The sound drew me in. It was softer than a thunder clap and louder than a sledgehammer on a spike but when the paddle hit that ball – I was instantly captivated, drawn like a moth to a flame. Four people on a badminton court with a very low net. They were positioned like strategic pawns holding rectangular paddles, two standing outside the court at the base line on one side and on the other side, one person stood in the middle half of the court while the other stood past the base line on the other side as ready to receive a serve. I was right and the game was on and it was fast with sharp hits and another loud slap spike. Now some folks are happy to ease into a sedentary life once they hit the golden age of 50 but not me. I went searching for something fun. It needed to be a little competitive, and requiring familiar athletic skills but something not too stressful on my aging joints and just the right quantity of rules as not to overwhelm my cognitive synapses. The sport of Pickleball was everything I had hoped for and more.
Before you step out onto the court, it is important to know that Pickleball has varying skill levels, it is an activity for all ages, and you can choose singles, doubles, or mixed doubles. Equipment is minimal but essential. Footwear should be cross-trainer or tennis shoes with non-marking, durable flat souls that provide stability for side-to-side movement and the paddle you use should be light enough to present you both tactile options and power. Flexibility is imperative an important aspect of any fitness activity. Maintain your optimal functional efficiency by warming up all muscles, joints and ligaments for greater ease of movement, enhanced skill performance, and less chance of injury – Remember that short tight muscles limit movement and become sore when they perform physical activity. Every athlete knows the importance of having water readily available and Pickleball is no exception, hydration will be imperative due to the physical demands.
It’s all in the Team
Doubles play is perhaps the most enjoyable part of Pickleball. Playing involves much more than just the individual player’s techniques or physical abilities. The emphasis is on team, working together using strategies, tactics, and various techniques. A recent match had my partner asking, “Why are you trying to kill it? Just put the ball where they’re not.” Makes sense. How was I going to curb my enthusiasm? By trusting in my partner.
Before diving into more advanced skills, such as strategies and tactics, I had to first understand the basic Pickleball doubles formation. Moving with my partner for best effect. On the serve both players must stand behind the base line and stay there until the other team returns the ball then we move together about centre court for best effect.
As a novice player, I tend to make the mistake of staying on my side of the court even when my partner is under pressure. I find myself just standing there watching as my partner gets assaulted by the opponents. Lately, I have found that as the novice, experienced players will draw the ball to me most and trust that I will make mistakes – often. If that sounds familiar, here’s how to help yourself and your partner. Imagine that there is rope attached to your waist and your partner’s waist and when one player moves, the other should naturally follow. For example, if one player is returning a corner net shot, the partner should follow to help maximize court courage. You and your partner are linked by an invisible rope, pressing forward together, retreating together, and moving laterally together. This is how partner chemistry is developed in Pickleball doubles.
You may be thinking, “Here it comes, – exercise and diet, you will live longer.” Consider this, the human body was designed for physical activity – only the fittest survived. Our current society has an abundance of what is known as hypokinetic diseases – conditions caused by a lack of regular physical activity.
The average person can burn anywhere from 300- 400 calories per hour playing Pickleball. When you increase the number of calories you expend and balance it with healthy eating, a magical thing happens; you begin to feel good about your body, emotional and mental clarity may follow, and energy levels improves considerably. Stress and tension melt away. Increase your play or add a few more games in each week and you will increase your demand for oxygen. Aerobically, this means your heart, lungs and muscles to work more efficiently, why it even reduces elevated blood fats and blood pressure, improves digestion, and elimination trouncing hypokinetic disease. Dynamic and isotonic strength improves, low back pain, osteoporosis, and joint pain diminish as well as resistance fatigue over a period of time develops. A Pickleball lifestyle is more than physical activity, it is a standard of living with meaning and purpose. Evidence supports the fact you are never too old to experience the benefits of exercise and the body will respond to exercise at any age.
To start, a coin toss usually decides who goes first but most friendly games has the pair with the least amount of experience serving. The pair will stand behind the baseline and the player on the right side will begin by serving underhand and contacting the ball below the waist. The ball is directed to the opposite player on the other side of the net who is standing behind the baseline. The ball must bounce once before it is returned and the serving team must also wait for the returned shot to bounce before volleying. This is where the game gets exciting and picks up speed. There is a no-volley zone – or “kitchen”, this is the 7′ foot space between the net and the first court line which prevents players from standing too close to the net and promotes quick reflexes with skill shot strategies as apposed to power shots. Only the serving team can score points and the game is played until one team reaches 11 points or clears 2 points above. A game can last anywhere from 10 to 25 minutes and can be quite competitive with equally skilled players. The main goal is to have lots of fun.
Always check with a physician before beginning any activity that has a physical component and always warm-up before getting on the court. Include several stretches including quadriceps and hamstrings in your legs, shoulder and wrists in your upper body. While playing, keep on your toes anticipating your next shot, maintain a steady posture with a wide base for stability to avoid injury, and while waiting for the ball, keep your paddle high – centred at your chest ready for a shot on either side of you. Sportsmanship during and at the end of the game is essential like in any other sport. The cool-down should be an important part of your Pickleball routine. Immediately after playing do some mild, rhythmic activity and some flexibility stretches. A sudden stop in movement may result in blood pooling in the arms and legs, which may cause dizziness or faintness.
Warning, once you play, you’ll be hooked because when it comes to sports, few can beat the magic that is Pickleball. See you on the courts…