Pickleball saved my life in 2020.
I know that probably sounds dramatic, but hear me out. When the world stopped for the initial COVID lockdown, I had only a few ways to get exercise and little-to-no form of community. Maybe you experienced this too. My mental and emotional health waned. Anxieties were high and I felt like spiraling, but I found pickleball and along with it came new challenges, a fun way to get exercise, and an incredible community.
There are potentially hundreds of reasons why pickleball is the fastest growing sport in the United States, but I’m sharing my top reasons why, the real secret to pickleball’s success (at the bottom), and 6 Ways to Improve Your Doubles Game using psychological safety (at the end).
1. Pickleball Is Easy to Start
No matter your age, athletic background, or skill level, if you can hold a paddle and swing, you can play pickleball.
2. Pickleball Is Fun
In pickleball you are learning every step of the way and you are challenged with a new skill or technique. No matter where you are in the sport, there is always a new challenge waiting and another step to take in your journey. This tension and the challenge of the unknown creates engagement.
That outlines the general formula for fun:
- LEARNING (New Shots/Mechanics/Techniques) + ENGAGEMENT (Challenge/Tension) = FUN
Also, every player is on his or her journey of progression. This public display of progression can be inspiring and fun to watch. It is fun to see your friends improve over time and to play a part in that journey.
3. The Physical Rewards Outweigh Any Risks
Pickleball doesn’t tax your body in the same way as other sports like tennis or basketball. I played basketball at a competitive level for many years. The amount of injuries I accumulated on a monthly basis was just too much. Even in recreation play, you can get seriously hurt in a way that changes your life.
This isn’t so with pickleball. Granted, there are risks involved when you play any type of sport, but for the most part, you can play with a low level of intensity and limited mobility and still have fun, and the rewards of being active outweigh the risks. There are some mechanics that require overhead swings, bending/squatting, and footwork that can be challenging in more intense games, but you don’t have to engage in those activities in order to keep the ball in play and to compete.
4. Pickleball Requires You to Be Present
In life, there are many unknowns, unanswered questions, and things to worry about. This was the case during the initial COVID lockdown. Everywhere you turned–especially if it was the news–there was a new reason to worry about the future. Thankfully, in pickleball, you must be engaged in the present in order to play. You can’t think about the future when you’re focusing on hitting the ball.
5. Other Sports Easily Transfer to Pickleball
From the outside point of view, pickleball looks like mini-tennis. In many ways, the sport borrows elements from badminton, ping pong, and tennis. This makes for a wide gate of entry and an easier learning curve for people with different athletic backgrounds.
6. Pickleball Encourages Community
There are elements of community, accountability, and reliability all baked into the game of pickleball. Because the sport is addictive and fun, and because you need other people to play the sport, it creates a self-regulating community. For example, you can be the best player in your area, but if you’re rude, egotistical, or difficult to play with, you likely won’t get many invites and the improving players will pass you by. After all, no one wants to spoil a good game of pickleball on a person with a bad attitude.
There are also elements of the game that require self-regulation. For example, recreation games are run by the honor system. You call balls in or out on your side. This means that you have to have a baseline of honesty and integrity, otherwise people will call you out. This is also a great reason why pickleball can thrive in any size community.
7. The People
I have met some of the most amazing and kind people on the pickleball court. After all, it’s hard to be pretentious or rude when you’re playing a sport called “pickleball.” For the most part, this sport is made up of players who share a few common goals: to get better, to challenge yourself, and to have fun.
8. Pickleball Is a Great Equalizer
Pickleball combines worlds. At any point and time, you can be playing on the same court with a millionaire who shows up in a 6-figure car and another person who pulls up in a dented Toyota Camry (ME!). However, in those games, it does not matter what you drive, how much money you make, or who you know. The only things that matter are if you’re having fun, you’re engaged in the game, and ready to go one more.
