Most pickleball games are played to either 11 points or 15 points (win by 2). As players get close to the final winning point, a common obstacle emerges… the number 10 (or the number 14 for games to 15 points). Players can steamroll their way through a game—they could even be up on their opponents in a significant way, like 10-4. Then, the opponents may start chipping away and coming back… 10-5, 10-6, 10-7 and so on. The opponents could even wage a complete comeback and win 12-10.
All too often, pickleball players fail to finish the pickleball game and cannot get passed the number 10. The last point is seemingly always the most difficult to get. Why?
Winning the last point and closing out a game in pickleball can be challenging for several reasons:
- Increased Pressure: The final point in a pickleball game carries significant psychological pressure. Pickleball players may feel the weight of the match outcome and experience heightened nerves or anxiety, which can affect their focus and execution.
- Risk-Averse Approach: When pickleball players are on the brink of victory, they may become more cautious and risk-averse. They play more conservative and are more tempted to play safe shots, which can lead to defensive play or missed opportunities to win points (instead of playing the aggressive, free-swinging style of pickleball that got them to the number 10 in the first place). And, sometimes, the opposite is true, as players could be going for the “hero” shot—in other words, going for way too much and over-playing (instead of staying steady and playing consistent).
- Opponents’ Determination: The opponents—facing the prospect of losing the pickleball game—often become more determined and focused, as they typically have nothing to lose, so they start playing more aggressive and swinging freely. They may elevate their level of play, making it harder for those trying to close out the game.
- Momentum Shifts: Momentum can shift during a pickleball game, and it may favor the opponents during the closing stages. Even if a team has been leading comfortably, a sudden shift in momentum can make it challenging to maintain their advantage and close out the pickleball game.
- Mental Fatigue: As a pickleball game progresses, mental fatigue can set in. Concentration levels may drop, leading to errors or lapses in decision-making. This can make it harder to execute shots effectively and secure the final point.
To overcome these challenges, it is essential for players to stay focused, maintain their composure, and play each point with the same level of intensity and the same sense of urgency as earlier in the pickleball game. Keeping a positive mindset, taking calculated risks, and maintaining good shot selection can increase the chances of successfully closing out the game. Practice, experience, and mental preparation can also help players handle the pressure of winning the last point more effectively.
If you find yourself one point away from victory on the pickleball court, remember that the pressure of game point—compared to any other point—is something created in your mind. In fact, the pressure is really on your opponents—remember you and your partner are the ones at the number 10. So, keep your mental edge and finish the game. Do not let your opportunity slip by. To help win the final point and win the pickleball game, try the following:
- Stay relaxed and focus on one shot at a time;
- Avoid letting nerves creep in, especially if your opponents are able to rattle off a few points to close in on your lead—remember, you have the advantage and just need one more point to win;
- Continue playing in the same manner that got you to the number 10 in the first place (with the caveat that, if your opponents changed their strategy, then you may need to counter and also change your strategy); and
- Put pressure on your opponents by playing “clean”—in other words, keep the pickleball in the court and over the net. Keep the pickleball “alive,” rather than giving your opponents easy points by hitting the pickleball out of bounds.
Remain mentally tough and conquer the final point—or the “number 10”—out on the pickleball courts.