“The group is so tolerant of people just learning the game.”
Most of us like to play games. A popular way is to hit an object over a net to be returned by an opponent on the other side. The person who is unsuccessful in getting the object over the net or keeping it in the field of play loses. Popular games of this type are tennis, badminton, and table tennis (ping pong). Other popular games played by hitting a ball against a wall include a version of squash and paddleball.
All these games have their devotees as well as advantages and disadvantages and there is a wide range in the expense of equipment required and venue. In the mid-60s a newcomer entered the field when pickleball was first devised as a backyard game on Bainbridge Island Washington. Now pickleball is played in tens of thousands of locations. One of these is in a retirement facility where I live. It was first called to my attention when I returned from a COVID-19 extended summer in northern Michigan. I found an announcement on the bulletin board saying that pickleball was available in Foundation Hall and players were invited to participate. Wait a minute I thought, isn’t Foundation Hall already hosting a wide range of activities?
At one end of the hall is a multi-purpose stage and at the other is the Catholic Chapel. Between the two are lots of movable chairs and walls that can be adjusted depending on how this flexible space is used. This new setup deserved a look.
Entering the Foundation Hall, the mid room partition was in place and there was a game in progress. I saw what looked like a miniature tennis court and four active seniors going at it with wooden paddles and a yellow plastic ball, like a whiffle, with lots of holes. This deserves a closer look I thought so I grabbed a seat and became a spectator.
As an avid tennis player for more than 40 years I was interested in what I saw. There were two seniors on either side and at least half a dozen others were spectators like me but also ready to join the game themselves. The players were agile mostly from the waist up; that is, they had good strokes, mostly using the wrist, and followed the ball while positioning themselves with minimum of effort.
I was reminded of times competing on the tennis court with older players who moved slowly but somehow managed to be in exactly the right spot to return my shots. The senior doubles pickleball I was watching, like senior tennis, called for good strokes, though mostly with the wrist, and strategy more than athleticism.
The pickleball game moves ahead quickly and is over when one side reaches 11 points and is ahead by two. When seniors play, my guess is that doubles would be the rule although the game could be played with singles. Unlike tennis, teams score only when they are serving. Different from tennis doubles, in pickleball both teammates serve before the serve goes to the other side.
The court which is 44 feet long and 20 feet wide has a no volley zone called the “kitchen” which is 7 feet on each side of the net. A player may not hit while in this zone until the ball has bounced. This rules out “playing the net” and volleying. Serving is cross court and the ball must bounce in the service area. The serve is returned after a bounce and the return of serve must be played on the bounce. This is the two-bounce rule. After that, the ball (shot) may be played in the air.
There are a few other rules like which lines are in or out and how the score and server are announced before each point. Serves are delivered underhand and without a bounce.
Pickleball is a game many seniors could be involved in if they wished. It’s not for everybody, but it is definitely for lots of people. An advantage of this game is that it is eminently suited for indoor play. It doesn’t take much space, the sun doesn’t get in your eyes, there’s no wind, and the temperature can be regulated in any season. I say Hooray to pickleball and to those who enjoy the sport.
I talked to a longtime tennis player who described his experience with this new game. “There definitely is an adjustment” he said. “You need to make some changes, but it doesn’t take long to get the hang of it. The biggest thing for me was how slow the bounce was off the carpet. I waited for the ball to come to me and it just dropped. I learned to move up on the bounce and not depend on it coming to me. Once I learned that, the game got to be a lot of fun! There were some other things but playing the ball off the carpet was the big one”.
I can’t wait to try it myself.
By Savvy Senior
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