How to Keep Focus During Pickleball – These Tactics Helped Me Win My First Tournament

It was my first pickleball match with a professional referee officiating. And I found myself unusually nervous.

The kitchen turned into a fiery cauldron; I became hyperaware of my surroundings.

Not only did it freak me out that someone was watching the match, but I didn’t know what to expect. The referee, who was super nice, explained that part of the gig entails calling the score before each serve. A minor detail, yet one more thing to think about during the tournament final.

The match got underway, and the first rally ended abruptly when my assigned partner was called for a kitchen violation.


There’s that ref again!

I had played with my partner before, but not recently. Our opponents were formidable, including a player I refer to as “my nemesis,” as I often find it difficult to win games against him.

We quickly found ourselves down by a few points. And then we stalled at 1 to 4 for what felt like forever.

My partner remained calm and relaxed. I had seen him frustrated and choppy in previous performances, but he had unlocked a new game mode. Tournament mode. CHILL MODE.

But what I appreciated most were his gentle reminders, delivered with empathetic eyes, as I struggled a bit.

“We’re going to win. Just play your game,” he reminded.

After a few points, I reset. What difference did it make if we had a referee? Who cares if I embarrassed myself? This is pickleball, and this is fun, I told myself.

And that’s when we got rolling.

The first game was hard fought, with each point delivering thrilling moments for both sides. We won by a couple of points.

The second game was even more challenging. But my partner smelled blood in the water, “they are frustrated; make them work hard for every point,” he said as we passed at the baseline.

Simple yet effective advice. Their frustration was boiling over. Red faces. Swatting at the air. They were aggravated and annoyed, and it was showing. So we kept charging ahead. Consistent. Strong.

We won.

I wish I could say it was my consistent third shot drops. Or how I alternated my serve speed and depth. Or a team strategy that stymied the attack at all fronts. But what won us the match was our ability to stay calm in the storm while our opponent’s fed their own trap, built on negative self-talk and desperation.

What follows is basic advice to stay calm. If you are wondering how to keep focus during pickleball, use these three simple tips to give yourself the best shot of tasting victory.

1. Understand why you’re losing focus

The first step to regaining focus is to understand why you lost focus in the first place. There are various reasons why people lose focus, including being tired, stressed, bored, or distracted. Once you know why you lost focus, you can take steps to avoid those triggers in the future. But that won’t help you in the moment. So instead, focus on a single item on or off the court; take a deep breath, in and out through your nose. A nice long exhale can help reduce your heart rate and allow you to regain focus.

2. Take a break

If you lose focus during pickleball, give yourself a hard reset. Grab a drink of water; tie your shoe; walk slowly to retrieve a ball that might have “accidentally” slipped from your hand. Taking a mini-break will help to clear your mind and give you the energy you need to refocus.

3. Simplify your task

If you need help with focusing on a pickleball match, try simplifying things. Break it down into smaller steps that you can complete easily. This will help to make the task feel less daunting and make it easier for you to stay focused. It starts with executing a single shot. Don’t worry about the one you missed earlier or what lies ahead. Instead, concentrate on the present moment and be grateful that you are being given the opportunity to play a game. For 99% of us, that’s all it is, a game!

There are also things you can do pre-match that will help you stay focused and relaxed as the match unfolds.

  • Commit to only saying nice things to yourself
  • Get enough sleep: Most people need around eight hours of sleep per night.
  • Eat healthy: Eating a healthy diet can help you feel more relaxed and balanced. Make sure to eat plenty of fruits, vegetables, and whole grains. Avoid processed foods and sugary drinks.
  • Exercise: Exercise is a great way to reduce stress and improve your overall health. Try to get at least 30 minutes of exercise per day. Pickleball alone is usually not enough.
  • Talk to someone: Sometimes, it can be helpful to talk to someone about what’s going on in your life. If you’re feeling stressed, talk to a friend or family member, or consider seeing a therapist.

Imagine all of these simple steps as puzzle pieces. Individually, they don’t mean a whole lot. But together, they can create something beautiful. No matter the score or the circumstances, if you’re playing pickleball, you are blessed. Remember that and have some fun!

It felt great to win my first pickleball league tournament, but the lesson I learned was even more valuable. I walked away committed to eliminating all negative self-talk during play. After seeing how ugly it can look on others, I don’t want any part of the madness. Now will I never think or say a bad thing about myself to myself again? Of course not! But if I do slip, I’m committed to not beating myself up about it. 🙂

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