The Unexpected joy of Pickleball!
For as long as I can remember, Thanksgiving has been my favorite holiday. I grew up in Smithsburg, a rural town in northern Maryland with a population of about 3,000 people. Every Thanksgiving, my Uncle Gary and Aunt Regina have come to visit from Northern New Jersey for the long weekend. That’s when the fun begins.
My dad, Uncle Gary and I play games all weekend. Thanksgiving Day itself consists of non-stop ping-pong, Jenga, chess and poker. It also involves non-stop eating, including lots of turkey and pie.
It’s certainly not the most healthy day of the year. With this in mind, we always try to do something active on the day after Thanksgiving. Usually, we head to a local park and play tennis and basketball. The first hour and a half consist of Uncle Gary (“UG,” pronounced u-gee) hitting groundstrokes to my dad and me. He’s pretty good for a 62-year-old guy and has great technique. He is always coaching us.
The next hour and a half is basketball, and I own the court. The more physical sports are where I excel. I played basketball and football in high school and was definitely a jock. We play one-on-one as one-on-two, me against both my Dad and UG.
After a good workout, it’s back to the house for more table games and great food. Saturday is usually a repeat of Friday, and we all go home on Sunday. Me to Philadelphia and UG and Aunt Regina back to New Jersey.
Our game days are a tradition that’s repeated each year over the long Thanksgiving weekend. Until last year, that is.
UG announced on Thanksgiving Day, 2018 that we would no longer be playing tennis and basketball on Friday and Saturday. He had a surprise for us. And everyone was included. My mom, Aunt Regina and my girlfriend, Diana. I was both intrigued and a little bit bummed. I always enjoyed our outdoor workouts. But I was willing to give it a chance.
So Friday morning at 8:30 we found ourselves in a two-car caravan following UG to who-knows-where? Fifteen minutes later we had crossed the state line into Pennsylvania to arrive at the YMCA in Waynesboro. We go to the front desk where UG buys guest passes for the day. $6 each. He asks where the pickleball court is, and the receptionist points us toward the gym down the hall.
“Pickleball, huh?” I am saying to myself. “Really? Pickleball? What is pickleball? I know he’s old, but I don’t think UG is senile yet.”
I do, however, keep these thoughts to myself as I follow UG into the main gym, he heads straight to a supply closet on the side of the gym. “Alan,” I hear him calling for my help from the tiny room. I go inside to see a space filled with all sorts of sporting equipment and paraphernalia — basketballs, volleyball nets, yoga mats, and boxing equipment, among other things.
Along the back wall is this very small but wide net with little posts to keep it upright. It looks like a miniature tennis net. “Grab that end and help me carry this into the gym,” UG asks. We carry the net out, and very quickly we have it set up on one end of a basketball court. UG seems quite pleased that the court is already pre-lined for pickleball. He goes back to the supply closet and comes out with paddles and balls for everyone. And so it begins!
UG proceeded to give us a crash-course on the game. By the end of the first hour, we were all hitting the ball and having fun.
Diana and my mom were doing a good job with their forehand groundstrokes. My dad was having fun with overheads. Regina was killing us with these shots called dinks into an area called “the kitchen.”
Four of us played at a time with the other two rotating in regularly. Before we knew it, it was 11 a.m., and our session was over. I could not believe how fast the time went and how much fun everyone had. And I mean everyone! My mom has never been particularly sports oriented, and she thought it was great. She really enjoyed the coaching UG gave and appreciated the logical progression of a point.
I was over hitting the ball at first. But I soon saw how true finesse was needed to actually place a shot. I still can’t believe how much we all loved it.
Who Plays Pickleball?
When I go to an open gym now, I am almost always the youngest one by a couple of decades. Most players are over 50 years old.
But that is all going to change. Pickleball is by far the fastest growing sport in America. And it makes sense. Seniors will continue to gravitate towards the game as my Aunt and Uncle have, and they’ll bring along their loved ones.
It is their best possible sport. The game is much more about technique and shot placement than it is about speed or strength. The light paddle and ball make it easy for anyone to join in. I’ve personally seen a few tiny, 70-year-old women who can really play!
According to UG, he burns way more calories playing pickleball than he does with golf or bowling.
What Does the Future of Pickleball Hold?
I suppose it’s still a little un-cool for people in their 20’s to play. But that will change too. It’s inexpensive, easy to learn and fun. I predict it will be popular on college campuses over the coming years. Anyone can jump in, and guys and girls can play competitively. The game is social, and it’s a great way to meet people.
UG theorizes that the reason most Millennial men do not play is because of the name “Pickleball.” Clearly not the most masculine of names for a sport. Do you really want to tell your buddies that you’re going to play Pickleball? True or not the game is already evolving past the stigma that it’s only for the semi-retired.
As more courts open nationwide, both indoor and outdoor, more and more people of all age groups and genders are taking up the game. Women will be playing in record numbers and, I believe, will be the most influential force in growing this sport. They will naturally end up getting guys interested.
Still, at the end of the day, everyone will keep playing for one simple reason, it’s the little-known secret of the sport. Once you play pickleball at any level, you will like it. And that means you will play it again. It is, in fact, the most healthy addictive activity on the planet.
We all went back to the Y on Saturday to repeat the experience, so I can attest to the addictive nature of pickleball. I freely admit that I am hooked. And that is the reason for this website.
After talking about it with UG during Thanksgiving and in the weeks since then, we concluded that the internet is sorely lacking in far-reaching information about the sport. Nowhere could we find a comprehensive guide with everything about pickleball. So this is our mission statement: We want to give you everything pickleball. If you don’t see it, please ask. We will answer every inquiry.
We want to help grow the pickleball community to the best of our ability. And we hope you will join us on this exciting ride. We welcome any anecdotes or stories about your experiences in the game. Your advice is welcome as well as any constructive criticism. In short, we want you to partner with us in making our hobby the most inclusive and enjoyable one on the planet. Vive le pickleball!
Pickleball Land is an independent publisher in Northeast Pennsylvania — home to a small, growing pickleball community. Our goal is to be the #1 source for pickleball related guides and information on the web.
If you have any questions or comments we are happy to help. To say hello, email [email protected]