Pickleball keeps the competitive juices flowing

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Seniors have taken to this cross between tennis and ping-pong

If you are someone who pays close attention to detail, you may have noticed a series of subtle changes to our city this summer. Old, cracked, and unused tennis courts around the city were refurbished, and on them an extra set of lines were painted – pickleball lines.

The name may sound like a joke, but pickleball is a sport that is growing rapidly, and the seniors’ community has been the instigator of the movement.

Pickleball has pushed tennis and badminton off the courts at many facilities, with venues around the city seeing the literal value in encouraging the sport. This August in Airdrie, four new courts were unveiled at a cost of $80,000. So why is pickleball suddenly seen as a smart investment?

Mark Stinson, a passionate pickleball player, and communications director for the Calgary Pickleball Club, can easily list off reasons why pickleball is good for business and players alike.  One of those reasons is that community centres around the city are filling their gyms for the first time ever.

“What they’ve been able to do is generate an awful lot of money and take advantage of the fact that they have dead space,” Stinson explains. “Now they see that this gym is good for something other than the odd craft fair.”

But pickleball doesn’t just benefit the community centres around the city; it’s also a very social game that doesn’t take a huge toll on the body physically. It’s brought a level of competition and excitement to a generation that often gets forgotten by competitive athletics.

“You don’t tend to break things in pickleball,” Stinson quips. “Whereas squash and tennis you do. Your body will find it a lot easier.”

Stinson, who will be 67 this month, has had one hip replaced and has osteoarthritis in the other. Although it means he’s not as mobile as he once was, he doesn’t let it stop him from playing the sport he loves.

“I’m continuing to monitor what I can do. I play every other day or every third day,” he explains. Stinson pauses, and then adds, “My mobility is not very good, but my racket skill makes up for that.”

For Stinson, who was a competitive squash player from the age of 19 until his hip started to fail, part of the appeal of pickleball is the competitive nature of the game. He was introduced to the then unheard-of sport while visiting his older brother in Florida.

“He used to play squash with me, but didn’t want to play me anymore because I beat him all the time,” Stinson brags, his playful competitive nature becoming clear. “So he says, ‘I got this new thing – pickleball.’ So I said O.K. lets go… and let’s just say he didn’t do so well against me.”

But being competitive isn’t a requirement in order to get enjoyment out of the game. “You can play it as social as or competitive as you want,” Stinson explains. “If you want to play at a lower level that is fine; you will be embraced. If you want to get more experience and play at a higher level that’s also fine because we have guys here who are national champions.”

Pickleball is probably best described as life-sized ping-pong. It is played on a court with the same dimensions as doubles volleyball (20 x 44 ft.). The net is two inches lower than a tennis net, and it is played with a three-inch, hollow plastic ball, similar to a whiffle ball. The paddles are essentially extra-large ping-pong paddles. The game can be played as a singles competition, but the favoured method is the less strenuous, more strategic doubles.

So how exactly do you get involved in pickleball if you have never played before?

“The easiest thing to do is you gotta watch pickleball,“ Stinson advises. “There are hundreds of free videos online.”

If you’d rather not go online Stinson says you can easily go to one of the community centres and watch it live.

“Anyone that’s there not playing will explain the game to you. You can pick it up pretty quick.”

If you want to try out a game of pickleball before investing in a paddle of your own (the only gear that is required for the game), the Calgary Pickleball Club offers introductory lessons once a month.

“Show up with your gym clothes on and get on the court with us,” Stinson says, almost daringly. “We’ll show you what it’s all about.”

For more information visit CalgaryPickleballclub.ca

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About Author

Genevieve Yarn is a freelance writer and producer in Calgary.