What is this sport that is a craze in New York? What is pickleball? How would I usually describe it to friends? “Imagine a badminton court. Bring the net down to the height of the tennis net. Replace the racquet with what looks like an enlarged table tennis paddle made of plastic. The ball is plastic and bigger than a table tennis ball but smaller than a tennis ball.
Why did I consider picking up this sport? I was persuaded to try this sport by my wife Jenny. She has been playing this for many years. Now that I have retired, I could join her. I grew to like it and now it has almost displaced my hiking and cycling hobbies. Here are a few reasons why.
First, it is fun. The fun is in the play, the people, the pleasure you feel when you execute a shot well that you never thought you had in you. Even if in the end the match was lost, you still felt good.
It is challenging. It is an easy sport to pick up and start playing, but to master it and play well is quite a challenge. There are many skills to learn, each of them difficult to master at a high or consistent level. It can be frustrating when your progress is slow but exhilarating when others notice the improvement you have made.
You exercise without feeling like you are exercising. The first game I played I was totally out of breath. Now, after a year, I can play continuously for an hour without worry. My fitness has improved. I exercised without realising it because all I was conscious of was the fun of the play.
It brings you into contact with people. You get to be acquainted with a lot of people, mostly seniors, even though now this sport has captured the attention of the younger people. It is an opportunity to broaden your friendship circle and get to know more people who are of different social circles and religion from you.
You can play this sport into your 80s. Some sports become unsuitable as you age. This sport can be played even into your eighties. I have seen two elderly men playing at the age of eighty and beating others younger than them. I could not believe they were in their eighties. Regular play in this sport keeps you young at heart.
It develops strength, flexibility and endurance. You get stronger in your legs and arms and core. You become more flexible as you will need to stretch every now and then before and after the game (warm ups) and during the run of game. Endurance is built up over regular practices over a period of a few months. You become agile and your reflexes are improved.
It is a team game. It is usually played in doubles format so there are four persons in every match of eleven points. The dynamics become interesting depending on who the two persons are. Having a partner to play with lessens the amount of running and coverage of the court. It also makes you more aware of the other’s playing style.
It is available free of charge for seniors. If you are above sixty, you do not have to pay for the use of the courts. For those below sixty the fee is about $18 a month (2022). However, by internal arrangement, we pay an agreed nominal amount for purchase of shared balls.
You need to use your brain. With time and practice, skills and stamina can be developed, but what will help most is brainwork: learning strategies that will help you in your game. Knowing your opponents and their strengths and weaknesses helps you to play better against them. It is thus a thinking game too. Like most other team sports.
Now for the tenth and final reason: It is not expensive to begin. All you need is a paddle. A new beginner paddle can be purchased for about $40 to $80. If you are willing to use a pre-loved paddle owned by someone in the pickleball group, this same amount may get you an intermediate or advanced paddle. The next investment would be to buy court shoes which are more suitable than running shoes (which most participants begin with). This money and time are well spent when you consider it as preventive health care. Better to invest your time and money in this sport than in medical care from poor health.