Pickleball Love & Divorce
In the spirit of Valentine’s Day and celebrating the love of both each other and pickleball, I felt inclined for a while now to write this blog post to help others with their relationships both on and off the court. While every one of you are uniquely different to each other and have vastly different values and goals in life, there are few things I believe we all have in common though. Certainly our love for playing pickleball is one of them. Secondly, I believe we all enjoy developing and growing our friendships and close relationships the game of pickleball provides.
However, some of us already have close relationships with each other outside of pickleball. Whether it is through marriage, dating, family (close and extended), etc. many of us enjoy the game with a loved one that is an important person in our lives. This love that we share is often deep rooted from other parts of our lives and often carries a lot of history (both good and bad) that creates close bonds and/or challenges as we walk onto a pickleball court with our loved one. When we experience love and fun with our loved one on the court, it can be one of the most pleasurable experiences possible. We often see siblings or married couples actually grow stronger and become much more happier in their relationships because pickleball is a game both people can enjoy together.
On the other hand, we sometimes experience the opposite where people “change” when they are on the pickleball court. Whether it is the desire to be competitive and “win” each point, or the pressure to not make a mistake when they are playing like hitting the ball to high where your opponents have the ability to slam a winner at the feet of your loved one, suddenly the “love” turns to anxiety, frustration, and even anger. Often after a time of experiencing this pattern of negative feelings, we suddenly start to feel like it is no longer fun to play on the same court with our loved ones and we no longer are happy with the experience. We then begin a process called pickleball divorce where we stop playing with our loved one altogether just so we can be sure not to bring those frustrations and negative feelings into our personal lives and relationship off the court. What is pickleball divorce and why does this happen or what can we do about it to avoid it in the future?
I am certainly no expert on relationships or marital bliss. In fact, as many of you who know me personally know that in the last year plus I not only experienced pickleball divorce, but also went through a real divorce where my ex-spouse decided she’d rather be with another pickleball player after 15 years of marriage. Hence from my viewpoint, I can say that I experienced some of the worst of pickleball divorce. I now have a unique perspective on the topic and a goal of sharing some tips for avoiding pickleball divorce in the future. My wish is that you and your loved one will continue to find fun and happiness both on the court and off the court together.
Tip#1 - Communication
Probably the easiest thing to say, but the hardest for many people to do is to communicate openly with each other. Communicating with each other should start before the match, continue throughout the match, and is especially important after the match. Talk about each other’s feelings rather than strategies for winning. Sometimes we feel stress or anxiety from playing a certain opponent. Sometimes we are not quite focused on the game because other things are on our mind. Sometimes we don’t communicate verbally, but do so non-verbally which can create a lot of negative feelings. While we cannot control our partners shots, nor play for them when they are feeling challenged, it is better to help that person by talking through their feelings and helping them know you are listening to them and care for what is happening at the time you are there without adding more pressure or stress on them. A suggested strategy for communications is to talk about what your partner really “wants to hear” when they are playing next to you rather than you saying what you “want to say”. The more we can know what our partner wants on the court, the more they are going to excel at doing things that will lead to success and happiness both on and off the court.
Tip #2 - Encouragement
Most of us tap paddles when we score a point or earn a fault on the other team. However, what do you do when a point is scored against you or when you make a mistake? Pickleball is a game that is full of “mistakes” where each point something challenging happens and most likely it is an unforced error of some kind. Try to be encouraging both with good shots/decisions and those that are not. While it is “cliché” to say “nice try” or “good one” all the time, if we are genuine in our encouragement and look to be supportive of each other this will certainly result in better relations and positive play in the future. Try saying things like, “I like your decision making on that shot even though we didn’t execute quite right”. Or “that was excellent hustle”. Or “that is was my mistake”. Look for the positives on the court and be open to sharing them with your loved one. If he/she is feeling anxiety before a match, encourage them by helping them remember positive efforts from the past or that you’ll take it one point at a time with them. Finally, look each other in the eyes and smile with each paddle tap. Show you are right there with them each and every point.
Tip #3 - Do NOT Chastise
In doubles pickleball (the most common form of playing) we have partners and opponents on the court. There are a lot of variables happening all at once besides what you can “control” individually. Most of us can point to a reason on each and every shot of why a point or a fault occurred. Many of us that are “tacticians” of the game study movements, positioning, strategies, etc. However, most of us are not 5.0+ professional players who execute every shot flawlessly and make very minimal mistakes. Therefore treat each other with love and respect on the court knowing that we want to do the best we can for ourselves and our partners. Even in tournament play where the “stakes are high” for winning, people generally are doing the best they can. While you know your loved one the “most” it does no good to openly criticize or chastise them for mistakes they make. While you may think that you are being helpful during the match by offering advice or tips for improvement, often times that is received as criticisms and enforces stressful feelings to our loved ones. Also, watch your “non-verbals” as well where facial expressions, non-eye contact, sulking, etc. can be just as critical to our loved ones as spoken words. There is a time for criticisms usually off the court after matches where you can sit together and discuss opportunities for improvement. I don’t care how long a couple knows each other or how comfortable they are with each other, very few folks can be openly critical with each other on the court and actually improve their play.
Tip #4 - Compromise
There it is… the “BIG C” that we all need to do with any relationship because it is about two of you instead of just you. While we believe that we should have our way “most” of the time, it is important both on and off the court that we compromise with each other to what our strengths are and what our weaknesses are. If my partner has a really good feel for a drop shot, I need to let them take most of the balls down the middle because that is their strength. If I am dinking the ball better than my partner that match, I need to try to cover for my partner and try to defend against high shots if they are being slammed at us. Most couples and relationships that are able to make their on-court experience work without pickleball divorce, compromise very well with each other. They accept the style of play their partner is working on during the match. They adjust to each other when challenges happen to them on the court. They are encouraging and communicate well as we talked about already. And most importantly, they have a VERY SHORT MEMORY for anything negative that happens to them during a match. In fact, forgetting the last point and being present in the current point is something all of us need to master for success on the court. Therefore compromising by allowing for each other’s positives and negatives can go a long way into a blissful and continued on-court relationship.
For more readings on this topic, here are some links to other great articles…
Again, Happy Valentine’s Day to all my readers and friends! While I have gone through some personal relationship turmoil both on and off the court, I hope that my life learned lessons and this article will be of a support to you and your loved ones. I have now certainly moved forward in life and look to a much brighter future with my relationships both on and off the court.
Thank you for your interest and efforts in making more love than divorce in pickleball!