Beyond the Score: A Guide to Positive Play

Ben Johns and Anna Leigh Waters PPA 2024
Ben Johns & Anna Leigh Waters PPA 2024 (Picture Kerry Pittenger)

Have you ever been asked by a well-meaning friend, “Why are you so obsessed with pickleball”? Chances are that you might answer that question with a combination of the following:

  1. It’s great exercise.
  2. I love the competition.
  3. I enjoy the challenge.
  4. It’s a great way to make social connections.
  5. It’s just plain fun!

No matter how you prioritize these benefits, the real underlying motivation is happiness. You probably wouldn’t chase that little plastic whiffle ball around unless the whole pickleball experience didn’t make you unreasonably happy. In fact, everything we do, on and off the court, is in pursuit of happiness. Even our founding fathers realized this when they wrote the immortal words:

“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Pickleball, and the pursuit of Happiness.”

…or something like that.

Overcoming Frustration

Unfortunately, you sometimes lose your way. Your game plateaus and you don’t improve as much as you think you should. You get irritated by the wind, a bad bounce, or your fellow players. You sometimes come from ahead and snatch defeat from the jaws of victory. Pickleball is great, but now and then you can become negative or frustrated.

Well, not to worry. You’re not to blame! It’s your ancestors’ fault. Wait… what? In Hardwiring Happiness, Dr. Rick Hanson points out that we are hardwired through evolution to notice and dwell on the negative. In ancient times, Thog, who imagined there was danger behind every rock might have been a neurotic mess but he was probably more likely to survive than Garg, who had a delightful attitude but walked into the forest every day looking up at the sky and taking deep, cleansing breaths while being stalked by a sabre-toothed tiger. Unfortunately, we survivors are Thog’s descendants, constantly obsessed with what might go wrong and possessed with brains wired to be pessimistic.

Think about how it feels when something goes wrong. Everything from disappointment to outrage can run through our minds. But do we expend the same amount of energy and devote the same focus to things that go right? Not at all. I can manage to drive my car for tens of thousands of miles, successfully avoiding all kinds of hazards. It’s not even a blip on my mental radar. But when I walk out to my car in the parking lot and see a nice door ding from somebody who threw their car door open into mine and drove off, all hell breaks loose. I can’t wait to tell everybody how some idiot did this to my car (me).

Mindfulness on the Court

Sometimes my pickleball students will make 5 or 6 good shots in a row during a drill before missing, but they obsess about the miss rather than the series of good shots that preceded it. As Hanson points out, “Your brain has a negativity bias that makes it like Velcro for negative experiences and Teflon for positive ones.” The only way to cope effectively with this reality is to rewire your thinking through mindful practice. Take time to savor good experiences or good games and revel in the gratitude you feel. Notice when things go right.

The True Victory in Pickleball

Once you start the rewiring process you really can make this choice about how long you want to marinate in negativity before getting on with the reason you’re here — the enjoyment of the game and your friends. Hardwiring happiness can become a fun game to play with yourself on and off the court. Challenge yourself to do a little rewiring project… no electrician required. Winning at pickleball or life isn’t just about the score. Winning the happiness game is the biggest victory of all.

Read more on this subject here.

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About Mike Branon

Mike Branon is the bestselling author of Pickleball & The Art of Living. His latest book, The Joy of Pickleball, seeks to help older athletes play their best and experience the physical and emotional benefits that pickleball offers. He has appeared on numerous podcasts, TV and radio shows around the country, sharing his knowledge and passion for the game. Mike has coached hundreds of novice and experienced players from age 8-80 -something. His books and instruction are dedicated to helping others live their best lives and to play better, healthier, and happier. Mike lives in Carlsbad, California with his wife, Diane, and designer mutt, Cabo. As a well traveled pickleball connoisseur, Mike will be writing about tips and strategy for those who are looking to improve their game.

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