By Gloria Schwartz
Are you a natural-born athlete? Have you always excelled at sports? If you answered “yes,” you might enjoy pickleball. If you answered “no,” you might also enjoy pickleball.
Pickleball is one of the fastest growing sports in North America, due in part to ageing baby boomers and the suitability of the game to all levels of athleticism. Millions of people play pickleball. Pickleball requires less strength and speed than tennis, so it’s suited to people who may not be as fast or agile as they used to be. Pickleball is also suited to people who don’t want to risk injuries that can occur in contact sports. Pickleball is also gaining popularity with children because it’s easy to learn and it’s inexpensive.
If tennis and badminton had a baby, it would be pickleball. The game was haphazardly invented in 1965 by two American men who cobbled together the sport using a badminton net and ping-pong paddles. According to legend, one of them had a dog named Pickles who’d fetch the ball, hence the name Pickleball.
You play pickleball with a paddle similar to a ping-pong paddle. You use a lightweight hollow ball about the size of a tennis ball that looks like a golf Wiffle Ball. You can play pickleball indoors or outdoors on a court with a net. Two players can play in a singles match or four players in a doubles match.
I first heard of pickleball about three years ago while on a cruise. I didn’t know how to play but I tried to hit the ball back and forth over the net with my husband on the cruise ship’s deck. The wind and the motion of the ship made it a bit difficult. On that cruise we met an older American couple who told us about the fun they have playing pickleball outdoors in their Florida retirement community.
Fast-forward three years and I learned the Soloway Jewish Community Centre (SJCC) now has pickleball sessions three times per week. I peeked in the gym one day to see what it was about. Some of the players seemed quite skilled, other less so. They let me give it a try. It was fun! I forgot about pickleball until recently when I decided it might be a fun activity to do weekly.
At first, I didn’t know the rules or how to keep score. I didn’t know the terminology such as “dinking,” lightly tapping the ball over the net, “falafel,” hitting the ball too short, and “the kitchen” the demarcated area in front of the net from which you’re not allowed to hit the ball unless it first bounces. I didn’t know how to properly hit backhand. I didn’t know how hard or how gently to hit the ball in order to stay within the lines of the court. It turned out that what I didn’t know was less important than my enthusiasm and effort. The other players were mostly men of an age group older than myself and a few women. Everyone was helpful and encouraging. After a couple of sessions, I felt comfortable playing. We sometimes rotated players on teams to allow less experienced players such as myself and my friend to play with more experienced players. The players were there to have a good time and give everyone a chance to learn.
After a few weeks, I purchased my own pickleball paddle and became a self-proclaimed official pickleballer. I learned the rules and how to keep score. With each game I became increasingly proficient at serving, staying within the boundaries most of the time and hitting backhand.
I even invented a new way of hitting that I call the “Schwartz Manoeuvre.” When the ball comes at me at high speed and I don’t have time to run backwards, I instinctively go into a goofy-looking squat and whack the ball upwards with my paddle between my knees. It’s unconventional, but it works. I have fun playing pickleball and for me that’s the most important aspect.
It’s never too late to try something new. Even if you’re out of shape or not used to playing sports, you can enjoy pickleball. You can learn more about pickleball, including the rules, and find places to play at www.pickleballcanada.org. If you’re a member of the SJCC, pickleball is included in your membership. You can register for a session at www.jccottawa.com/pickleball-registration.