The Mental Side of Pickleball: Unlocking the Key to Winning


When we step onto the pickleball court, our minds are often cluttered with the stresses and distractions of daily life. Thoughts of deadlines, traffic, and dinner plans can easily infiltrate our focus and hinder our performance.

As a player myself, I’ve experienced the frustration of letting these distractions affect my game. However, I’ve also discovered strategies to overcome these mental hurdles and play my best. In this article, we will explore the importance of mental focus in pickleball and discuss an effective strategy for winning, known as “Winning Ugly.” So, let’s dive in and unlock the secrets to mastering the mental side of pickleball.

The Power of Mental Focus

In any sport, including pickleball, maintaining a strong mental focus is crucial to achieving success. Whether you’re playing a recreational game or competing in a high-stakes match, your ability to stay present and focused can greatly impact your performance.

Distractions and random thoughts can lead to unforced errors and prevent you from playing strategically. No matter how advanced your equipment is, such as your paddle or shoes, they cannot eliminate these mental obstacles. Therefore, it is essential to develop techniques to keep your mind engaged and focused on the game.

Developing a Winning Mindset

To cultivate a winning mindset, it’s important to approach each game with a specific focus tailored to the level of competition. Let’s explore two different approaches: competitive games and recreational games.

Competitive Games

In competitive games, preparation and strategy play a significant role in achieving victory. Here are some key elements to consider:

  1. Scouting: If possible, gather information about your opponents before the game. Understanding their strengths and weaknesses can help you develop a winning strategy.
  2. Game Plan: Before each game, take a moment to breathe and visualize your next shot. Whether it’s a serve, a return, or a poach at the net, focusing on the next point clears your mind of distractions and allows you to concentrate on executing your plan.
  3. Maintaining Focus: While random thoughts may still arise, prioritize your game plan and let those distractions fade away. By keeping your attention on the task at hand, you can minimize unforced errors and maintain a strategic approach throughout the match.

Recreational Games

In recreational games, the focus is on enjoyment and friendly competition. Here are three simple aspects to concentrate on during these games:

  1. Shot Selection: At the start of each point, visualize one shot you want to make and how you will set it up. Whether it’s a well-placed serve, a dink, or a shot to pull your opponent off the court, having a specific shot in mind helps you stay focused and proactive.
  2. Footwork: Pay attention to your footwork and position yourself to make quality shots consistently. By being in the right place at the right time, you can maximize your chances of success.
  3. Slowing Down the Point: Utilize dinks and resets to set the tone of the point and look for opportunities to attack. By slowing down the pace of the game, you can control the tempo and create openings for strategic plays.

Going Deeper: Winning Ugly

If you’re interested in delving deeper into the mental side of pickleball, I recommend exploring the concepts presented in Brad Gilbert’s book, “Winning Ugly.” Gilbert, a former professional tennis player, offers valuable insights on staying focused and playing at your best. Here are some key takeaways from his book:

  1. Disrupt Your Opponent: Instead of allowing your opponent to dictate the game, make them move and adjust to your shots. By disrupting their rhythm, you gain a strategic advantage.
  2. Compete and Pay Attention: Winning ugly is about competing, trying your best, and paying attention to what’s happening on the court between you and your opponent. Stay engaged and seize every opportunity.
  3. Understand Your Opponent: Take note of your opponent’s weaknesses and strengths. This knowledge allows you to develop a game plan that exploits their vulnerabilities while capitalizing on your own strengths.
  4. Mental Warfare: Deal with gamesmanship and understand the strategic aspects of the game. Recognize your weaknesses and work on improving them to gain a competitive edge.
  5. Focus on Winning: While striving for perfection in your shots is admirable, what truly matters is the score at the end of the game. Focus on finding ways to win rather than obsessing over making every shot perfect.

My Ugly Strategy for Winning

Based on my own experiences and the principles outlined in “Winning Ugly,” I have developed a strategy to stay focused and perform at my best. Here’s what I do:

  1. Eliminate Random Mind Chatter: During a game, I consciously let goof any distracting thoughts or worries. I remind myself to stay present and focus on the task at hand.
  2. Visualize Success: Before each point, I take a moment to visualize myself executing the shot successfully. This mental imagery helps me stay confident and focused on the outcome I want to achieve.
  3. Adapt to the Situation: I constantly assess the game and adjust my strategy accordingly. If my opponent is consistently hitting deep shots, I make a conscious effort to move closer to the baseline to handle those shots effectively.
  4. Stay Positive: Maintaining a positive mindset is crucial in pickleball. Even when things aren’t going my way, I remind myself to stay optimistic and believe in my abilities. This positivity helps me stay motivated and resilient throughout the game.
  5. Embrace the Challenge: Instead of shying away from tough opponents, I embrace the challenge and see it as an opportunity to grow. Playing against skilled players pushes me to elevate my game and discover new strategies.

Frequently Asked Questions

Q. How can I improve my mental focus in pickleball?

Improving mental focus in pickleball requires practice and discipline. One effective technique is mindfulness meditation, which helps train your mind to stay present and focused. Additionally, developing a pre-game routine that includes visualization and deep breathing can help you enter a focused state of mind.

Q. What should I do if I find myself getting distracted during a game?

If you find yourself getting distracted during a game, take a moment to pause and reset. Focus on your breathing and bring your attention back to the present moment. Remind yourself of your game plan and the specific shot you want to execute. By consciously redirecting your focus, you can regain control of your mental state.

Q. How can I handle the pressure of competitive games?

Handling the pressure of competitive games requires mental preparation and self-belief. Practice visualization techniques to imagine yourself performing well under pressure. Develop a positive self-talk routine to boost your confidence. Remember that pressure is a natural part of competition, and by embracing it, you can thrive in challenging situations.

Q. Are there any specific mental strategies for doubles play?

In doubles play, communication and teamwork are essential. Develop a strong partnership with your teammate and establish clear signals and strategies. Practice anticipation and reading your opponents’ movements to stay one step ahead. Additionally, maintaining a positive and supportive attitude towards your partner can greatly enhance your mental game.

Q. How can I bounce back from a losing streak and regain my confidence?

Bouncing back from a losing streak requires resilience and a positive mindset. Take time to reflect on your performance and identify areas for improvement. Set small, achievable goals to regain your confidence gradually. Surround yourself with supportive teammates or friends who can provide encouragement and constructive feedback. Remember that setbacks are part of the journey, and with perseverance, you can overcome them.


In the game of pickleball, the mental side is just as important as the physical aspect. By developing a winning mindset, staying focused, and implementing strategies like “Winning Ugly,” you can unlock the key to winning on the court. Remember to eliminate distractions, visualize success, adapt to the situation, stay positive, and embrace challenges. With practice and dedication, you can elevate your mental game and achieve peak performance in pickleball. So, step onto the court with confidence, and let your mental prowess guide you to victory.

What do you think?

Written by Billy Pickles

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  1. Eliminating all those random thoughts you discussed and having the ability to stay present in the moment are achieved though practicing meditation everyday. Basically it boils down to being able to concentrate and stay focussed for the duration of the game. Practicing meditation is the key to achieving the results you discussed. People can’t turn off the random thoughts without practicing how to do it.

  2. Eliminating all those random thoughts you discussed and having the ability to stay present in the moment are achieved though practicing meditation everyday. Basically it boils down to being able to concentrate and stay focussed for the duration of the game. Practicing meditation is the key to achieving the results you discussed. People can’t turn off the random thoughts without practicing how to do it.

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