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How about a game of pickleball?

It’s easy to learn and can either be played fast and competitive or slower and recreational

With Canada’s 150th birthday coming soon, ParticipACTION is once again urging Canadians to make physical activity a vital part of everyday life. “Sit less and move more” is a motto we could all adopt. One way of doing that is to take up a new sport, and in our town there’s a new game — pickleball.

Pickleball is a racquet sport, combining parts of tennis, badminton and table tennis, which was invented in 1965 on Bainbridge Island, not far from Seattle, Washington. Originally it was developed by three fathers as a backyard game for their children.

Since then, the game has become popular with adults and has been slowly spreading across the United States. According to a 2016 report by the U.S. Sports & Fitness Industry Association, there are over 2.5 million pickleball participants in the U.S.

The sport is now growing in Canada and internationally, as well. In rural Manitoba, pickleball is often brought back by returning snowbirds who have enjoyed the game during a winter stay down south. Some secondary schools also have used this in gym classes. It’s an easy-to-learn game that can be played at a fast and competitive level for young, athletic types, or at a slower, recreational level for children or seniors.

Where did the name come from? There are various accounts, and one version suggests it was named from the term “pickle boat,” a somewhat derogatory term meaning a rowing team which has leftover oarsmen not chosen for other boats. Another version is that it was named after a dog belonging to one of the three inventors.

An official pickleball court measures 20×44 feet, the same size as a doubles badminton court. The net is a slightly modified tennis one averaging a height of 36 inches. There are right and left service courts, like tennis, and a seven-foot non-volley zone (called “the kitchen”) next to the net. For unofficial recreational purposes, the size can vary, using a court existing from another sport. It can be modified for indoor or outdoor play. In our town, the game is played in the curling rink with two courts marked out. Rules are similar to tennis but with a few modifications.

The game can be played indoors or out.
photo: Donna Gamache

Players need a net, a pickleball and a pickleball paddle which is smaller than a tennis racquet, but larger than a ping-pong paddle. Today they are made from lightweight, composite materials, weighing about eight ounces. The pickleball, about the size of a tennis ball, has holes through it, like a whiffle ball, and there are different ones for indoors or outdoors. For a recreational game, no special clothing is required (although an Internet search shows there is an official line of apparel available, and several websites selling specialty pickleball T-shirts). Equipment is also available online or at some sports equipment stores. The paddles cost about $40 each, or can go up to $100 plus.

Like tennis, pickleball matches can be either singles or doubles. The ball is served underhand, diagonally, from below waist level, and points are scored if the opponent faults (doesn’t return the ball, steps into the non-volley zone, or hits the ball out of bounds). A win is the first to score 11 points, and leading by at least two. The receiving player(s) must allow the ball to bounce once before any volleys are allowed, and cannot spike from the non-volley zone. Players announce the score each time before they serve, to keep track of their progress.

In Manitoba, several towns now have pickleball games and it seems to spread as more people learn about it. In MacGregor, since the curling rink is used, the sport starts up in April, after the ice is taken out. Last year only one court was made, but this year, with increased interest, we have two courts, so eight people can play at a time. If more than that come, then players take turns. Our recreational program supplies the equipment for those who don’t have their own.

Fortunately we have a couple of players with some experience, who are able to explain the game to beginners like myself, and offer a few hints to improve our score. The game as we play it, isn’t too strenuous, since most of us are seniors or middle age. It’s an enjoyable way to socialize and get a little exercise at the same time. If your community has a facility where pickleball could be played, it’s definitely worth investigating.

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