Sad about saying goodbye to your summer activities? As the days get cooler and nights get longer, it might be time to retire your summer routine and find a new way to spend your free time. With the perfect combination of cardio, competition, and community, the popular sport of pickleball can help keep your end-of-summer blues at bay.
After pickleball players Gary and Debbie Hellmann invited my friend Kim and me to play along with them one evening at Joanie Moser Memorial Park in Lewisville, I was quickly able to understand why pickleball is the nation’s fastest growing sport. Within minutes of playing, I knew the sport was a hobby I could enjoy on a regular basis – something stressed and overworked adults of all ages are often longing for.
Gary Hellmann, a pickleball enthusiast/fanatic, began playing the sport around five years ago after his neighbor invited him to play. Currently, Gary plays around three to four times per week for an average of two to three hours at a time. When playing alongside his wife Debbie, the Hellmann duo makes for an intimidating pickleball pair. Gary initially assumed that pickleball would be a cakewalk for him, as he is well-versed in playing tennis and has a knack for hand-eye coordination. And while tennis and pickleball do overlap in many arenas, the concept of the “no-volley zone,” commonly referred to as the “kitchen” by pickleball players, made the sport more challenging than he initially expected. In the kitchen, players are prohibited from volleying the ball (or hitting the ball out of the air) and are only allowed to enter the zone to return a ball that bounces within the zone. Because of this rule, professional pickleball players often find themselves in a game of “dinking,” or lightly hitting the ball back and forth within the kitchen, until someone inevitably errs.
Unlike tennis, pickleball can be picked up fairly quickly by most novice players. Tennis often requires years of expensive private lessons to master, in addition to the pressure many tennis players feel to purchase the latest and greatest tennis gear and garb. Because pickleball carries a more lighthearted reputation, players can enjoy the thrill and fast-paced nature of the sport with a fraction of the financial burden. Additionally, volleying occurs much more frequently in pickleball than it occurs in most tennis singles matches, making it a riveting sport to watch.
Another advantage of picking up pickleball is the size of the pickleball itself. Being much larger than a standard table tennis ball, the pickleball is slightly slower and easier to spot (although just as bright). With pickleball courts being smaller in perimeter than standard tennis courts, senior players can still hustle for the ball without having to cover too much ground.
Triad communities have caught on to pickleball’s popularity and have installed permanent pickleball courts in Greensboro and High Point, as well as in neighboring areas such as Statesville, Salisbury, and Wilkesboro. Makeshift courts like the ones found at Joanie Moser Memorial Park can be created by striping tennis or basketball courts and utilizing portable nets for indoor or outdoor play. While the City of Winston-Salem boasts 109 tennis courts, it currently has no dedicated pickleball courts. Forsyth County pickleball players hope to see pickleball courts installed throughout the county sometime in the future, as the demand for pickleball is only increasing.
For those interested in getting started with the sport, read up on the sport’s rules and find out how to get involved at USApickleball.org. Watch the multitude of YouTube videos available on how to play, or grab a friend (or three) and head over to Joanie Moser Park most mornings to chat with any of the players. To stay in the loop, Gary and his fellow teammates utilize the TeamReach app for information on local pickleball schedules, calendars, and chat rooms. Pickleball players pride themselves on their sense of community and are always open to teaching new players the ropes.