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Playing with Your Spouse

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My wife, Yvonne, and I have been playing in pickleball mixed doubles tournaments for over nine years now. That’s a lifetime in terms of mixed doubles marriages. People have often said we are role models for married pickleball partnerships. I feel very uncomfortable when they say it to me, because in all honesty it’s Yvonne who is the role model on our team. She is the consummate partner. She never faults her partner, whether it’s me in mixed doubles, or any woman partner she has played with. To her, it’s “team,” win or lose. I’m the one who may give an eye roll or a grunt when she hits a shot I know I might be pulling out of my abdomen. But, if I make the mistake, she is on to the next point without a word. We men have a hard time holding back and not showing any emotion, especially when we think our partner did not execute or hit the appropriate shot at the appropriate time. And, let’s face it, I have the luxury of being married to an excellent player, so being supportive should be easy, right? Yet, I still need to be reminded: “Straighten up, Jim, or I’m walking off the court.” So, fellas, what’s a guy to do? Well, here’s something that, WHEN I MAKE A CONSCIOUS EFFORT TO DO IT, helps our team dynamics and drastically improves our performance.

During my career as a training professional for a large company, I had the opportunity of teaching Stephen A. Covey’s “7 Habits of Highly Effective People.” It was a program our company endorsed as something we wanted our corporate culture to embrace. It was a highly effective program, especially when employee evaluations were based on these important principles and concepts. But, I’m not here to sell his book (Covey unfortunately died from a bicycling accident) or his programs. What I want to do is share with you one “habit” that might help you and your spouse the next time you prepare to take the court as a mixed doubles team.

While the “habits” really should be learned in order, I’ll skip to Habit 2, “Begin With the End in Mind.” This “habit” is based on the principle that all things are created twice. Stephen Covey points out that everything is created twice, first in the mind and then in reality. He shared a story about how this habit was useful when dealing with one of his sons prior to his soccer game. Before the game he sat down with his son and they began with the end in mind. In other words, what are the goals? What do they want to accomplish? They jointly stated the following:

1. Let’s try to win; try your hardest.
2. Lets have fun; its a game.
3. Let's encourage one another. Be supportive of your teammates.
4. Let's take something from the game that we can learn in order to improve.

After the game, in which his son’s team lost, they sat down and reviewed the goals. While winning is more fun than losing, the son still felt he did have fun playing the game. He tried his hardest and felt good about himself for the effort he put forth. He encouraged his teammates throughout the game, and he identified areas of his game he could work on to improve.

These are the same goals that we should openly discuss BEFORE we take to the pickleball court with our spouse. You will be amazed, if you visualize, openly verbalize, and mutually agree upon these goals before you begin your match, how much better you’ll be in realizing them. In other words, mentally creating the desired results and then physically creating them. Now, let’s be truly honest and realistic. Is it the absolute cure-all for everything that happens on the court? Will it mean you’ll win every match? Probably not. But, I can testify that when I/we verbalize these goals prior to competition, win or lose, we walk off the court a stronger team. When your spouse is worried that every mistake made will result in you making a remark, whether verbally or simply by your body language, she/he will play tighter, afraid to make another mistake.

As a great role model, watch Wes Gabrielsen the next time he plays mixed doubles. It’s easy to give your partner a paddle tap after a good shot, but Wes is always there with a paddle tap after a missed shot. In other words, he’s telling his partner, “I’m here for you; let’s get the next point.” So, the next time you take to the court with your spouse, or any partner for that matter, Begin With the End in Mind. Try your hardest to win, but have fun. Encourage one another, and identify what you can do “as a team” to improve. It might be a series of drills or it could be as simple as player communication and positioning. But, more importantly, remember it’s only pickleball!

OK, now I’ve done it. The pressure is on me to walk the talk.

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Jim Hackenberg
2016 Men’s Nationals Gold Medalist,
Men’s 65+ Singles,
Men’s Doubles 55+,
Mixed Doubles 65+

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