All Summer One Sport: Pickleball
Catch me at the (pickleball) court
“Addictive, fun, social and challenging,” this is how Maggie Verity a pickleball instructor describes pickleball. This sport (which is the fastest growing sport in North America) combines elements of tennis, badminton and ping pong into a fast-paced, social game.
As I am not the best tennis player, I was hoping that this would be a nice easy to play game with more of a focus on chatting than winning. While it quickly became apparent that socializing is a key element of the sport, it was also apparent that the game requires skill and technique.
Pickleball is a relatively new sport started in 1965 just outside Seattle, Washington by Joel Pritchard, Barney McCallum and Bill Bell. This innovative trio wanted a game that the whole family could play together, regardless of age, with sports equipment they already had.
Played on a modified badminton court there is considerably less running required compared to tennis (the archnemesis of pickleball), or squash or badminton. Using an adapted ping pong paddle, and a slightly lower net than tennis, participants score points by causing the opponents to miss the ball. There was one question that I had in my mind that I had to find out: how did pickleball get its name?
While there are a few different stories on how pickleball got its name, the most interesting version is that Joel Pritchard’s family had a dog named Pickles. Pickles would always chase the ball around their converted badminton court. Once the sport became more popular they quickly realized that a name would be needed, thus pickleball got its name. To watch a great short video on it click here.
The ball that they use in pickleball is a wiffleball, the hole size varying depending on the location. If the game is played outdoors smaller holes are used to limit wind interference. If the game is indoors the holes are larger as there is no wind to worry about carrying the ball. Striking this ball with the paddle creates the unique pickleball sound as the ball travels back and forth across the court.
When I first got out to the courts I was very nervous that all these pickleball pros would not want to talk to me or would be annoyed at this young guy for not knowing how to play. Those fears were quickly put to rest when I entered the courts and one of the players said, “Hello, are you here to play?” I said, “Yeah, I’ve never played before though.” She said, “That’s not an issue, we all started somewhere.”
I quickly got out on the court and started playing with Maggie, my instructor, and another couple of players. The first few serves were a little rough, but I just kept trying and in a couple of minutes I was able to hold a rally.
Other players were giving me great tips to improve my game to hopefully become the next Dave Fleming (a pickleball pro). By the end I was hooked! I couldn’t believe this sport has been hiding from me all this time.
Another great aspect of this game is how inclusive it is. What other sport can you think of that welcomes people of all age and ability than pickleball? If you can hold a paddle, you can play. I was fortunate enough to have Elaine as my doubles partner who is 72. In addition to being a gold medallist at a tournament just days prior, Elaine is an amazing pickleball mentor.
Normally the younger you are the better you are at a sport, but wow have the tables changed. I was swiftly put in my place by all these older pros, who in turn got a kick out of introducing this sport to a new generation.
While I may have only played pickleball for an hour I see how people get hooked. This all leads to the question if I would play pickleball again. My answer to that is, I will be signing up for the free lessons offered through Calgary Pickleball Club - which, by the way, has its own website with a ton of information.
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