“Pickle Ball is life,” said the vivacious 40-something mother-of-three’s well-worn T-shirt with the wicked lapel. Well, it’s kind of funny, but I don’t know “life”. I dove into the fastest growing sport in America lately and here’s what it’s all about.
It might have a silly name, but pickleball isn’t just a clumsy old man’s sport. It’s easy to learn and play, but hard to get good at. The game has nuances. It’s a cross between table tennis, racquetball, squash and tennis. Beginners can easily hit the ball over the net while intermediates can really hit it. Advanced players bring it to the net and dink softly while elite players move their feet and play for angles and position. You play with your racquet and your arm, but you win with your head and your legs. The smaller course is easy to navigate and is played with a wiffle ball that you can hit hard but slows down quickly due to wind resistance in the holes. There’s also a buffer area at the net called the Kitchen that you need to stay out of when smashing, so you don’t hurt anyone or yourself, but that’s rarely an issue. You can even miraculously hit it around the net post on real wide shots!
Pbickleball is extremely social. It’s like golf, where you can play with your friends and family, the kids or your parents. Attractive, athletic women or men will introduce themselves nicely to you, then put you down and crush you on the court. Doctors play with ditchdiggers while new Latin ladies play with old school whites. Women are just as good as men and testosterone is probably a disadvantage so the court is level and there is no affirmative action needed. A set will last 10-20 minutes, so it’s at best moderately aerobic exercise, fat burning exercise, or light interval training. It is very compatible for rest days, resting from skiing and biking while building endurance and core strength without struggling. Most players have an illness and injury or two, but not much is said. Everyone has something. It is no more dangerous than any other equal pursuit.
This game is a microcosm of sport. Play it slow or go for it. Hit it low and middle or aim for the lines. Throw that third shot just over the net or aim for their feet in no man’s land. Keep the ball in play or go for the impossible ESPN highlight shots. Choose their weak partner’s forehand or focus on a good player’s backhand. It can be very organized and competitive with player ratings and rankings, tournaments and leaderboards, or you can play it casually with friends without worrying about the score. Players vary in class and caste, from elite A-teams that never seem to wait or split up to rookies and untouchables who can play with anyone and everyone. Teams are often formed randomly on the rack on deck so you can meet a new mix of people and play at different levels.
So pickleball may not be life, but what is. I’ve played with very aggressive entrepreneurs who just like to keep the ball in play as well as very shy housewives who just want to kill it and tell me winning is everything. Maybe it’s like Cornhole, a fun game with a silly name or a goofy reputation. So head to the nearest park or recreation center and see for yourself. You can find your next passion or the meaning of life.