Internal Shifts Before Winning a Pickleball Tournament

Winning a Pickleball Tournament
My doubles partner and I won bronze.

Internal Shifts Before Winning a Pickleball Tournament

I’ve been playing pickleball for four years. It’s the most fun sport I’ve ever played. Though I didn’t get into pickleball to win tournaments, I was interested in trying them. However, it was a bit depressing at first. 

While my external game of pickleball can certainly be improved, it was the internal game that was causing me trouble. And I wanted to work on it. 

I’ve played five tournaments so far, and in almost all of them, I lost every game, or at most I won one game. Whereas, when I play for fun I win as often as I lose. What was going on?

I let my emotions be my guide. Each time any depressing emotion showed up, I did The Work on the thought connected to it. Let’s look at how I worked on my inner game in this way.

I’m a Loser and Other Thoughts

One of the thoughts that was connected to the emotion I felt after losing so many pickleball tournaments was quite simply, “I’m a loser.” And of course it was literally true. I was eliminated each time, therefore I was a loser.

The mind loves to latch onto facts to prove its story. But it takes those facts and exaggerates and distorts them into something far worse. Not only did I lose in the tournament, but I was a loser in general. This meant, “I cannot play the game at all,” “I’m no good at other things too,” and “It’s shameful to be me.” 


Of course, when I questioned these thoughts I could see through my mind’s exaggeration. Just because I lose, doesn’t make me a loser. But my mind kept believing it. And the more I lost, the truer it felt. But each time it showed up, I met it with understanding by gently listening and questioning. 

The result was that I stopped caring as much over time. As I did my work, the same losses became less of a big deal. At one point, I realized on a deep level that I am just an average pickleball player. 

This was a big shift for me because almost unconsciously, I had been thinking that I could be really good. Therefore, being average was not good enough. When I saw this, something relaxed inside. I stopped pretending I was better than I am. And then losing in a tournament became a lot less stressful. I went to cheer others on as much as to play or win.

I Also Did A Judge-Your-Neighbor Worksheet

After losing one match, I wrote a Judge-Your-Neighbor Worksheet on the opposing team.

1. I am angry with the other team because they are dominating us. 

2. I want them to fall apart. I want them to stop being lucky. I want them let us play our game. I want them to feel that we are going to win 

3. They should not think about the score. They should consider that luck is a factor too. They should just focus on hitting each shot. They should play like we do in recreational play. 

4. I need them to lose. I need them to get out of our way. 

5. They are dominating, enemies, ruthless. 

6. I don’t ever want to feel powerless as the score goes in their favor again. I don’t ever want to lose the first match of the day again.

As I worked through the concepts on this worksheet and turned them around, I discovered that I was waiting for permission from the other team to let us win! 

This is an old pattern in me for trying to stay safe by appeasing others. I gave the other team all the power and I wouldn’t let myself win without their permission. Seeing this, allowed me to shift back to my own business and give myself permission to win and be more aggressive in my play. This was a big change going forward.

Letting Go

Another thought that was holding me back was a desire to be careful. I was playing really conservatively, trying to not hit any balls out and let the other team make all the mistakes. Great in theory, but not good in practice for me. 

The result of this kind of carefulness was that I was only ever playing at about 70%. And ironically, a lot of my normal shots didn’t work at that pace. I actually hit more balls out with this mindset. 

When I informally questioned this idea and allowed myself to play hard the way I normally do, I could feel my heart relax. I was back in my element. I didn’t worry that I made some errors. I wasn’t trying to be careful. I just put my heart into the game. That’s when we won.

One Last Underlying Belief

One other stressful thought that I questioned informally over a couple of weeks was the thought, “I want to win gold.” This again was an ego thought—the idea being that I am a “really good player” and “something is wrong if I’m not winning.” 

Letting go of this idea was very freeing. I came back to just being me: not amazing, but not bad either. It changed how I thought of tournaments completely. I just came to play with my club and meet players from other clubs. Taking the pressure to win off of my mind allowed me to just play and have fun. That’s when I could really engage and enjoy the play.

And when I won bronze, I was completely satisfied with it. Gold was not needed. 🙂 

The Random Factor

In the end, I see tournaments much more clearly now. I see them as fairly random: you never know who will show up so, in reality, a medal doesn’t mean so much. Now, I’m over the need to win, but I’ll still play some tournaments just for the fun of it because it helps my game: both outer and inner.

The result is a feeling of confidence and healthy detachment—a feeling of being at home with myself.

Want to Use Life’s Experiences to Find Yourself?

Life is probably giving you lots of challenging situations like it did with me on the pickleball court. Why not use those situations as an opportunity to gain clarity about how to live more peacefully? 

The key for me is doing The Work of Byron Katie. Join us for The Work 101, my in-depth online course for making The Work a practice in your life.

I have a new setup for The Work 101 now. Check it out. You can start anytime working with a trainer, with me, or on your own. I’d love to have you join us this fall.

Have a great week,

“So if you’re lying on your deathbed and the doctor says it’s all over for you and you believe him, all the confusion stops. You no longer have anything to lose. And in that peace, there is only you.” Byron Katie, A Thousand Names for Joy

Further reading: Have you Done The Work on Board Games?

Todd Smith has been doing The Work of Byron Katie on an almost daily basis since 2007. He is just as excited about this simple process of self-inquiry today as he was when he first came across it. He also enjoys writing about The Work, and training others in the subtleties of this meditative process. Join Todd for The Work 101 online course, private sessions, virtual retreats, and his ongoing Inquiry Circle group.