I finally figured out why I’ve run into a bit of a wall on my pickleball journey during one of my casual weekly leagues: I’ve become a marked man.
At first, it was my age. Despite being in my mid-forties, I was one of the younger players. This would often lead to players making excuses about their lack of mobility or agility when losing, but it did not stop them from attempting to slam the ball in my face. I was a target.
But then something remarkable happened: I won my first mixed doubles tournament. After that, every player I was playing against seemed to shift into another gear when playing me. No longer were they making excuses or trying to use my age as an excuse; they were going all-in to take down the defending champion.
And I never even mentioned the tournament! But pickleball is a small world, and social media is a beast, so nothing remains quiet for long.
The Price of Victory
“Well, well, well, you’re gracing us with your presence.”
I didn’t understand these condescending comments, and my perplexed look gave me away.
“We saw you won the tournament on Facebook. Nice job.”
Ahhhhhhh. Now I get it. This is a new chapter of my pickleball journey.
I do think that people were genuinely happy for me. But if you have a competitive spirit, you will want to beat the best of the best. And while I am far from the best, I can respect the objective. So I should have recognized sooner why I lost momentum in my small pond on Monday nights; I have become the guy to beat.
And that puts me in a tricky spot.
On one hand, it’s nice to be respected. Conversely, I must remain vigilant and not get complacent during these matches. And I am playing too “nice” these days.
In an effort to have more rallies and work on my “soft game,” I am giving up too many points, creating a deficit that I then can’t overcome. While my pickleball game has improved, I am not good enough to flip a switch and go from “friendly recreational player just here for a good time” to “competitive pickleballer who will stop at nothing to be the best.”
So, as with all things in life, I must find a balance. A way to play with heart and passion while still respecting my opponents. An approach that positions me to improve my game yet consistently win–without pelting anyone in the face.
Pickleball Journey, The Plan Moving Forward
Perhaps most importantly, if I want to keep my competitive edge at all times, I must never forget that I am the one who has something to lose. After all, they are playing against me because I did something remarkable and have become their target. Whether they win or lose, I will still remain the champion. So, now it’s time for me to rise to the challenge and show them that I’m more than just a past victor–I’m also a current threat.
As a natural introvert, which by the way, I’m reasonably certain is the predominant pickleball type, I am not big on accolades. I play pickleball to escape as opposed to being the center of anything. I wear high socks and bright sneakers because they fill me with joy, not because I want to be seen. But these fashion choices may also contribute to people putting in extra effort since I am choosing to look the part of a pickleball player.
That may be why I have been tentative in telling my fellow players about my recent pickleball certification, ambassadorship, and even this pickleball blog.
But one thing at a time: it’s time to shift my mindset and accept that I will soon no longer be a rookie, and I will need to own my intermediate status to its fullest. 🙂