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Why We Excel Against Stronger Pickleball Opponents

Have you ever left the pickleball court bewildered by your improved performance against higher-level players? This intriguing phenomenon is not uncommon and raises a fascinating question: Why do we often play our best pickleball against those who are, on paper, much stronger opponents?

One player recently shared their experience of participating in both intermediate and advanced open play sessions. Surprisingly, they struggled in the intermediate games, winning just a single game in 1.5 hours. However, when they stepped up to the advanced level, their performance dramatically improved, leading to multiple wins and a noticeable increase in consistency.

This wasn’t an isolated incident but a recurring pattern. So, what’s behind this counterintuitive phenomenon?

The Challenge Elevates Performance

The consensus among players is that facing stronger opponents inherently raises your game. The challenge sharpens focus and heightens attention, making every point feel more significant. When you expect a tougher battle, you’re on high alert, which can enhance your performance.

For instance, playing against someone with a slower, less predictable serve (akin to a knuckleball in baseball) can throw you off. In contrast, a faster, topspin serve from a better player is somewhat easier to anticipate and return.

Predictability in Advanced Play

Better players tend to play more predictably in terms of strategy, making it easier to anticipate their moves. There’s a certain rhythm and logic to their play style that aligns with the strategies you’ve learned and practiced. This predictability can be comforting and allows you to prepare and respond more effectively.

The Role of the Partner

Many players have noted that their performance significantly improves when paired with a competent partner. This isn’t limited to playing doubles; even in singles, facing a competent opponent can elevate your game. When playing against lower-level players, you’re often forced into the role of controlling the game, which can be chaotic if their shots are unpredictable.

Playing against or with higher-level players means engaging in a game where your shots are set up more strategically, allowing you to execute those winning moves with precision.

Forced to Use Full Skill Set

Advanced players make it necessary for you to use all the tools in your toolbox, often drawing out skills and strategies you might not utilize in a lower-stakes game. They push you to make returns more difficult, set up more challenging shots for your opponents, and capitalize on opportunities to smash or speed up the ball.

Growth Through High-Level Competition

Ultimately, playing against better players is a learning opportunity. It forces you to elevate your game, adapt to higher standards of play, and refine your strategies under pressure. The intensity and quality of play at the advanced level not only test your skills but also push you to improve, offering a clear path to becoming a better player yourself.

Should You Always Strive to Play with Better Players?

Playing with better players is a fantastic way to elevate your pickleball game. However, it’s also important to balance this with games against players at your level or slightly above. Constantly playing against those much better than you can be discouraging if you’re not able to keep up, potentially leading to frustration or burnout.

It’s Beneficial To:

  • Challenge Yourself: Play with better players to learn and grow.
  • Reinforce Skills: Practice new skills in matches with peers to build confidence.
  • Mentor Others: Occasionally play against lower-level players to mentor them and solidify your own knowledge by teaching.

It’s good to mix it up sometimes.

To Sum Up

In summary, playing against stronger opponents in pickleball can serve as a catalyst for growth, improvement, and heightened performance. It’s a reminder that sometimes, stepping out of our comfort zone and facing tougher challenges head-on is the best way to uncover our true potential on the court.

So next time you find yourself facing a seemingly daunting opponent, embrace the opportunity to rise to the occasion. You might just surprise yourself with how well you play.


Q. Why do I play better against stronger opponents?

Facing stronger opponents sharpens your focus and heightens attention, making every point feel more significant. The challenge pushes you to elevate your game and utilize your full skill set.

Q. How does playing with a competent partner improve my performance?

Playing with a competent partner allows for more strategic gameplay, enabling you to execute winning moves with precision. It also reduces the chaos of unpredictable shots from lower-level players.

Q. What are the benefits of playing against better players?

Playing against better players forces you to adapt to higher standards of play, refine your strategies under pressure, and ultimately improve your skills. It serves as a valuable learning opportunity.

What do you think?

Written by Billy Pickles

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