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Key Habit of a Highly Effective Pickleball Player

We all have a conscience and we know what’s right and wrong when it comes to emotional displays on the pickleball court.

By James Hackenberg

We’ve all heard it before, right? Probably from our parents, or maybe it’s something we said to our children. I’m writing this article in hopes that someday I can “Do what I say” or “Walk the talk.” In reading this article, maybe you can identify with my situation and make a commitment to change a behavior on the pickleball court.

A little background... I’ve always been a hothead, especially when it came to my performance as an athlete. I can’t stand personal failure. I often base my self-worth on performance, not only in sports, but in all aspects of my life. I’m not proud of it, but in high school while on the tennis team, I made John McEnroe look like a choirboy. Tennis racquets were made of wood back then and they broke very easily.

In my career as a training specialist, I made sure I was fully prepared for my training sessions. I lived in fear I would forget something or look foolish. Even after being retired more than 16 years, I still have dreams that I walk into a training classroom and am not prepared. Fear of failure still haunts me, but there is hope—even for me. I know what to do, and I’ll tell others what to do... now I have to do it!

One of the most rewarding experiences as a corporate trainer was teaching Steven A. Covey’s “7 Habits of Highly Effective People.” My wife will tell you I was at my best behavior while teaching that class. I was actually walking the talk, so I know I can do it again. Writing this article is, hopefully, my first step in getting back to being that person. I could easily modify the title of the course to “7 Habits of Highly Effective Pickleball Players.” Each of the seven habits has something to offer, not only to improve your behavior, but also your game. However, for the purpose of this article I’ll focus on Habit 1: Be Proactive.

You might think that being proactive means don’t procrastinate, or plan ahead, but in this case being proactive means to avoid being reactive. You’ve heard about the Stimulus/Response studies done with Pavlov’s dog. Well, unfortunately, some of us react just like Pavlov’s dog when we make an unforced error on the pickleball court. Stimulus: Make an Error. Response: Anger in various forms. But we’re not conditioned animals. Humans have something Covey calls “The 4 Human Endowments.” By tapping into these 4 Human Endowments we create a small gap between the stimulus and our response to the stimulus. These endowments are:

1. Self-Awareness
2. Imagination
3. Conscience
4. Independent Will

In other words, as humans, we have the ability to assess the situation and make a choice on how we’re going to react. It doesn’t have to be an immediate stimulus/response. In simpler terms, it’s the old adage of “count to 10 before you act.” So how do these 4 Human Endowments look on the pickleball court?

You and your partner are in a tough match. You’ve just made another unforced error and are ready to really let loose—or react. Self-awareness means you can still look at the big picture: Is this life or death? Are you getting some exercise and competition? Are people watching you? There are probably four or five more questions to help you put it all in perspective.

Now, imagine what it will be like if you blow up and lose your temper. If you cuss, throw your paddle or scream at yourself, what’s the probable result? Technical Warning or Technical Foul? Look like a fool in front of people watching? Upset your partner? On the flip side, imagine taking the shot in stride, knowing you can’t replay it. You can only reset and focus on the next point. Imagine even making a little joke to calm yourself down— anything other than the negative reaction you normally display.

We all have a conscience and we all know what’s right or wrong when it comes to emotional displays on the pickleball court. A brief second to tap into our conscience will help us make the right choice, which is independent will.

Independent Will
Here is where we make the final decision on how we will react to the stimulus of our unforced error. We have the freedom to choose our response to anything that happens to us. So, a little unforced error on the pickleball court should be something very easy to deal with, even for a hothead like me. This article is as much a therapy session for me—“Hi, I’m Jim and I’m a hothead”—as it is meant for you. So, if I see you get upset on the court and try to help you calm down, let it go, relax and refocus. I hope I don’t end up saying, “Do as I say, not as I do!” Hopefully I’ll be walking the talk. •

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