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Be a Goldfish

Strategy & Technique Frank Cerabino 12-13-2021

“Be a goldfish.”

If you say it enough and believe it, this can be a mantra that brings you through those frustrating moments on the pickleball court.

It’s especially useful in those games that suddenly take a dispiriting turn.

We’ve all had these games: You and your partner are sailing along, running up a string of points until the score is a lopsided one, let’s say 10-3. You’re on the doorstep of victory, ready to take that last step, only to find the door isn’t opening.

Would-be winners suddenly start falling outside the white lines. Third-shot drops drop too soon or not at all. Easy put aways are hit emphatically into the net.

You and your partner start experiencing quick side-outs while your formerly lackluster opponents are keeping their balls in play and ticking away point after point.

Their sense of optimism is suddenly visible in their body language as the score gets to 10-6, 10-7, 10-8…

Your body might be playing the current point, but your mind is stuck on the unforced error you made three points ago. And you can hear your inner voice telling yourself, “It all began when I flubbed that easy volley.” 

If you’re in a tournament and you have a time-out left, you should certainly take one. Maybe the break will clear your head.

Be a Goldfish | Pickler Pickleball

But what if you’re out of time-outs, or maybe it’s just rec play? Is there a fix for the funk you’re in?

Try telling yourself, “Be a goldfish.” Then tell your partner.

After all, it’s what Ted Lasso would say to you. Lasso is a fictional college football coach who finds himself in England, coaching professional soccer, a sport he knows very little about.

It’s the premise of the Emmy-award-winning Apple TV series “Ted Lasso”, which stars Jason Sudeikis in the title role.

The show is a study in sports psychology. For what Lasso lacks in technical knowledge of the sport of soccer, he overcomes with an innate sense of unconventional managerial genius.

Yes, it helps that the story isn’t real, and Lasso’s motivational successes can be written into the script. But there’s something profound and real in the way the seemingly inept coach Lasso reaches his players on a deeper level than Xs and Os on a chalkboard.

There’s a moment in the show when his star player, Sam Obisanya, is frustrated by his play and his inability to perform up to his previous level. Lasso calls Sam off the field.

Rather than tell Sam anything specific about his play, Lasso surprises his player by talking about something that, on its face, has nothing to do with soccer.

“You know what the happiest animal on Earth is?” Lasso asks Sam. “The goldfish. You know why?”

“No,” Sam says.

“It’s got a 10-second memory,” Lasso says.

Then he pokes Sam in the chest.

“Be a goldfish, Sam.”

Here’s the clip from that show:

It’s brilliant advice, right? Whether it’s soccer or pickleball, the recent memories of failure can have a cumulative and debilitating mental effect, eventually getting in the way of current performance. 

Instead of playing with that optimism and looseness that allowed you to do so well during the early stages of the game, you now play under the pall of the fresh memories of balls gone wrong. 

It’s making you tight. Or reckless. If only there were some way to shake it. Maybe there is.

“Be a goldfish.” 

Be a Goldfish | Pickler Pickleball


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