Are We There Yet?

I’m putting in the hours but am I actually getting any better? This is a question that I ask myself all the time. Lately, I’ve been feeling pretty positive about my game. I truly feel that I am getting better every time I step on the court but I often wonder if this feeling is real or if I’m completely delusional. How do I know that I’m truly improving?

There are days when I play completely horrible. We all have those days. They used to happen to me quite regularly and they are now few and far between. That must mean I am getting better, right?

I’m sure I’m not the only one who wonders about these things so I’m sharing this episode of Pickleball Therapy. The episode is very insightful. In it, Tony shares three ways that you can confirm that you’re making progress.

Those who play in pickleball tournaments regularly have a much easier time of tracking their progress. I mean, it’s pretty straight forward. You enter in 3.0 and you do well so the next time you enter in 3.5 and then you do well at that level and then you enter at 4.0 and so on and so forth until you reach a point where you kind of plateau. When you get to this point (or if your tournament results are pretty inconclusive like mine), then you’re pretty much in the same boat as non-tournament players. How do you know if you’re improving?

For me, since I generally play with the same people regularly each week (I have a Friday night group that’s pretty consistent) and I try to keep track of my performance week after week. I remember the very first time I played with this group like it was yesterday. I did not win a single game. Even though I lost game after game, I still had a great time because I love being challenged and I felt like I could learn so much by playing with this amazing group of players.

As time progressed, I began to win half and lose half until it got to the point where I was winning more games than I was losing. Today, playing with the same group of people, I will maybe lose one or two games (or sometimes none at all). Comparing this to my performance when I started, I do feel like I have made some progress.

There is one night a week that I’m playing with the same group of players consistently but, the rest of the time, I’m playing with random people. The match ups are quite random and unpredictable and, in this situation, I really can’t rely on simply keeping track of wins and losses because so many factors could impact it like who I’m playing with and who I’m playing against. In this case, I kind of do something similar to what Tony describes in the video. I keep track of my shots and my errors.

I try to figure out how many unforced errors I commit in a game or play session and then I make an effort to reduce this. Basically if I am consistently committing fewer and fewer unforced errors each time I play then it gives me a sense of improvement. It’s not foolproof but it’s a way to quantify my progress.

The same thing with shots. Am I making 80% of my third shot drops vs. only 50% of them the week before? How many around the post (ATP) shots did I execute successfully (compared to last month when I was making zero)? Again, this isn’t the best way to tell if you’re improving but it’s one of the ways I track my progress because it’s at least something I can quantify or measure and I’m not solely relying on my gut feelings.

Anyway, you will probably never meet anyone who enjoys losing as much as I do. Don’t get me wrong. I love winning as much as the next guy but if I’m winning a lot then I don’t feel challenged and I don’t feel like I’m growing. If I’m winning a lot then I’m playing with the wrong people. There’s a saying that goes, “If you’re the smartest person in the room, then you’re in the wrong room.”

I mean there are times that I play just awful but most of the time that I play, I am playing my best and giving it my all so, when I am losing, I know I am losing because I’m playing against players who are just better than me. I wholeheartedly embrace the spankings they deliver and use these as opportunities to learn and improve my game. I wish I could put myself in these situations all the time but the better players don’t generally enjoy playing with weaker players so I have to rely on charity games most of the time. When I do find myself in one of these situations, it’s easy to have feelings of doubt and think, “Man, I really suck and I’m not getting any better.” This is where Tony’s advice kind of comes in handy. When I know I’m playing against a person or team that I can never win against then it’s good to have incremental goals. Maybe I can’t win a match but perhaps I can win a game? Or maybe they are really good and I can’t even win a game but maybe I can win more points than I did the last time?

My friend Donnie Lesperance is the perfect example of this. I have never won against him at singles and I doubt that I ever will. I generally only get 3-4 points on average so I was super excited when I lost 12-10 two weeks ago. Yes, I still lost but the fact that I got to 10 points was an achievement. (I can’t wait to play him again to see if this was a fluke or if I have truly gotten better at singles.)

Another good way to measure progress that Tony touched on (which I will try to keep better track of in the future) is match or game length. Maybe you lose a game within 5-10 minutes on average but now you’re extending the games to 15-20 minutes. The score might be the same 11-8, but you’re holding the other team and getting more sideouts so you’re not as easy to defeat as before. I would consider this progress.

It’s easy to feel despair when it doesn’t seem like your game is getting any better and other people are advancing their skills faster than you but I try to find ways to track and celebrate incremental improvements and this helps me stay positive and motivated. I hope that you found the information in the podcast helpful and, if you have other ways of measuring progress, please share them in the comments below.

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