I recently purchased a shiny new Pickleball paddle to replace my long-time, heavy and outdated “battle axe”. The weight difference is noticeable, but more importantly, I haven’t adjusted to the power difference.

With a heavier paddle the ball goes further with less follow-through. The opposite is true when using a lighter paddle. So, with my shiny new paddle, the ball is sometimes going out, or dropping short. Albeit, more often than not, it goes where it should. :)

All excuses aside, I’m challenged to a singles match with a young up-and-comer. Having played together before, I know I’m in for a battle. I usually win the first game, he wins the second, and the 3rd game is up for grabs. To further enhance the experience, there was a large group watching.

As expected, the first game was 11 – 6 me. I was feeling good. The second came is 11 – 9 to the challenger.

There was no 3rd game.

I played my best back-court game. Which means not running up to the net once, which kept me out of position. It was like shooting fish in a barrel; without being at the front of the net, I lost control of the game, running to and fro. I lost because he played smarter. I lost because my short game needs improvement.

I was unnerved. I’ve been playing a few years (consistently 2-3 days per week), hired a trainer, and am not improving as quickly as I want.

There’s specific people I think I’m better than. I need to change my thinking, I’m not better than anyone – I either play better or they play better. Our game play is better or worse. I can’t compare and judge myself to others as a whole, that’s unfair. I don’t know them, and I’m still discovering myself.

What I can compare is the score, who played better, and why.

Competing in sports creates a healthy edge and focus that clears your mind and stretches your body. The true challenge is enjoying the game as you play it – not getting frustrated when you get outplayed, and to always lose gracefully.

After losing the second game, I congratulated my opponent and continued to lose every game I played thereafter. I was still stuck on losing that second game – my attitude was piss-poor and it showed.

Had I rebounded from the second game loss, I would have enjoyed playing the rest of the night. Instead, I was frustrated and it carried through.

When I’m in similar situations I need to re-asses my feelings, zoom out of the moment and affirm myself of my intents. My intents are to get a good workout, enjoy playing the game, and keep myself composed throughout.

I’d prefer to lose gracefully over winning with a poor attitude. You don’t know who you are until you’ve lost, lost, and lost some more. When your truly bested, that’s when you know who you are. If you don’t like what you see, make improvements!

A true competitor acts the same when he wins or loses – he’s improving either way and that’s what matters most.