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What’s Pickleball?!
By Carol LeBeau
9/16/2013 12:18:17 PM


What’s Pickleball?! It’s the fastest-growing new sport in the nation and it has nothing to do with pickles!

At a recent family reunion, I learned my husband’s sweet, petite cousin, Carolyn, is also quite the athlete.  I had no idea, but cousin Carolyn and her husband, Dale, are the reigning New York state double’s champions… in pickleball!

“Wow!  That’s awesome,” I said…fake smile masking the fact I had absolutely no idea what Tom’s cousins were into.  Pickleball?  I’d never even heard of the game with the funny name.  Turns out, Dale and Carolyn are on the cutting edge of a sports trend that’s exploding in popularity especially among older adults.   

Unfortunately, I was still in a pickle about pickleball!  So, I talked to Carolyn and got the “scoop.”  First off, the game often described as a mixture of tennis and ping -pong has nothing to do with pickles! 

Here’s the deal.  If you take a game of tennis and slow it down, use a smaller court, slower racket and harder-to-hit ball…you get pickleball!

The sport is played with a wooden paddle and a plastic ball on a short, square court.  The net is hung at 34 inches in the middle (it’s 36 inches for tennis.) There is a non-volley zone on both sides of the net to prevent high-speed spikes as dictated by the U.S.A. Pickleball Association rulebook.  Players score when the other side can’t return a shot.  The first side to reach 11 points with a two-point lead wins.

Pickleball’s popularity has made it the first sport to be added for competition in the National Senior Games (NSGA) in 20 years.  The pickleball movement is averaging a thousand new players a year.  There are now more than 100,000 players in the United States and the number of pickleball courts has doubled to more than 5,600…just since 2010.

“It’s good exercise,” says cousin Carolyn.  “In my first six months of playing pickleball, my cholesterol dropped 40 points!”  But she also loves the social aspect of the game.  “It’s fun.  It’s something Dale and I can do together and we meet so many wonderful people.”   

Interestingly, the popularity among seniors is creating a trickle-down effect, with pickleball becoming more popular with school PE programs and at recreational camps nationwide.   

And that includes the San Diego area. If you’d like to try your hand at pickleball, you can find teams and leagues from Oceanside to Alpine, La Jolla to Lakeside.  Check out San Diego Parks and Recreation for more information and become part of the fastest growing sport in America!  

In fact, San Diego boasts a gold medal-winning pickleballer.  Pat Carroll took the gold in the 70-74 age division at the National Senior Games last month in Cleveland! (Where, if I may brag just a bit, Dale and Carolyn placed fourth in the doubles division. Way to go, Cousins!) 

As more folks become sweet on pickleball, maybe it’s time to give it a try.  “This is a game that has a lot of participation from people who have never been an athlete in their life,” says Tom Burkhart, pickleball competition director for the NSGA. “They can still acclimate and become a decent player.”

Need a little incentive to try your hand at pickleball?  According to a report on San Diego’s KPBS, “Pickleball is really a great game with a silly name. It’s addictive and might just lead you on the path of health, happiness and a heck of a lot of fun!” 



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