Fighting Injury Depression

By Matthew Schwartz

May 21, 2024

(Clete White and his companion, Emily)

If you’re like me you wake up feeling a little more excited on a day that pickleball is on your schedule. Maybe you’re a little less enthusiastic on off days. There’s not much worse than suffering an injury that sidelines you for an extended period. Hearing your doctor say the dreaded words, “No pickleball for you” for weeks or months can be downright depressing.

Kathy McCulloch sustained a lower right leg injury in late March and hasn’t been able to play since. The 63-year-old resident of Garland, TX, apparently pulled a calf muscle. “It hurt like hell,” she said. “It felt like someone hit me hard in the back of the leg with something. I could barely walk after it happened. I tried to play through it but couldn’t.”

Kathy didn’t see a doctor because a friend who’s a sports trainer told her an MRI would be ordered and she didn’t see a need for one, because the likely treatment would be rest, ice, compression and elevation, which’s she’s been doing.

Before the injury Kathy was playing three or four days a week. Now she can’t play until after Memorial Day, so it will be two months without pickleball.

“It’s really hard not being able to play,” Kathy said. “I wouldn’t say I’m depressed, but definitely bummed that I can’t play. My son and his sons have started playing thanks to me, so it’s hard not being able to play with them right now. I’m also part of a group of women who play and I’m missing my pickle sisters! I’ve felt a little lost without it for sure!”

Johanna Czarnecki has ongoing right shoulder pain, a pinched nerve near her right elbow, and arthritis in several joints. The 79-year-old resident of Dallas, PA, can’t play pickleball for weeks at a time, while alternating between rest and physical therapy. “I wish I could say I am handling it well, but I dread more downtime,” she said.

Johanna tries to fill the pickleball void with other forms of exercise such as walking. But she says, “I miss the socialization and the more rigorous activity” of pickleball. “Walking may be great for the soul, but nothing beats an exhilarating game of pickleball with friends.”


Brad Howerter is a 4.0 player when healthy. The 58-year-old Asheville, NC, resident has been experiencing pain in his right wrist on and off for over three years. He still played three times a week until early January (he works full-time from home) but the pain increased. He took a few weeks off and missed pickleball so much that he switched to playing left-handed. He’s a different player as a southpaw, a 3.0.

“I was trying to play left-handed but not enjoying it enough to keep it up,” Brad told me.  He hasn’t played at all since early February. What’s he doing to fill the pickleball void?  “Playing more table tennis as it’s easier on the wrist. Moping around the house. Going for walks, watching TV.”

While being unable to play this game we love for extended periods is disappointing, it doesn’t have to be depressing. Shawnee Harle, a mental toughness coach, says injured players should look at time off as a chance to build up healthy body parts and mental skills. Harle has counseled thousands of high-level athletes. Based in British Columbia, she’s a former college basketball point guard and assistant coach of two Canadian women’s Olympic basketball teams.

Harle counsels her clients on a concept called “Be the boss of your thoughts.” That is, injured players should say to themselves, “Am I going to let my thoughts boss me around or am I going to be the boss?”

Harle says many injured players worry about falling behind in their game while fellow players are improving. “Injured players should look at the time out as an opportunity,” Harle said in a phone interview. “They should think, ‘What can I do while I cannot play pickleball?’”

Harle says players nursing an injury can work on improving their strength and conditioning. Maybe there are some drills they can do that don’t require use of the injured area. Perhaps they can swim or ride a stationary bike. They can watch pickleball video tips and read books on the subject.

A few pickleball players who responded to interview requests said they’ve made the best of their injury timeout. Kathy Mueller, 74, of St. George, UT, had her left hip and both knees replaced. She missed over a year after hip surgery due to complications. 

This is not a woman who became a couch potato or felt sorry for herself.

Kathy bought a bounce-back net, put it in her garage and worked on pickleball swing technique. She did water aerobics daily, rode her bike and went hiking and kayaking.

While helping herself during recovery Kathy used her timeout to help other players. She teaches pickleball at a local senior center two days a week. She also plays in leagues and rec play and says she’s at the pickleball courts seven days a week. “I’m trying to cut back, lol,” she said via email. Kathy is also a USA Pickleball Ambassador and a referee-in-training.

“I did not get depressed because I stayed useful and busy,” Kathy said.

(Kathy Mueller)

Clete White is another pickleball player who had a bright outlook despite a long-term recovery. The 72-year-old resident of Big Bear City, CA, couldn’t play for nine weeks due to an MCL injury. Clete says he wasn’t depressed because he kept busy and had moral support. 

 “[Having a] positive attitude is what counts to recover,” Clete said. A right-handed player, he had a full right shoulder replacement two years ago and when returning played left-handed for six months. He says during those six months there were only nine days he didn’t play.

Way to go, Clete! 

 (Seniors Playing in St. George, Utah)

My thoughts of the week, not all pickleball

Big news last week for paddle nerds and players who use the popular JOOLA Gen3 paddles: USA Pickleball announced they’ve been de-certified and removed from the USAP approved paddle list. USA Pickleball’s statement was bureaucratic and vague but apparently the de-certified paddles are too powerful and potentially dangerous. The paddles can’t be used in USAP sanctioned events. JOOLA says it was an administrative error, that the company submitted the wrong paddles for testing. That sounds hard to believe.

It’s kind of a big mistake and a hassle for tournament players who shelled out $280 for the JOOLA paddle. But of course better than someone getting hurt.

During Ben Johns first year as a professional pickleball player in 2018, he earned $50,000. He made $250,000 in 2021. This year the #1 ranked player in men’s doubles and mixed doubles is making $2.5 million from his pickleball salary and endorsement deals, he told CNBC. “We haven’t reached the top,” Johns, 25, said. “I think there’s still an upward trend.”

When I began reporting on television newscasts in 1977, we used the term “breaking news” when a story was fresh and developing. You know, actually breaking. Since the cable news ratings wars began decades ago years stories that are 12 hours old are called “breaking news.” News managers and consultants think viewers will be more interested. I think they’re wrong.

While I’m complaining about broadcasters, I’ve mentioned this before but still hear it regularly. Television sports executives need to tell their on-air staff to stop describing a great play as “unbelievable.” As a smart news manager of mine once told our staff, “After 9-11, nothing is unbelievable. So never use that word again.”

I think Major League Baseball’s blackout policy makes no sense. Games on the regional sports networks of the Atlanta Braves and Cincinnati Reds are blacked out in my home TV market of Asheville. Does MLB think if I can watch those teams' games that I will attend fewer games in person? I live more than 200 miles from Atlanta’s Truist Field and 360 miles from Great American Ballpark in Cincinnati. I think the policy is misguided and greedy.

In rec pickleball, if I’m not 100 percent sure that the other team’s shot is out, I play it. I’m sure I’ve played countless balls that were out by an inch or two. What the heck, it’s only rec play.

I do find it annoying when someone on the other side of where the ball lands argues an “out” call made by my partner or me.

I was informed a few months ago that I’ve been selected for induction into my high school’s distinguished graduates hall of fame. I hadn’t made this public until this week, after the alumni group’s president announced it on Facebook.

 My initial thought upon hearing the news was the famous line from Groucho Marx, “I don’t want to belong to any club that will accept me as a member.”

Seriously, I am deeply touched. I have many people to thank when I speak at the induction ceremony in October. People who believed in me, some of them no longer with us, who gave me a shot as a raw reporter almost 50 years ago, people without whom my career probably would have been much different.