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Reflections: Pesta Sukan 2023

Credit: Singapore Pickleball Association

This Pesta Sukan marks a one-year journey into this sport. Some highlights include winning my singles titles when I won the men's 40+ Open singles title, defeating two very competent and good players. It was a game of who made just a few more mistakes on that day, and hence, I am just glad that I managed to pull through.

One of the things I experienced was how mentally taxing competitive Pickleball can be and why we should respect the game. As a tennis player, I didn't do that enough. And it took me six months to un-learn to re-learn how to play the sport properly. These past weeks saw me play through seven events, the maximum number I could have played, and it was tough. In many ways, I think it was tougher or if not as tough as playing a lengthy tennis tournament. I have learned many lessons along the way, how to manage my emotions and focus on one point at a time. These truly pushed me to the edge.

I started my Pickleball journey using all of my tennis knowledge to speed up adapting to the game, which gave me an initial advantage. Upon reaching a certain point of stagnation, I needed to re-examine myself and the entire game and understand why this sport is so easy to pick up yet hard to master. I was more concerned about hitting a ball hard and winning points by hitting winners. There is a ton of spin that you can put on the tennis ball, with so much you can do. But a pickleball ball is different and is played within a constant size of a badminton court, with this thing called a no-volley zone, where you cannot hit a volley in or take the ball before it bounces. And that is where it gets interesting because, while there are similar mechanics to tennis, the strategies and tactics required are quite different from that of tennis.

Credit: Singapore Pickleball Association

When I played my first overseas Pickleball tournament in Phuket, I discovered I lacked a soft and slow game. Moreover, I did not have enough nerves to continue playing a short game with much better opponents. So this was a real wake-up call for me. By March, I had been playing for about five months and felt I had made decent strides in the game. However, what hit me the hardest was that I did not have the additional ammunition or armament to go the extra mile. Therefore, after the tournament in Thailand, I decided that I wanted to get better at Pickleball and started watching videos, reading articles online and talking to people. While a tennis background was a great way to start, Pickleball was a completely different game.

It was challenging. I have stumbled multiple times, and it was difficult to apply new skills when my muscle memory is solidified. I have been playing tennis since I was four so you can imagine the amount of muscle memory that has gone into hitting my tennis strokes. But I realised that if I wanted to do this and do this well, I needed to unpack everything that tennis has taught me, apply what works, and then learn Pickleball as a sport on its own again. It has been, and will always be a very frustrating journey. The first few times I tried it, people were asking me, "Hey, what's wrong with your pickleball?" Some would say things like, "You used to be a lot smoother...a lot more fluid when you put people under pressure drives. But now you're just neither here nor there."

Somehow, I knew this was the right sport for me, and I think what made the difference was that I decided to stay on the path. I knew that it was going to be challenging and that I would lose a lot of matches. Nonetheless, the lessons from my triathlon journey before I made the breakthrough to represent Singapore in the ITU helped kept me focused on my long-term goals. Before that, I was becoming a lot slower and was underperforming before I made a breakthrough. They grounded me and reminded me to trust the process by practising the right thing and keeping the faith.

Credit: Singapore Pickleball Association

It set me on a journey to rediscover this amazing game and the trove of strategies, tactics and forward thinking that needs to go into it to create points, credit angles and use the non-volley zone to my advantage. A humbling moment was accepting that I needed to throw away all my tennis lessons and make space to learn a new sport. It was painful and torturous at times and there were many times when I wanted to go back to the older playing style of banging the ball hard. Nonetheless, I am glad that I chose not to succumb to those temptations and persevered in getting through those difficult days by telling myself that this is going to count for something.

What I wanted to share was that with the right practice and the willingness to unlearn certain mindsets and to relearn and continuously push ourselves, that progress really can happen. Sometimes, a lot of us get caught up in the safe space state that we are in. We will never know if we don't step out of the box to try something new. I always say that Pickleball has taught me so much and even changed my life because it has taught me that not everything is about brute force. More importantly, we must be able to keep an open mind and learn new skills to learn new knowledge all the time.

My notepad is full of things I need to work on in this journey to playing pickleball professionally. While there is still a long way to go before I reach my desired 5.0 rating, I feel that I am actually playing Pickleball now which, to me, is important. Moreover, there is a newfound confidence and composure when I'm on a pickleball court and I no longer struggle about where the ball is going to go or how I am going to play. I simply apply what I've been learning because it is now ingrained muscle memory and I keep building on it.

I hope that with this and after listening to my podcasts, you will learn new skills and find it within yourself to learn new skills to open up your mind whichever stage of your life you are in. If you are practising the right thing, stick to it, and you will get there. Wins and losses come second when you are centred on working towards unlocking your fullest potential.

Remember to stay the course. Do not get consumed by the wrong thing. Stay the course, show up and fight the battles and you will get there.

As always, onward.


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