Have you found yourself saying; “My partner keeps taking my ball”, “My partner is taking my forehand”, “My partner isn’t coming up to the kitchen line quick enough”, or “My partner doesn’t have a backhand”. As competitors we are often quick to point out what we believe is wrong with our partners.
Whether it be a friendly recreation game or high-level tournament play you will always see the player with the eye roll, the gasp after their partner makes an unforced error and the person who insists on coaching the other during the game. How we react to unforced errors will make the difference between a great partnership and the team who on paper should win most matches yet finds themselves exiting early during tournaments.
Think about a shot that you considered an easy put away that your partner hit into the net. Your partner most likely felt horrible watching the ball slap against the net. Seeing your reaction and body language only makes that person feel worse and this is where the partnership begins to crumble.
To become a better pickleball partner, you will need to focus on your behaviors, not the shot. Your partner needs to know that you support and trust them. Instead of gasping in disbelief at a missed shot you must train yourself to move on to the next shot. I have found that baseball / softball players are excellent at shrugging off the last point and moving on to the next one. They have the mindset of percentages. Think about it, if a baseball player hits .300, they essentially missed 7 out of 10 shots! Yet this is considered a success and they move on to the next at bat without panic.
Next time you are on the court, make a conscious effort to consider the following:
- Work to control your body language. No matter how the point ends support your partner. Begin using encouraging phrases like “let’s get the next one” or “nice shot!”. Start paddle tapping after every point. A simple paddle tap let’s your partner know we are a team and we are in this together.
- Express your thoughts differently. You are partners, begin using WE not I to solve an issue. Every ball hit is both player’s responsibility. Think of each point strategically. Even if the ball doesn’t hit your paddle you still need to be aware of your court placement. Your opponents can quickly run up the score if you are out of position. Work together on a game plan and execute together.
- Communicate consistently. This is especially important if you are playing with someone new. With each ball, begin saying “mine or yours” or “me or you”. Keep the phrase short. Even if it is obvious who will be taking the ball continue to say your preferred phrase. Communication on the court is a learned habit. The more repetition the quicker you will become a better communicator.
Great partnerships do not happen by accident. Both players need to be cognizant of their behaviors. Henry Ford said, “Coming together is a beginning, staying together is progress, and working together is success.”. Remember that every game, win or lose, is a learning opportunity. The better pickleball partner you become, the more success you will experience as a team.
If you haven't read part one of this blog, you can click here for some tips on searching for a pickleball partner.