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Get Caught Up In Pickleball

Pickleball is one of America’s fastest-growing sports. While it is being discovered daily by residents and visitors in active senior communities, hundreds of school children as well as college students are introduced to it regularly in physical education classes. It is a lifelong activity, making it a perfect sport for multigenerational families where grandparents and grandchildren can match up against parents and children.

Pickleball was invented in 1965 by the late Washington State congressman, Joel Pritchard. The court is the same size as a badminton court, with a net that is 36 inches high at the posts and 34 inches high at the center. If converting tennis courts, you can usually get four pickleball courts on one tennis court, thereby allowing four times as many players.

The Basics

Pickleball is a court sport halfway between tennis and ping-pong. It is played as a singles game or a doubles game. Each player has a paddle made of wood, composite or graphite material. The object of the game is to score points by successfully hitting a 3-inch diameter, plastic, perforated ball across the net without its being successfully returned by the opponent(s).

One of the unique features of this sport is the non-volley zone line that is 7 feet from the net and extends the width of the court. Players cannot step on this line or go beyond it to hit the ball unless the ball first bounces on their side of the court. The basic rules of the game are simple, and most people can learn them in one session. Many people can play a regular game during their first day because they do not need to learn a highly skilled serve as in tennis.

No special attire is required except good court shoes and comfortable clothing. Supplies and equipment for players include a paddle (prices range from $10 to $60) and balls (prices range from $10 to $20 per dozen), making this an affordable activity for those on fixed or modest incomes.

The court can be hardwood, concrete, asphalt, composition flooring or even carpet. It can be located indoors or outdoors, making just about any 44-foot x 20-foot flat surface suitable. Net standards can be anything from PVC pipe in a bucket of concrete to special standards with winches to wind up and tighten the net cord. Nets vary in quality--depending on the court setup--and range in price from $30 to $130.

No Age Limits

Many community centers around the United States have drop-in play, either exclusively for seniors or for players of all ages. The USA Pickleball Association (USAPA) Web site lists 44 states with places to play as well as four provinces in Canada and one location in Mexico. It has become routine for active senior communities to offer pickleball courts as one of their many amenities.

Once people get acquainted with this game, they are hooked. Word of mouth has been driving the growth of this sport, along with increasing interest from the media. Just recently, “Good Morning America” did a feature on pickleball.

Pickleball is a popular introductory racquet sport in schools. One high school student, who was trying it for the first time, showed no great athletic skills, but by the end of the class period, she exclaimed, “This is so much fun! I wish we could play pickleball every day!” It attracts many people who have never pursued other sports.

It also has a significant number of converts who are current or former racquetball, tennis, badminton or table-tennis champions. Some, like Billy Jacobsen, a former national-level tennis player, have elevated this sport to one of quickness, strength, stamina and mental toughness at the national tournament level.

Pickleball has been included in the Huntsman World Senior Games (HWSG) in St. George, Utah, since 2003. This event draws over 9,000 senior athletes from over 50 countries. Last year, the pickleball event had over 175 participants, mainly from the United States and Canada. Future HWSG may well include players from Singapore, Japan, Cyprus, India, Fiji, Germany or Mexico, where pickleball is also played.

This year, the National Senior Games Association (NSGA) will include pickleball on its list of sports for the first time ever in the NSGA Festival that will take place in Providence, R.I. Currently, 21 states offer pickleball as a sport in their Senior Games or Senior Olympics.

Enthusiasts can be found criss-crossing the country from New York to Washington State and from Florida to Arizona to participate in these fun and competitive events.The USAPA is the governing body for the sport. Its Web site (www.usapa.org) includes all of the current rules for the sport as well as news, tournament listings, player rankings, an interactive map of places to play, playing tips and much more.

League and tournament software is available free of charge to members, so those wishing to set up a ladder league only have to have one USAPA member in their group sign up to use the software. The tutorials are easy to follow, and assistance is only an e-mail away. The software allows registration of participants, creation of brackets and seeding features, if required. Once the tournament has concluded, results can be posted.

For The Body

Health benefits of physical activity are well-known, and pickleball is no exception. Beginners and advanced tournament-level players can all get in a strenuous workout and continue to increase their stamina and strength as they improve their level of play. Many players recovering from illnesses or surgeries have mentioned how pickleball has kept them in such good physical condition that their recoveries were much quicker and more successful than they would have been otherwise.

Pickleball is a sport that can be played by those who have had hip replacements, knee replacements, shoulder surgery, leg prosthetics or tennis elbow. In Virginia a woman was such a good player that everyone wanted to be her partner despite the fact that she had had both hips replaced--and was 90 years old. Just about anyone can pick up a paddle and play this game, from the gifted athlete to the weekend jock. Even those who have had cancer, a stroke, a heart attack, vision impairment, diabetes or a pacemaker implanted can get out on the court and enjoy a good workout.

Size, shape, age or physical limitations cannot take away from the health benefits of a game that is so much fun that many people claim they are hardly aware they are exercising.

Those unfamiliar with pickleball should also know that this is not just a sport. Pickleball is a highly social activity that brings people together for laughter, fun and enjoyment of an active life.

Fran Myer is the USAPA Public Affairs Officer, Ambassador for the HWSG and Co-commissioner with her husband, Barney, for the Northwest Senior Games and Washington State Senior Games. They are each 20+ year veterans of the sport and own PickleballStuff.com. She can be reached via e-mail at pickleballstuff@comcast.net.

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