Kubler is a retired teacher and lives in Encinitas.
Pickleball is the new rage for all ages and abilities (even handicaps). For years it has been popular with the elderly, but recently children, teens, young adults and people with special needs have discovered this fun and versatile sport.
I know from personal experience that pickleball is wonderful for people with special needs because my twins love pickleball. Tommy and Jimmy are 23 years old. They are identical twins who were both born with cleft lip, cleft palate and Down syndrome.
My boys love to play all sports, but after being introduced to pickleball about a year ago, it’s now their favorite sport. Pickleball is a combination of table tennis, tennis and racquetball. Paddles are used to hit the ball, like in table tennis, but are a bit larger. The game is played on a court with a net like tennis, but the pickleball net is a little shorter, 34 inches in the middle and three feet at the side posts.
Like tennis, the game can be played with two to four players. Finally, playing pickleball reminds players of racquetball because the court size is very similar. There is only a 4 foot difference in court length between the two. The ball used is however quite different from other games. It looks a lot like a Wiffle ball.
My boys love to play pickleball for many reasons. First of all, it’s easy to learn and the notation is straightforward. When a player gets 11 points, he is the winner. It makes the game short and fast. Many games can be played in a very short time. It’s motivating for my twins because they are competitive and able to try and win again and again. Second, the court is smaller than a tennis court, exactly a quarter of its size. Because of this, the ball is easier to hit since it is in a more confined space.
There is less running all over the court, but players can make the game more intense if they wish by increasing the speed of their shots. Also, the sound of the ball hitting the hard surface of the paddles is enjoyable and stimulating for my twins, who are both hard of hearing. Another reason Tommy and Jimmy enjoy the game is the social opportunities offered on the field. Lots of people play at the Bobby Riggs Racket and Paddle courts in Encinitas and they often ask to play with each other, including my twins. It helps them meet new people and feel loved, included, and accepted. They always go home happy with their experience in court.
They are even proud of the fact that they have exercised and done a “workout” that they can brag about to their siblings and friends. When I asked Tommy why he liked pickleball so much, he said, “I beat your friend and that guy who was playing with me. I’m so good at it. It’s fun!” Jimmy told me, “I like to win and it’s better than tennis. I also play with new people. I like the game to go fast! For people with intellectual disabilities , pickleball offers many opportunities for inclusion and socialization.
While playing the field, other players sometimes ask if they can play a game with Tommy and Jimmy. My twins have improved so much that they often win. It builds their confidence to play more and meet new people. I believe this sport can help improve the self-esteem of people with special needs when they come together against others, exercise and have a lot of fun.
The good news is that in December, USA Pickleball signed a proclamation with Special Olympics North America that will help encourage the growth of pickleball within Special Olympics programs. Another advantage of pickleball for young and old is that it is easy to set up almost anywhere. My twins enjoyed playing on their sister’s tennis courts.
There are also portable pickleball sets that can be purchased for around $40. These include paddles, balls and a net, so the game can be set up in a driveway, cul-de-sac or backyard. There are many other wonderful things about pickleball that I haven’t covered. Everyone who tries it will learn how it works best for them.
Highly recommend trying pickleball. But more importantly, I strongly encourage parents of children with special needs to introduce their loved ones to this incredible sport that offers so many undeniably positive experiences.