By Denise Lodge
Not all activities are best suited to an outdoor arena, but cold weather does not mean inevitable hibernation. Indoor sports provide excellent opportunities to have fun and be fit, and they do not rely on a particular climate. Badminton, squash, and tennis may first come to mind when you hear “indoor sports,” but there is one relatively new sport with an unusual name has people excited and energized: pickleball combines elements of the racquet or paddle sports, and is a fun, accessible activity that you can enjoy year-round.
What is Pickleball?
According to The Journal on Active Aging, pickleball is North America’s fastest growing sport. It is a fun combination of badminton, table tennis, paddle tennis, and tennis, and it is a fresh, enjoyable way to fitness. According to the World Pickleball Federation, the game “is played much like a ping pong game, with a badminton net placed slightly above ground level.” Players hit a yellow plastic whiffle ball over a net about 85 centimetres high, using a paddle.
In the summer of 1965, Joel Pritchard and his friends Bill Bell and Barney McCallum invented a game for their bored children, in Bainbridge Island, outside of Seattle, Washington State. While playing, they were sometimes interrupted by the Pritchards’ cocker spaniel, Pickles, who would run off with the ball. At first, families played pickleball in their backyards on a hard surface, on driveways, and on residential dead-end streets, but as the sport has grown in popularity, it has moved onto a paddle court with formalized rules.
One of the greatest draws of the sport is that it does not require great athleticism, but can escalate to high, competitive levels. So whether you are an avid tennis player, and want to maintain your racquet skills during the off-season, or are uninterested in becoming active, pickleball is a fun activity that accommodates people at every level of fitness.
Since its introduction to the fitness community, many pickleball clubs have begun and flourished; it is played in national and international community centres, fitness clubs, and parks, and it has been incorporated into the physical education curriculum of some universities.
The Health Benefits of Pickleball
The structure of the court and the placement of the players encourage long rallies, which makes it an ideal way not only to improve physical fitness, but also to socialize and spend time with friends.
Despite being an inclusive sport that is easily adaptable to an individual’s fitness level, pickleball is not without its health benefits. The game involves the strategies of passing the ball, and quick-volley exchanges at the net, which help develop reflex and coordination skills, as well as quickness and agility. Playing pickleball also helps to improve muscular strength and endurance, and increases cardiovascular activity.
Part of what makes pickleball so accessible and inclusive is the equipment; the relatively compact size of the court makes it less daunting for those who do not play sports often, or who have injuries, and the light weight of the ball and paddle also decrease the risk of impact-related injuries.
- Court: Pickleball is played on a badminton-sized court (about 7 by 12 metres). In the middle of the court is the net, which is about 85 inches high. A non-valley zone covers about two metres on each side of the net, which means players are always at least four metres apart. This distance between the players allows for longer, more exciting games.
- Whiffle Ball: A whiffle ball, about the same size as a regulation baseball, weighs about one ounce, and is made of hollow plastic. One side of the ball has oblong holes perforated into it, which cause the whiffle ball to travel much slower than a tennis ball. The smaller the ball, the faster the speed of the pickleball game.
- Paddle: Pickleball paddles come in graphite and the less expensive composite, both of which are light and sturdy. Paddles also come in hardwood or plywood, but these can be twice as heavy as composite paddles. The head of the paddle is squared off, and commonly measures about 20 centimetres across, and about 40 centimetres in length, although some paddles may vary slightly in size. Your hand’s grip on the paddle should look like you are shaking hands. The paddle is attached to the wrist by a cord attached to the bottom of the paddle.
The Rules of Pickleball
Pickleball can be played as a singles game, with two players, or in doubles, with four players per game. Players must serve behind the baseline, located at the long ends of the court, and hit the ball below the waistline, without letting the ball bounce. To serve, step forward with the leg opposite of the hand you are using to serve.
Once the ball has been served, it must land in the court diagonally opposite to the server, past the non-volley line, and within or on the baseline or any sideline. Each team must play their first shot off a bounce; the first time the paddle returns the ball, the ball must first bounce. After these first hits, the ball can either be volleyed (hit in the air), or played off the bounce. All volleying must be done when the player’s feet are behind the non-volley zone.
Players hit the ball back and forth, rallying, until one team does not return the ball over the net. Only the serving team can score a point; if the receiving side fails to return the ball, or makes a fault, such as hitting the ball beyond the baseline, the serving team wins a point. If the serving team stops the play, the opposing team serves the ball. Once a point has been won, the teams switch sides of the court. The first team to win 11 points wins a game; matches usually consist of three games.
If you want to try pickleball, look for a centre in your neighbourhood, via Pickleball Canada, and have fun. Some centres offer drop-in sessions, and when regular play times are organized, the cost to join is reasonable. Because there are many fitness clubs and community centres that feature the sport, it is a good game to play when travelling.