By Steve Dawson
It won’t surprise you to hear that a lot of people are asking me how they can get started playing pickleball these days. The sport has blown up around the country.
Not long ago, pickleball was mostly popular in the Pacific Northwest. In recent years, it migrated south and took off. As I’m sure you’ve noticed, people are now playing everywhere: cul-de-sacs, parks, racquet clubs.
My introduction to pickleball came well before the boom – but within the last decade. I had played a lot of table tennis as a kid with my father in San Diego, then competed at a high level of tennis for many years. On the suggestion of a friend, I tried pickleball about eight years ago. I was hooked immediately. It was the perfect blend between my first love, table tennis, and my second love, tennis.
In my experience, almost everyone who tries pickleball enjoys it. It’s an athletic sport, but the entry level is easy enough that almost anyone can play. And people don’t seem to take it quite as seriously as tennis. You can play pickleball and win some and lose some and it’s a good day. Lose in tennis, the sting often sticks with you for hours.
If you’re interested in trying pickleball – and I hope you are – here are some recommendations on how to get started:
1. Find out where it’s being played locally and check it out. Most community centers, parks and private clubs offer pickleball. Bring some friends to enjoy the experience with you.
2. Sign up for an introductory class, not just to learn basic skills and rules but to meet other players at your level. When all four players on the court have similar skills, it’s fun for everybody. That’s not true if one player is at one level and the other three are at another level. (Unlike tennis, though, a mismatched pickleball game only lasts 10-15 minutes, so you can rotate quickly to a new group. Mismatched tennis doubles might go for two hours.)
3. Pick up an inexpensive paddle and balls to get started. If you become addicted, you can invest in high-end gear at a later date. A lot of beginners ask me, “Which paddle should I buy?” My answer: “Buy the prettiest one. It doesn’t matter.” Six months later, if you get totally into it, you’ll know what paddle to buy next.
4. Google where to play pickleball in your area. Some people start by putting down lines in their cul-de-sac and playing with neighbors. That’s good fun. But if you find yourself gravitating toward the sport and are looking for more regular games, you’re probably going to want to find a club where there are a lot of other like-minded individuals.
5. Don’t overdo it! It’s not unusual for people to fall in the love with pickleball, start playing every day, then have injuries – most commonly to the knees, back, hips or feet. Be smart, especially if you haven’t played a lot of sports in the past 10 or 15 years. Ease yourself in. (The good news is, pickleball doesn’t punish your body as much as tennis. The paddle is lighter and shorter than a tennis racquet and a pickle ball is lighter than a tennis ball, so there’s less torque on your body.)
6. Check out pickleball instruction online, but keep this in mind: A lot of it is good, a lot of it is not good. To modify a joke I stole from snowboarding:
“What’s the difference between a pickleball player and a pickleball instructor?”
Answer: “About three weeks!”
Everybody thinks they’re an expert. Do your research to find out who really knows what they’re talking about.
7. Realize that pickleball is many things – sport, hobby, social gathering, exercise – so prepare for everything. The pickleball community is very inviting. You won’t have any trouble finding people to help you get games at your level. Come join us and have some fun!
Steve Dawson is a two-time U.S. National Pickleball Champion and a two-time Canadian National Pickleball Champion. He is the owner of the Bobby Riggs Racket & Paddle club with his wife, Jennifer Dawson, who was the world’s first Triple Crown professional pickleball champion.