing is correct and the stroke sends the ball to the right spot; each time you reinforce the software in your brain for a perfect shot. On the other hand, when you play for real, every shot is not perfect; in which case, you are reinforcing the software in your subconscious for poor technique. You can raise the level of your game by practicing that dink, kill shot, and volley on a daily basis — in your mind. However, there is a key element to mental practice, which I’ll share in the next month’s article.
Here’s that key element for effective mental practice that I promised last issue. When you practice pickleball in your mind you must be in an altered state of mind – a state where the subconscious is dominate, not the conscious mind. An altered state of mind is natural and you go in and out of it every day; you just aren’t aware of it. Scientists call it the “alpha” state; athletes call it the “zone;” we call it “daydreaming.”
Athletes at all levels use guided imagery. Pitchers see themselves in their mind’s eye throwing the ball to an exact spot. Golfers see themselves making a perfect swing and picture the ball landing on the green near the pin. Skiers map the fastest way down a slalom course and imagine making perfect turns through each gate. Pickleball players envision deep serves, dazzling drop shots and blazing put-aways. Try it. And soon it will become habit!
Your conscious mind can only do, or think of, one thing at a time, whereas your subconscious mind can literally do trillions of things at a time. It follows that smooth, coordinated (good-looking) strokes, are executed with your subconscious mind. You have practiced your pickleball strokes until they are ingrained in your subconscious and they have become habits. Since your strokes are now habits, you don’t have to consciously think about them. All you have to do is get your conscious mind out of the way and “let” your subconscious play the ball.
Getting your conscious mind out of the way and “letting” your subconscious play is not always easy. Your conscious mind has an ego that thinks it knows better, so it wants to be in control. Two bads happen when it takes charge of your pickleball play. One, you can’t play well when you are thinking, “I’ve gotta hit a winner; Should I hit a dink or smash it? Why did I hit that last shot into the net? That was dumb; What’s the matter with me? Look at all those people watching me.” Two, and even worse, you start thinking about winning or losing. These thoughts introduce some degree of fear — the fear of losing or the fear of being embarrassed. Any aspect of fear undermines confidence and sends your game down the tubes.
Here’s how to get your conscious mind out of the way: use your conscious mind’s limitation (i.e., that it can only think of one thing at a time) to your advantage. Keep your conscious mind preoccupied with watching the ball. Your conscious mind’s job is exclusively to focus on the ball. Think, ball as you watch it. Be aware of its flight path, its velocity, etc. If you concentrate on the ball, your conscious mind cannot interfere with your inner athlete, your subconscious. In a nutshell, when your conscious mind is focused on the ball, your subconscious mind is free to make that perfect shot.
Ever had a night when you couldn’t get to sleep? You got frustrated and tried harder. The harder you tried to sleep, the more awake you became. Or you were winning a pickleball match and you just missed a couple of easy shots and started losing. You vehemently urged yourself to play better. But the harder you tried to play better, the worse you played. These examples demonstrate that the harder you try to do something or the more you will yourself to play better pickleball: a) the harder it becomes to do it, and b) the worse you do at it.
Willing yourself to do something is a conscious process. Your conscious mind can only do one thing at a time, and it can’t directly control your involuntary muscles. Thus, you don’t play your best pickleball when your conscious mind dominates. Your subconscious mind, on the other hand, can do trillions of things at a time without conscious thought. It also controls involuntary muscles that are required for good strokes and rabbit-like movement. It is where your pickleball strokes are stored as habits so you can execute them smoothly without thinking about them. Plus, your subconscious computes information a million times faster than your conscious mind. Thus, you play your best pickleball by suppressing your conscious mind and allowing your subconscious to dominate. Pushing yourself to play better pumps up your conscious mind, minimizing your subconscious mind. Hence, urging yourself to play better achieves the opposite — you play worse.
Another factor, although subtle, is that when you will yourself to play better, you subconsciously introduce a fear of losing. Fear, a strong emotion, erodes confidence, and confidence is an important aspect of playing well. Okay, suppose you’re playing in a tournament and because of the pressure, or for whatever reason, you are playing poorly. What can you do? Will yourself to play better? Don’t bother — it won’t help. This is what you do. Oops, I’m out of word space. Hope you’re not playing poorly in a tournament before the next USAPA e-Newsletter…
You’re in a tournament and you’re playing badly. You’re ticked off at yourself. What are you going to do? Tell yourself to quit making mistakes? Will yourself to play better? Don’t bother; it won’t help; you’ll probably play worse. Instead, do the following: 1. Play in the Now — Your conscious mind thinks in the past, present and future; whereas your subconscious only operates in the present. Since you want your subconscious to be dominant, keep your mind in the present. Don’t think about that snide remark your opponent made or the shot you missed – that’s the past. Don’t think about the consequences of hitting the ball long or about winning or losing — that’s the future. Focus on the ball — that’s the now. 2. Observe – Your conscious mind is the critic; it judges, discriminates and analyzes; whereas your subconscious mind accepts things literally. When you critique your strokes during a game, you bring your conscious mind to the forefront. To keep your conscious mind from taking over, don’t analyze your strokes, just observe them. If any adjustments are needed, your subconscious will make them — unconsciously. 3. Watch the ball – Think about, and keep your eyes on, the ball. You can only focus on one thing at a time with your conscious mind. Focusing on the ball blocks negative thoughts, keeps your mind in the present and keeps your conscious mind from interfering with your subconscious mind. 4. Relax – Tension impedes court movement and thwarts good stroking. Top athletes don’t tense all their muscles while they jump, throw, catch or stroke – only the ones needed to do the job. Any additional flexing hinders performance. So loosen up. Take slow, deep breaths between points. 5. Act with confidence – You’ve spent weeks practicing your strokes and strategies. Your strokes are ingrained in your subconscious so you don’t have to think about them. Knowing your strokes are programmed in your subconscious gives you confidence that you can play as well, and better, than anyone in your bracket. Act with confidence; imagine you are confident and play confidently.