9. Pickleball Is Constantly Evolving
Every year, there are updates to the rules, new paddle technologies, and new strategies to learn. This constant evolution creates excitement around the sport. There are also other questions that have yet to be answered:
- Will pickleball be an olympic sport?
- Will pickleball be an official collegiate sport?
10. The Real Secret: The Sport Encourages Learning
In my opinion, pickleball has succeeded and will continue to succeed as a top sport because it creates a team environment where learning thrives.
If you’ve been following me up to this point, what should be becoming clear is that pickleball creates an environment that has high psychological safety and high motivation/accountability.
What is psychological safety?
“Psychological safety is a shared belief held by members of a team that the team is safe for interpersonal risk taking,” says Amy Edmondson, a researcher, author, and scholar at Harvard University. Edmondson specializes in psychological safety in the domains of leadership, teaming, and organizational learning. I have followed her work for over a decade now and have spent years learning about team dynamics at work, and have the proof in its effectiveness.
Basically, psychological safety is the belief that you will not be punished or humiliated for speaking up with ideas, questions, concerns, or mistakes in a team setting.
The best teams in pickleball (and in life) are psychologically safe. When you are on a team that is psychologically safe, you can:
- Give and receive feedback
- Raise issues and concerns
- Ask for clarification
- Ask difficult questions
- Ask for help
- Offer solutions to problems
- Admit errors
Because the best teams use these elements, psychological safety must be practiced on the pickleball court. Winning teams engage in ALL of these activities, sometimes in a single game.
In the best games of pickleball, you enter into a world that is high in psychological safety and high in motivation/accountability. When these elements come together, you’re in a zone of learning that is exciting and fun. Here are a few ideas on how to practice it.
6 Ways to Improve at Doubles Pickleball Using Psychological Safety
If you have a doubles partner in pickleball, you will want to practice these techniques in order to create an environment that is open and constantly learning, especially if you play tournaments.
1. Give and Receive Feedback
If your partner asks for feedback, give it, but do it in a way that is constructive, not deconstructive. Highlight 1. what they’re doing well, 2. share what they can work on, and then 3. end with how they’re improving. If a friend or your partner gives you feedback, listen. Sometimes unsolicited feedback can be a mood killer, but you don’t want to miss any constructive feedback if it can help your game.
2. Raise Issues and Concerns
If you see patterns in your opponent’s play or a potential defense strategy, what do you do? Do you tell your partner or keep it to yourself? If you play tournaments, be sure to raise these issues and share your perspective. Your partner may be missing it.
Healthy teams disagree. It’s OK to disagree, just make sure that you decide on a plan that way you’re aligned and on the same page. For example, should your partner take the middle for certain shots? If you disagree, talk it out, but make sure to decide on a strategy or a compromise before playing.
4. Ask for Clarification
Ask questions if you don’t understand your partner’s thinking or strategy. Ask things like:
- “What do you mean?”
- “Why did you do that?”
- “What did you see?”
5. Ask for Help
If you want to improve a part of your game, tell your partner. He/she may have the drill or words to help unlock that for you. It’s also good to ask for help during a game. Verbally communicating this can mean the difference between a win and a loss.
6. Admit Errors
This one can be tough, but during or after games, it’s important to admit your errors. No one is perfect. By communicating with your partner, you will open the door for more communication and feedback his/her perspective may help your game. When your teammate admits their errors, be sure to practice GRACE over GUILT.
Be generous with your grace because you will likely need it later down the road. Grace>Guilt is a great rule of thumb for growing as a team, exchanging transparent communication, and building trust.
Conclusion: Why Pickleball Is the Fastest Growing Sport
What do you think? Will pickleball continue to grow or is it just a fad? Let me know in the comments.
What are your thoughts on psychological safety and pickleball? Are those tips helpful?
Do you have other thoughts on why pickleball has exploded in growth?
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In this video we’ll break down one of these shots (the drop volley) so that you know when to do it and how to use it to win rallies the next time you get on the court.
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