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Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Becoming a Better Pickleball Partner

I have written a couple of posts about partner communications. The first was Communicating with a Partner - Off the Court. That post discussed the pre-game conversations and included a short section on building confidence:
"But the most important communication aspect might not be about what happens between the sidelines, but between the ears. The pre-match conversation should create an air of confidence between partners. Players should support each other and avoid any negative thoughts. Such discussions help to build winning attitudes that will move from off the court to play on the court, where a different level of communication is needed"
I followed that with another post, Communicating with a Partner - Changing the Game, where I continued the confidence-building communications:
"This communication may be something as simple as a high-five or tapping of paddles and saying “good shot” or other positive feedback. It also might take the form of a more specific compliment aimed at encouraging a particular shot like "way to hit it at their feet” or “great dink”. Always be positive with these communications. Nothing kills a player’s attitude more than hearing criticism mid-game. Also, make sure that complimentary words are matched with positive body language. Partners can read a false compliment. It might as well have been a criticism.
There is no prescription for building chemistry between partners. Some need more enthusiasm and compliments while others need less. It comes only with time spent together on the court. But, once an understanding is developed, it can be invaluable during stressful times such as close matches or during a comeback. Do not underestimate the importance of frequent supportive and encouraging remarks. Everyone likes a compliment."

Recently, Sarah Ansboury, a national champion caliber player wrote an article for the RV Picklers website. I've used Sarah's videos in the past as well as citing the RV Picklers. Both are excellent pickleball resources. Here is Sarah's article.

Becoming a Better Pickleball Partner

Whenever I give lessons to partners I usually come across a lot of the same issues. I’m told:

“He hogs the middle and is taking my forehand”, or “She has trouble with her backhand”, or “He doesn’t come to the line quick enough”. We are often too quick to point out what is wrong with what our partner is doing.

Of course it is easier than pointing out what we are doing wrong, because we see what is happening in front of us and we feel the results of their error. But whether it be “rec” play or tournament play there is nothing I hate more than when I see a player’s eyes roll to the back of their heads, mouth gaping open in disgust when their partner does something wrong. I feel for that player who already feels bad enough for making the error. And, of course, seeing their partner’s reaction only makes it worse.

Instead consider the following:
  1. Phrase your thoughts a bit differently: “What can WE do in the next point to make sure that doesn’t happen again?” The way that you communicate with your team-mate is to actually act as if you are a team. Your attitude should be that every shot hit is both players’ responsibility and every point is a problem you solve TOGETHER.
  2. Work to control your body language: Unfortunately, eye rolling or shoulder shrugging is second nature to many of us. And it is something I choose to work on every time I play. My rule is no matter how the point ended I will support my partner whether it is with an encouraging “great shot” followed by a paddle tap or “let’s get the next one” followed by a paddle tap.
I want my partner to know I support them and trust them no matter what. I will usually walk back to pick up a ball with them or walk to the line with them so we stay on the same page and show we are a unit.

Sometimes it’s tough not to gasp in frustration when your partner attempts an easy high forehand put away down the middle and instead misses it 5 feet to the right of the court. But here is my solution…smile. What else can you really do? Stuff happens! And we may not always like it, but in pickleball we have to move on and get the next point. The last point is over. Now we are focused on the next one.

I know it takes a lot to do some of these things, these are behaviors not shots. But, believe me, you can control your behavior and that will help you be a better partner. Because the better partner you are, the more you will get out of your partner. You WANT your partner to succeed! So part of your job is to set them up for that success. Consider this the next time you catch yourself rolling your eyes … try to laugh it off instead.

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