Judi Christy, the director of marketing and communication at the Akron Area YMCA, shares her experience learning how to play pickleball.
I have never been a person who jumps into fads. I did not race to rollerblade or buy a puka shell necklace. I’m more of a sideline cynic, waiting for others to try things to see if they stick.
This is how I felt about pickleball.
I first heard of it at one of our Y locations several years ago. At the time, I was contacted by the organizer of a league – yes, they were official – and asked to make a video explaining the game to others. I arrived at Y, notebook and camera in toe. I expected to see some old folks – I was 56 at the time – batting around a ball before they gave in to a coffee or bathroom break.
But I did not see a group who needed caffeine. The folks in the gym with their arch-supported tennis shoes sounded like the best pickup game of 20-somethings shooting hoops. Their sneakers squawked and their arms caused a swish. They ran from side to side on either side of a low net, swinging with brute force. The little ball appeared to be something my kids used to play with using a Dollar Store bat. Was the ball plastic? With holes?
I scurried to the sidelines after one of the players glared as I took her picture using flash. pickleball, I learned, was serious business and no place for the media. I hunkered down on the far side of the gym and waited for the play to cease.
Since that time, I have watched several pickleball tournaments hosted by our YMCA. I’ve produced a kitschy video about the sport, taken a few dozen pictures of players – without flash – and heard my long-time friends express their obsession with the sport. In fact, one couple recently purchased a home in a South Carolina complex because of the number of pickleball courts it afforded.
Maybe this pickleball thing was really a thing. So, I gave it a shot.
I coerced my boss – who coincidentally has travelled around the sun as many times as I have – to try this with me. She was eager because she’s athletic. The boss is a runner. I am a surfer – the kind who waves the remote in the general direction of the television. But, nevertheless, we were both game.
We elicited the help of Dave, a pickleball expert who happened to be an employee at one of our branches. He pulled in Natalie, the youth sports director and together they set out to teach us the basics of the game. I tried very hard to listen and concentrate while wishing that I brought my notebook and pen. There was a lot to this badmitton-y/tennis-ish sport.
There were the boundary lines and under-hand only serves, the no fault zone and rules about the double-volley. There was a warning about staying out of the kitchen, and last but not least, the responsibility to correctly state the score.
I was sweating before even holding the paddle. But Dave was a patient teacher. He was on the side with me while my boss was guided by Natalie, who admitted that she was also a bit of a novice to this activity.
The serving came first. I wanted to toss the ball up and connect. This was not allowed. A bounce and hit were permitted or a well-planned swing with hopefully no miss. There were no mulligans in this game.
My first serve was lame and light. I was afraid of my own visceral strength, but Dave told me to slam it and so I did. The ball went out of bounds, but he gave me another try. And another. And another.
I did get the gist and so did my boss. She didn’t hold back a bit, even hitting the basketball hoop in the gym more than a time or two. Dave, though nice, was not impressed. I tried hard not to smile. Even though she signs my paycheck, I didn’t want to just slack off and let her win.
And, I didn’t. She and Natalie served, returned and dinked a lot. This made the confusing part of scoring a little less confusing. Dave or I could always announce “zero” first before our opponent’s score and whether server one or two was set to play. Side note, I always thought I was server one, until Dave gently corrected me, more sternly as the game continued and the spread widened.
When I had to announce, “zero, eight, two,” Dave lost his smile and said, “Hey, Judi, I don’t want to get pickled.”
I had to step up my game. And, I did. I followed through, tried a few backhands, got my serves where they were supposed to be served and got us on the board.
We ended our game at nine to 11. I still don’t know if I was server one or two, but I was happy. My boss went back to work and I stayed to play another game, where I actually worked up a sweat and still lost the match.
Since then, we have tried to practice once a week, preferably without spectators. But, since she’s the boss and I’m erratic, we do get some gawkers. No cameras, please. This is serious business.