Maybe it was on a sign at your neighbourhood church, or local YMCA.
Maybe you happened to witness it live, that weird-looking sport taking over your local tennis courts. If you have yet to encounter Pickleball, you are part of a dwindling minority. It is happening right now. This wonderful sport with the odd name is taking over the world.
Pickleball is a paddle sport (we do not say racquet) played on a badminton-sized court, with a hole-dotted plastic ball and a mid line net. It combines elements of badminton, table tennis and tennis, and as a lover of all three of those sports, I can confidently say that Pickleball is greater than the sum of its parts.
This is the only place you will see Plato and Pickleball in the same sentence, but like he said, necessity was the mother of Pickleball’s invention. The problem was: how to engage and entertain bored children on Bainbridge Island, Wash., during the lazy days of Summer 1965. Had they a shuttlecock in their possession at the time I probably wouldn’t be writing this now. But they didn’t, and what they had instead was an assortment of other equipment. So, they lowered the badminton net, used table tennis paddles and a whiffle ball, and a new sport was born.
Cut to present day and Pickleball lays claim to being the fastest growing sport in the world. From its grass roots popularity among a mostly older crowd in the southern states, it is spreading internationally and attracting new players in droves. Pickleballers come in all ages, shapes and sizes now. Municipalities in Canada have caught on, and new designated courts are popping up monthly.
What is driving the popularity? I believe there are many factors. It is a very accessible sport. It is easier to get that buzz of immediate success in pickleball than in most other paddle/racquet sports. There is less wear and tear on the joints than in many other sports. Athletes often find themselves enjoying three plus hours of play. The non-volley zone in pickleball is a great equalizer. You must be behind this line (seven feet from the net) in order to play a ball out of the air before it bounces. Practically, this means that a well- placed, controlled shot in the non-volley zone limits your opponent’s ability to attack, which makes Pickleball reward shot quality over sheer athleticism. Pickleball also enjoys a vibrant tournament scene. Players will drive several hours to compete over a weekend.
Above all though, I think it is the social side of the game that explains its growth. The most common form of Pickleball play is within a system of mix and match, where 20 to 40 players will continuously rotate partners for a playing session. A typical day will see you play with as many as ten different partners. The hours spent laughing, making new friends and renewing old friendships are like nothing I have experienced in a life spent in sport.
I was introduced to the sport at my local YMCA, more than four years ago now. My curiosity was piqued each time I walked by the poster for this crazy-sounding sport with its picture of a woman holding what looked like an oversized ping pong paddle. I was hooked by my second session.
I will be forever grateful to local pickleball hero Leslie Inglis, for helping introduce me to play. I am addicted now, and fully committed to almost all aspects of pickleball. I am a certified referee in both America and Canada. I am the first ‘PPR’ (Professional Pickleball Registry) certified teaching professional in Canada, and I am an active tournament director. I ran the 2019 Canadian National Championships in Kingston, which was the largest tournament to date in Canada. More than 500 participants!
First and foremost, I consider myself a player. With the help of amazing partners, I was able to win the Canadian men’s doubles title at the second-highest level, and I also won silver at the same level at the U.S. Open in 2019.
I am proud of these successes on the court but more than anything I cherish the friendships I have made all across Canada and the U.S. These are relationships I will enjoy for the rest of my life, and they simply would not exist without this wonderful sport.
The dedicated volunteers at Pickleball Canada are currently working towards official sport recognition by Sport Canada. This is a multi-step process, with several criteria to meet. The most involved of which is the creation of a coaching program to help foster the growth of players. From youth to wizened veterans, that part of the process is now nearing completion. They are also working towards the creation of provincial and national teams. Canada currently boasts two athletes, Steve Deakin of British Columbia, and Catherine Parenteau of Quebec, who are ranked top-five players in the world in men’s and women’s doubles.
The ultimate goal is to position pickleball to eventually be contested at the Olympics.
I want to leave you with one simple message – get out and try this amazing sport. Go to pickleballcanada.org and find where people are playing near you. The pickleball community will welcome you and make sure that you have some equipment to try out and get started. Hopefully we will see each other on the court in the near future.
Oh yes, about the name. Two stories there: One is, because it combined a jumble of other sports, Pickleball reminded the inventors of the ‘pickle boat’ in crew, whose rowers were chosen from other boats’ leftovers.
The other story is they named the sport after the inventor’s family dog, Pickles, who had a tendency to steal the ball whenever possible.
Next Question:The Ryan Hanes edition
Q: The best book you've read?
A: Galapagos - Kurt Vonnegut
Q: Must-listen podcast?
A: Pickleball Problems - A Third Shot Sports Podcast
Q: Best advice you ever received?
A: Stop feeling sorry for yourself
Q: If your life is a movie, what would it be called?
Q: Word or phrase you overuse?
A: : "Having said that..."
Q: Skill you wish you had?
Q: Something no one would guess about you?
A: In my early 20's I had long hair and worked as a Nanny in the Netherlands
Q: What scares you?
A: Loved ones using knives
Q: Who gets an invite to your ultimate influential dinner party?
A: John Cusack, Barack Obama, David Suzuki, Matt Berninger, Martin Tielli, Alex Anthopolous
Q: What makes you cry, every time?
A: O Canada
Q: Next goal?
A: Master the topspin forehand third shot drop
photo credits: Top large image submitted by Ryan Hanes. Thumbnail at POV home page, courtesy Michael Gauthier, Freedom Photography. All other images as noted.