How to Mentally Beat Spikers

Pro player spiking the pickleball
(Picture Kerry Pittenger)

Understanding the Challenge

Spikers, smashers, bangers—they are called many things and can be found on almost every recreational pickleball court. If you haven’t encountered one, you will someday. When you do—fear not. I’ve heard so many frustrations about this style of play. I’ve seen dread on players’ faces and heard protests under their breath as they walk on court knowing the opposition is eager to whale, their only intention, it seems, to dominate, to scare, and—if possible—to impress.

Impress who? Themselves? Fellow players? Onlookers? Major League Pickleball/the PPA—in case a scout is observing? The answer, come to think of it, is irrelevant.

Strategy Over Strength

Anybody can slam a pickleball as a demonstration of power, nothing remarkable or awe-inspiring about it. A complete mastery of the game, however, is something to esteem, learn from and aspire to, but not a spiked ball itself, an attack which can be defended, reset, dismantled, and beaten.

Anna Bright at Indian Wells hitting a spiker
Anna Bright @Indian Wells (Picture Kerry Pittenger)

Learning from the Pros

Professional pickleball players, seen in MLP/PPA tournaments, are the hardest hitters (with direction and purpose) when the need arises. But their games are so versatile, their skills and strategies so well honed, that they never have to rely on smashing to win. Such players succeed at the pro level because of their balanced games, not because of their spiking powers.

Coping Strategies for Recreational Players

So, uneasy recreational players, what would I suggest? Rather than play under strain, rather than avoid slammers altogether, take all they’ve got. Let them exert themselves, let them showboat, let them overwork their arms and shoulders. Laugh at the spectacle—it is funny, if you can find humor in those who seem to do that and nothing else.

Spikers are beatable; I’ve seen them lose. A lot! Because everybody—and I mean everybody—loses. No game is “bulletproof.” So when you get overpowered shake it off. Don’t be chagrined, don’t sulk, don’t hide away. Go right back to that net, unruffled, and trade shots. Always scramble and scrap, I say, because that’s what smashers don’t want. The more you come back, poised and buoyant, the more it stifles your attacker.

Your Perspective Matters

Even if you keep losing—and are being bombarded—never whimper, never shrivel up, never reduce your own stature. Remember, it’s just pickleball—just a game with a perforated plastic ball. That’s all it is. Don’t let anyone or anything—spikers, spinners, loudmouths, whatever—steal your enjoyment or keep you away from the court.

Have a positive attitude, a sincere and realistic outlook, and in due course strengthen your overall game. Never allow yourself to be crushed under the unbearable weight of intimidation. Against spikers, remember what Rocky Balboa says to Clubber Lang in “Rocky 3”:

“C’mon, hit me harder. Harder. Ain’t so bad, ain’t so bad, you ain’t nothin’”

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About David Boyle

A versatile and diversified writer, David Boyle has written three short story collections, published by independent presses. Though he earned his readership by writing reality-based fiction, Boyle has gained a reputation for literary stories, essays, articles, reviews, interviews, analyses, travel writing, reportage, and poems, a good number of which have appeared in both print and online magazines. Inspired by his wife's passion for the sport, David now loves pickleball and aims to illuminate current pickleball events and subjects with a fresh, creative perspective, offering readers something they can't find anywhere else. | My website | boyled411@gmail.com | My Pickleball Journal

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