Pickleball: you can’t lose

Pickleball, a mashup of tennis, badminton, and Ping-pong, which appeals mainly to seniors, is the fastest growing sport in America. The court is smaller than a tennis court, so seniors often choose it over tennis since it’s easier on the knees. My husband and I discovered the game five years ago. We learned the fundamentals, and now often play three times a week. 

You may have heard that quarterback Tom Brady has invested in the game, or that celebrities such as Bill and Melinda Gates, the Kardashians, Will Smith, Ellen DeGeneres, and George and Amal Clooney love playing it. Last April, Naples, Florida hosted the Minto U.S. Open Pickleball Championship. The average age for competitors was 52. This might change since younger people have discovered it and schools are starting to teach it.

An extra benefit to the exercise (I usually log 6,000 steps during two hours of play) is all the great people we’ve met. My “pickle pod” includes truck drivers, retired surgeons, and entrepreneurs. It’s enjoyable to gab about favorite restaurants, our winter plans, our families, or, just generally, what’s happening in our lives. T-shirts with captions like “A Day Without Pickleball is like …Just kidding, I have no idea” and “Pickelball, a Big Dill” add to the fun atmosphere. Here’s a favorite that refers to a skillful return where a soft ball lands just over the net, making it hard to return. “I Might Have a Dinking Problem.”

There isn’t time to chat during play. You’ll need all of your concentration to plan strategies to get the ball over the net, positioning it either at the opponents’ feet where it’s hard to return, lobbing it over heads, dinking it so it falls close to the net and your opponent can’t reach it in time, or smashing it. Good players strategize, returning the ball at opponents’ feet, their backhand, or to a spot they can’t reach.

If you’ve never played the game, watch a YouTube on it until you master the scoring and know terms such as “kitchen” so you’re not overwhelmed when you first play. Beginners might want to play against other beginners until they’re confident. If you play at Wisconsin Dells’ Just a Game, ($5 a time or $30 for the month) you can borrow one of their paddles until you figure out which type you like. Indoor Pickleball is also played at Baraboo’s civic center on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday at 8:00 a.m. In the summer, I’ve played outdoors at the courts near Lake Delton’s school, near the pool in Baraboo, and at Reedsburg’s Nissan and Campbell Park.

As a bonus, when I return from playing lively games of pickleball, I get an energy boost and find it easier to tackle challenging mental tasks I’d normally dread such as balancing the checkbook or working on taxes. 

Pickleball scores big in my book. Exercise, energy boosts, and socialization. You can’t lose.

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