While it has never happened to us, of course, we have talked to people (Pickleballers) who went into tournament slumps and “went two and out” more than once over the period of one season. (For you saner folks who chose not to play tournaments, two matches is the minimum number you get in double-elimination tournaments. Thus two and out is the worst you can do.) These several folks say the phenomenon feels ridiculously bad, often leading to depression, overeating, wearing pirate costumes and other poor coping mechanisms. But after a couple of days they claim the self-hatred eases, leaving behind the nagging question of “What do I do about it?”. As we see it there are several options for these unfortunates. (Again, we iterate that we are not talking from personal experience; no, no. So we may be wrong, but we’re just sayin’….)
1. Quit pickleball entirely. We believe that most pickleballers should quit the game at least once a year whether they need to or not. Unfortunately, like weight loss, the benefit from this seldom sticks.
2. Find a new partner…everything is their fault anyway.
3. Develop a killer shot. This can be entertaining if you’re drill fanatics as we are, but unfortunately when you get into a tournament that shot will disappear. And again IOHO (in our humble opinions) it wouldn’t make much difference to the total result.
4. Buy a new paddle. AJ is famous for buying and later selling (cheap) his barely used paddles. There is a whole cottage industry springing up around him and his used paddles. But only Al Hager ever offered to sell him a trained paddle, and The Bear’s ridiculous pricing scheme for that involves standing the paddle on end and layering hundred-dollar bills alongside it until the stack reaches the height of the paddle, and AJ has never quite done that, at least not all at once. That said, any new paddle can give you confidence for ten or fifteen minutes (sometimes less).
5. Get a video done of yourself playing in a competitive match so you can identify your errors. We recently filmed AJ and his partner in a tournament a few miles down the road…or his first match, anyway. When we watched the match on our TV it was strangely apparent that AJ actually hadn’t shown up that day, and in his place there was some aging zombie lurching about in a trance-state, waving the paddle vaguely in the direction of a ball long since passed. Spotting errors was easy but it would have taken a statistician hours just to establish the dominant categories, much less totaling them.
6. Take lessons. Forget the group lessons…go for the private lessons. They are more expensive, so they are better, and at the end of the day you are guaranteed to be able to play like Mark Friedenberg, Steve Wong, Alan Christensen, or Prem Carnot. (Or perhaps not, as AJ has taken private lessons from each of these folks with little if any discernible improvement.)
7. Drill endlessly, employing (if you have one) a Simon ball machine. That way you can (a) ingrain really bad habits by repeating them endlessly and (b) go further into debt buying the Simon, which, by the way, we wholeheartedly recommend for students actually willing to learn.
8. Apply for a lower USAPA level based on lack of performance. This of course gets into the whole ego thing, implies admitting failure or encroaching old age or both, and overall is so highly unpleasant that few men (especially) want to do it. Plus having watched a final of a men’s 4.0 match recently, these guys are all sandbagging and are really 5.0s in their home clubs anyway. We mean to say, have you SEEN the people in ANY level’s medal rounds recently? These folks are ALL good! We can imagine you’d feel REALLY terrible (or even more terrible) if you dropped down and STILl got beat like a drum.
So, OK, these things don’t seem to have much traction, do they? So what DO you do, if we get into one of these slumps and want out? The real answer, we’re convinced, consists of only one thing.
Reducing unforced errors.
How you reduce your unforced errors depends on first identifying what you are doing that creates them, naturally. (Read our recent post about Noel White’s innovative research on this subject for more information.) So, depending on what you are doing, maybe try one or two of the following. We doubt you’d have the time, energy or mental discipline to do ALL of them, at least not at the same time – at least we don’t:
1. Get a skilled observer to identify what you are doing wrong. If you go for video, do not analyze it yourself. Refer to #5 above for the reasons why.
2. Reduce the things you are working on to a few fundamental changes. With AJ his errors often involves him not staring down the ball. (Forget just watching the ball. Stare it down like it’s a steak and you’re starving.) This makes him a little slow moving from the baseline. In turn this results in his not getting to the ball and setting his feet correctly before he puts a paddle on the ball. Therefore he’s hitting on the move and sometimes is late even getting under a ball for a drop shot, thereupon netting a bunch of them. At those points he will also be hitting at the ball instead of lifting it or following through with it…so it graduates from not watching the ball to poor court position to poor mechanics and that’s the end of that point.
3. Find a level of play that allows you to practice your fundamentals without worrying overly much about winning or losing. One thing that we both enjoy for practice is asking the 3.5s if they mind if we play a Round Robin (six games) with them. We acknowledge we are working on stuff, not trying to win points off them, and often they enjoy it because we’re willing to share a little teaching stuff with them when they ask, and with us only working on shots they can pretty easily win the game. Win-win…win!
4. Once you’re feeling like you are back on solid ground with your fundamentals again, seek out some good peer play and go at it hammer and tong for awhile. Acknowledge you want to play tournament ball, meaning no more Mr. Nice Guy. Most players of your same level are fine with this as they also need the peer practice to keep them sharp.
5. For one month work on some aspect of your strength, flexibility, weight or whatever. Being stronger, more limber, and lighter will make you feel better, will make your shots have more pace, and can’t hurt you too much. If this doesn’t work with your personal medical conditions, enough said. But it’s worth a try to us when push comes to shove.
6. Second to last, work on breathing. There is probably nothing you can do that is better to slow your overheated, self-hating persona down and help you become calm and present than good breathing practice. We recommend that approach here and there on this site. It works…when we do it.
7. And lastly, if worse has gotten beyond worse for real, take at least a full week off pickleball (although usually two works better). Come back to the game refreshed and with renewed vigor. You may find the game becomes fun again, at least for awhile.
As with all we write, the above is our two cents, and your mileage may vary. And while we can’t speak from personal experience (does the lady and gentleman protest too much?) about losing two and out, it does seem like something we could do something about, using the above techniques – if it ever did happen to us.