Summer heat got you feeling sour? The popular sport of pickleball can pull you out of your slump. Being the fastest growing sport in the country, pickleball is sure to get you moving, laughing, and connected to local players of all ages.
Pickleball enthusiast Gary Hellmann began playing the sport around five years ago. While running laps around the indoor track at the Jerry Long YMCA in Clemmons, he was able to watch pickleball being played on the basketball courts below. After his neighbor invited him to join, Gary immediately realized that he had stumbled upon a fun and challenging new hobby, and quickly became hooked. Currently, Gary plays around three to four times per week for an average of two to three hours at a time. His wife Debbie has also fallen in love with the sport, making the Hellmann duo a force to be reckoned with.
Why has pickleball taken society by storm? Perhaps it’s because the sport encompasses the best aspects of classic sports such as tennis, badminton, and table-tennis without many of the headaches that accompany them. Tennis players train for years on end, sometimes to no avail, as the skill level needed to master such a sport requires ample time, talent, and physical exertion. In addition to the frustration coinciding with honing one’s tennis skills, private lessons, clothing, and equipment can be costly.
Pickleball, on the other hand, is a sport that most can pick up on fairly quickly without breaking the bank. Because the sport carries a lighthearted reputation (it is named “pickleball,” after all), players can more easily enjoy themselves and form bonds without the interference of high stress and hefty financial investment. Given that pickleball courts are smaller in perimeter than standard tennis courts, senior players often find solace in having less ground to cover—although a good hustle is still necessary. Additionally, pickleball can be quite fast-paced and fun to watch, as volleying (or hitting the ball out of the air) occurs much more frequently than it occurs in most tennis singles matches. While the volleying can be thrilling to watch, the pickleball itself is much larger than a standard table- tennis ball, making the ball slightly slower and easier to spot.
As a former tennis player, Gary initially assumed that pickleball would be a cakewalk for him. He soon realized that while tennis and pickleball do overlap in many areas, the concept of the “no-volley zone,” commonly referred to as the “kitchen” by pickleball players, made the sport more challenging than he expected. In the kitchen, players are prohibited from volleying the ball, and are only allowed to enter the zone to return a ball that bounces within the zone. Because of this rule, professional pickleball players often find themselves in a game of “dinking,” or lightly hitting the ball back and forth within the kitchen, until someone inevitably errs.
Triad communities have caught on to pickleball’s popularity and have installed permanent pickleball courts in Greensboro and High Point, as well as in neighboring areas such as Statesville, Salisbury, and Wilkesboro. Makeshift courts can be created by striping tennis or basketball courts and utilizing portable nets for indoor or outdoor play. While the City of Winston-Salem boasts 109 tennis courts, it currently has no dedicated pickleball courts. Forsyth County pickleball players hope to see pickleball courts installed throughout the county sometime in the future, as the demand for pickleball is only increasing.
According to insiders like Gary, the local pickleball hot spot is Joanie Moser Park in Lewisville. For those interested in getting started with the sport, Gary suggests checking out the dozens of YouTube videos, or better yet, coming over to Joanie Moser Park most mornings and chatting with any of the players. There’s also the TeamReach app for information on local pickleball schedules, calendars, and chat rooms. Don’t have the right pickleball gear? Fortunately, paddles are relatively low-cost and can be purchased at sporting goods stores throughout the area. If you don’t want to invest in equipment just yet, friendly players will likely allow you to borrow their equipment to try your hand at the sport.
Interested in learning more about pickleball? Visit USApickleball.org to learn the ropes and get involved.