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Lessons from Pickleball: APO 2023

Another week has passed since I began on this very unusual transitional journey from tennis to pickleball. For the past 6 months, I’ve been trying to grasp how challenging it can be to control a plastic ball with a hard paddle and it all culminated in my first-ever overseas tournament held in Phuket.

I’ve often heard the stories about how good some of the other countries such as India and Taiwan are and from my previous tennis experience, I pretty much knew what to expect from our neighbours and most of them were playing the sport full time and had years of experience under their belts.

A lifetime of commitment

Fast forward and one silver medal later at the Advanced Mixed Doubles (35+) category, I can sincerely say I played and left nothing else to chance over 5 days of competition. I had 4 other events and my next closest to a medal was a quarterfinal performance at the men’s doubles.

My thoughts? Other than all the additional hours of fitness and technical adjustments I’ll need to make, I also reflected on my journey and how I’ve gotten here. There was a point where tennis was my entire life and then I got obese, fought to lose the weight and discovered triathlons only to be struck down at the peak of my race career with terrible covid that affected my lungs. I switched back to tennis and somehow discovered PickleBall almost by mistake. Stubbornly, I insisted on playing the game I thought was best, which was to hit as hard as I could without an attempt to understand the finer mechanics of the sport.

You see, PickleBall is an interesting game - it’s really easy to learn but mastering it takes a lifetime of committed training, drilling and fitness work both for the body and mind. This game which represents a cross between table tennis, tennis and badminton has re-taught me some humble lessons in life and that no matter how hard we hit a ball, it still needs to land on the court to count. Sometimes we try extremely hard but we forget that effort only counts towards your success when it is well-balanced, cultured and moving towards proper goals. Pure brute force may work sometimes but seldom if ever, provides long-term solutions to any problem.

Precision over power. Timing over speed.

Almost my entire life I’ve punched above my weight, exerted force whenever I could and stayed longer hours and pushed harder when everyone else couldn’t push anymore. I used to think that this sometimes superhuman effort was the only way to get things done. PickleBall, however, has shown me a different way - a well-positioned effort with finesse works just as well or if not better and still allows more in the tank for us to keep fighting.

What am I saying? What I’m saying is that it’s not the size of the force exerted that counts but where we exert the force that counts for more. It is not how hard we hit that counts but the precision of the outcome that matters most. Importantly, it is not about how many things we can process at one time that counts but having clarity in our goals that matters the most - wonderful lessons from a plastic ball and graphite paddle.

I’m always keen to learn more about myself, my shortcomings and how I can get better. PickleBall truly has given me new perspectives in life, how I view my career, my personal life and my new athletic journey.

Precision, finesse, meaningful effort and clarity of mind.

These are four lessons and values that I'll never forget.



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