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10 Dec 2015 08:36
Try Harder? Play Worse!
Ever had a night when you couldn’t get to sleep? You got frustrated and tried harder. The harder you tried to sleep, the more awake you became. Or you were winning a pickleball match and you just missed a couple of easy shots and started losing. You vehemently urged yourself to play better. But the harder you tried to play better, the worse you played. These examples demonstrate that the harder you try to do something or the more you will yourself to play better pickleball: a) the harder it becomes to do it, and b) the worse you do at it.
Willing yourself to do something is a conscious process. Your conscious mind can only do one thing at a time, and it can’t directly control your involuntary muscles. Thus, you don’t play your best pickleball when your conscious mind dominates. Your subconscious mind, on the other hand, can do trillions of things at a time without conscious thought. It also controls involuntary muscles that are required for good strokes and rabbit-like movement. It is where your pickleball strokes are stored as habits so you can execute them smoothly without thinking about them. Plus, your subconscious computes information a million times faster than your conscious mind. Thus, you play your best pickleball by suppressing your conscious mind and allowing your subconscious to dominate. Pushing yourself to play better pumps up your conscious mind, minimizing your subconscious mind. Hence, urging yourself to play better achieves the opposite -- you play worse.
Another factor, although subtle, is that when you will yourself to play better, you subconsciously introduce a fear of losing. Fear, a strong emotion, erodes confidence, and confidence is an important aspect of playing well. Okay, suppose you’re playing in a tournament and because of the pressure, or for whatever reason, you are playing poorly. What can you do? Will yourself to play better? Don’t bother -- it won’t help.
Reprinted on Winning Pickleball from USAPA Newsletter. Original source: Harry Carpenter's 'Pickleball: The Mental Side'; see Resources side panel.