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"One cannot undo what has already happened." - Callista Chen (Mental Wellness through Pickleball)

Updated: Aug 26, 2023

Nestled within the Singapore Pickleball scene is a story that revolves around a young woman who transitioned from being a national golfer to embarking on a new journey as a competitive pickleball player. Having once represented the nation on the greens, she has now set her sights on conquering a different turf. Trading her golf clubs for a pickleball paddle, this athlete's decision to transition from golf to pickleball is a testament to her unquenchable thirst for sporting challenges. With a background steeped in dedication, discipline, and competitive spirit, she brings a unique blend of skills and experiences to the burgeoning world of pickleball.

From Putting to Pickling

For over a decade, golf has been an intricate and inseparable part of her life journey. From the moment she first gripped her father’s club and took her first swing that saw the golf ball flying through her garden fence and into her neighbour’s car, golf had woven its way into the fabric of her identity. With each fairway conquered, each putt sunk, and every early morning spent at the driving range, she forged an unbreakable bond with the game. It was a love affair marked by dedication, patience, and countless hours of practice—a relationship that transformed her into a skilled and seasoned golfer. Her journey with gold saw her representing Singapore as part of the national development squad from 2014 to 2016 when she got promoted to the national team.

“Though I used to spend 10 times a week golfing under the hot sun for many hours, it was enjoyable travelling around the world and competing. Some of my career highlights include winning the Singapore National Amateur Championship in 2019 and representing Singapore in the SEA Games and Team World Championships in 2017 and 2018, respectively.”

Callista, first from the left, at one of the major games with fellow team Singapore Golfers (Credits Callista Chen)

However, being an elite athlete while keeping up with the rigours of keeping up with her grades took a huge toll on her mentally. When COVID hit and brought all her golfing plans to a standstill, it allowed her to look for alternative forms of physical activity to maintain her health & wellness. In her search for a sport that was fun yet challenging, she ended up discovering and falling head over heels for Pickleball.

“After focusing on one sport for so long, I didn't have the opportunity or time to try other sports, especially racket sports, due to fear of injuries. So the break gave me a chance to explore new things, and that's when I discovered pickleball.”

Nonetheless, doing sports at a recreational level was not enough for the innately competitive athlete and she missed the feeling of competition. Therefore, she decided to sign up for the 2021 Novice competition with her fellow pickleball peers to test out her skills. While the 25-year-old found it to be a very eye-opening experience with all the cheering and support from other players and spectators, she found herself unsatisfied with her gameplay. As such, she made an effort to invest more time and energy into playing and drilling more regularly so that she could enjoy higher-quality rallies with other players and move around the court more efficiently. Her efforts paid off as she was recently called up to the National Selection Team trials having ranked among the top few players in the nation.

Callista, far left, with some of her teammates from her Northbase Interest Group at this years Singapore Pickleball Open championships (Credit: Singapore Pickleball Association)

The pressures of keeping up

The pressure to keep up and achieve are intimately familiar concepts to this former national golf athlete who once had to navigate the demanding challenges of a rigorous training regimen while juggling the commitments of academic life. In the world of competitive sports, the urgency to constantly improve, deliver consistent performance, and stay ahead of the competition mirrors the broader societal pressures to excel in a rapidly evolving landscape. Balancing the pursuit of excellence on the golf course with the demands of education is a delicate tightrope walk that requires exceptional time management, resilience, and adaptability.

"Mental wellness, to me, means maintaining a positive mindset during adversity and always considering the bigger picture. Some hurdles and challenges can overwhelm me, whether in the hospital (work) or life in general. However, by zooming out and looking at the grand scale of things, I realised that these challenges are relatively small and often just minor inconveniences. Instead of dwelling on them, I focus on taking action. This mindset is something I have developed over the years through my experience of competing in golf tournaments for 14 years and working with sports psychologists."

As she begins her career as a physiotherapist, the long hours and work rigours at the hospital have made it more challenging for her to keep up with the volume and intensity of Pickleball sessions. Nonetheless, Callista credits her community of friends, fellow pickleballers and loved ones as her sources of support. While the 25-year-old pickleballer admits that her competitive nature will always drive her to want to win matches, she believes she is more focused on personal improvement and being open to trying new things.

Posing for a fun shot with her fellow pickle kakis after winning a medal (Credit: Callista Chen)

"In sports, one cannot undo what has already happened. The key is to look forward, keep going, and strive for improvement. It is crucial to maintain an open mind. When something isn't working, it's important to approach it from a different perspective. My experience has taught me to tackle challenges from multiple angles and not fear trying new approaches. It has also taught me not to dwell on past mistakes but rather to focus on finding solutions for the future."

Considering the "rapid pace" she has had to run at from an early age, Callista noted that there can be little to no time for self-reflection and introspection. These processes, to her, are essential in enhancing our mental health and wellness as they enable us to examine our thoughts and emotions while figuring out what is working and not working for us.

Although there have been improvements in enhancing understanding and promoting awareness of mental health, there was previously a stigma associated with it. Despite the advancements, societal pressures and expectations that adversely affect mental well-being persist. Navigating the fast pace of life while emphasizing one's mental wellness continues to pose a significant challenge.

"Personally, societal pressure is a significant factor (affecting mental health & wellness). The emphasis that's placed on results - whether in studies, sports, or one's career path - can be stressful for youths. Another aspect would be social media's portrayal of what's trending and cool too. I would lend a listening ear to their problems and offer support within my capabilities. Although I may not fully understand their specific challenges and emotions, I can be there for them in whatever way they need."

Grab your limited edition SPA Pickleball paddle to get started on your towards better Mental health & well-being here:


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