My First Try at Pickleball

Musings from Len, the founder of the Delaware Retiree Connection™

I guess you could say I got bitten by the pickleball bug.

(A bit of personal history: I have played all types of sports throughout my life and would consider myself “athletic.” Sure, I go to the gym sporadically and go on bike rides often enough to slow down my physical fitness spiral but too infrequently to experience an uptick in my conditioning. So I typically feel stiff all the time, recovering from my last single-event effort at being fit just in time to “overdo” it again. I suppose anyone who once met their own definition of being an athlete would still categorize themselves as that. I played tennis in high school, dabbled in racquet ball and competed on the Division 1 collegiate level in volleyball, so perhaps I could consider myself “more athletic” than the “average person”…but that was 40 years ago. Let’s just say I would like to think of myself “athletic” as would many retirees. Whether I really am or not is irrelevant.)

I guess what I’m saying is that I’m a typical, not-too-fit guy (but “not that bad shape”) in a “near retirement” stage of life that enjoys “participating” in athletics, tries to moderate his competitiveness, and thinks his body can more than it can. I think that is why pickle ball is so popular among retirees—there are lots of people that want to be active, doing something that is fun and provides exercise, but doesn’t require you to be all-that-fit to play and won’t take too much exertion. And if you have decent hand-eye coordination, that’s a bonus. (Plus, you have to love a sport named after food!)

There are lots of people that want to be active, doing something that is fun and provides exercise, but doesn’t require you to be all-that-fit to play… and you have to love a sport named after food!

But how do you get started? Where can you play? Where do you get a racquet? Who do you play with? Thanks to my friend, John, who invited me to join him and bunch of other men and women on a Saturday morning, I was introduced to the sport that had me excited to awaken my latent “skills” in ping-pong, tennis, and racquetball, but I didn’t know how to get started on my own.

John lent me a pickle ball racket (a cross between the shape of a racquetball racquet and the construction of a paddle board) and welcomed me to the court (about 1/3 the size of a tennis court) where I was summarily introduced to the few unique rules of the game, which I violated not infrequently throughout the morning: the serving team can’t volley the service return (hit the ball before it bounces) and you can’t step inside “the kitchen”—a distance of 7 feet from the net– to hit a volley or to follow through after volleying (my biggest challenge). Then you have the protocol of who serves and whether you stand near the net or behind the court, and calling out the score and if you are the first or second server on your team. Only the serving team can score a point, and you play to 11. I think that’s all you need to know to play the game.

So, here are my observations of my experience after playing for two hours that added up to a very enjoyable morning:

  • It was a blast, and I am looking forward to playing again—I just need to borrow a racquet or figure out where to buy a “decent one.” (I’m not sure what that means or if it matters what raquet I get.)
  • It takes a while to get feel for hitting the ball—in a way the racquet deadens the ball, but I still hit plenty of balls out of bounds!
  • All the games were doubles, allowing more people to play, creating more social interaction, and reducing physical intensity.
  • The people I played with were really cool—understanding and patient with my learning/forgetting the rules. (We’ll see how understanding they are the second, third, etc., time I play—but I suspect I’ll have the rules down by then.)
  • I am an average player and probably think I am better than I am. Like anything, there is much to learn about the game to improve, in addition to improving skills.
  • I lost my first game, but over the course of the day I won a few and lost a few. Winning or losing didn’t really matter—but winning was better. 😊
  • I made an extra effort to show good sportsmanship!
  • All matches played were co-ed and the women and men were equally skilled and competitive.
  • I felt like I could have played all day, but I would have regretted it the next day. Plus, I had “other things to do.”
  • My bad shoulder is still bad. My knees are worse.
  • I’m glad I didn’t hurt myself.
  • I need to bring more water with me next time.
  • I wonder if my wife would like pickleball and whether it would “give us something to do together.”
  • I did get some cardiovascular in. A few times I was even a bit winded but was never uncomfortable.
  • I am already a little stiff—that’s a bad sign. I will be more stiff tomorrow and if I play every Saturday I will probably be stiff all the time from pickleball.
  • Tomorrow I will probably wish I iced my shoulder—but do I want to play a sport I have to ice afterwards from to enjoy?
  • What I am looking forward to the most right now is eating lunch, then taking a nap.

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