Chances are, you’ve heard somebody talking about pickleball recently. Once considered a sport for retirement community residents, people of all ages are now hitting the court. Since 2016, the average age of a pickleball player has dropped from the 55 and older range to just 43 years old — and as more younger people discover the sport, that age continues to fall.
A spirited mix of tennis, ping-pong, and badminton, pickleball only requires a court, net, paddle, and pickleball (essentially a glorified whiffle ball), and you can be playing in no time.
Robert Dunn, pickleball coordinator and certified professional pickleball instructor at Life Time in Troy, Mich., has been playing and teaching the sport for six years. He says he never tires of seeing the sheer, unadulterated joy on the faces of just about every player he introduces to the game.
“At my club location, pickleball is played in the gym area,” Dunn says. “We frequently have curious people peeking in through the windows from the fitness floor above or through the glass doors and wondering what’s going on. When they enter the gym and hear the laughter and feel the excitement and joy radiating from the players, they are compelled to join in. The energy is contagious.”
Many schools have even incorporated pickleball into their physical education curriculum: It’s easy for most kids, regardless of athletic ability, to catch on quickly and hold their own.
No Experience Necessary
“No matter your athletic ability, with just a few basic instructions or simply by watching more experienced players, you can be playing pickleball within 10 minutes,” says Dunn. “And that’s not just hitting the ball, but actually playing games and getting into the buzz of competition.”
Dunn continues: “For some, this may be the first time they’ve competed in any athletic activity, and it’s so much fun to see the transformation from trepidation to elation. Success happens so quickly. You can see such amazing progress from someone who’s never hit a ball to then playing a game, most often within a very short time.”
If you do have an athletic background, you’re at an advantage — particularly if you’ve played a racquet sport. Most racquet sport players just need a few minutes to get used to the flight and bounce of the pickleball. After that, improvement comes quickly.
Many former athletes who miss the camaraderie of organized sports also stand to gain enjoyment from pickleball. “I’ve had athletes of all kinds find passion for this game,” says Dunn. “Obviously, there is an easy correlation with racquet sports such as tennis, ping-pong, and badminton. But soccer, fencing, basketball, baseball, football, hockey, golf, and martial arts all bring various skills that translate in some way on the pickleball court.”
Places to Play
With the sport’s popularity soaring, finding a place to play pickleball is getting easier.
Pickleball lines can be drawn on local outdoor tennis courts, with nets ready for anyone with a paddle and a ball to play. Tennis court lines should officially be white, so pickleball lines are usually a different color and can be configured in several different ways. This is a common one, but it shows the relative size difference between a tennis and pickleball court:
Neighborhood community courts, local community centers, and health clubs are also good places to look for a game (for more on Life Time’s pickleball offerings, see below). Dedicated indoor pickleball venues are also popping up in a variety of locations to accommodate the growing number of players. Some local breweries and bars are even offering courts and leagues for fun competition in a social atmosphere.
USApickleball.org website is a go-to resource for all things pickleball, including rules, sport’s history, and lists of upcoming tournaments. They also offer a Places 2 Play search function you can use to find courts near you. You can see if pickleball is offered at your Life Time club location by viewing your club schedules page.
How to Get Started
Besides a few pieces of equipment, it’s easy to start playing. In addition to a court, net, paddle, and a pickleball, court shoes are also a good idea — some that are more supportive than a running shoe to accommodate the stops and starts inherent with the game.
For a first-time player, approaching pickleball courts where people are playing, appear to know each other, and are having a hoot can be intimidating. In most cases, that feeling is short-lived; it won’t be long before one of the existing players invites you to join them.
If you are nervous about being a newbie, bring a friend — either one who’s new to the game so you can experience it together or one who’s played before and can show you the ropes. But remember, if you want to play and can’t find a buddy, don’t hesitate to come solo.
“Pickleball people are so friendly,” says Ajay Pant, senior director of racquet sports at Life Time. Pant tells stories of times he’s been invited to play just by showing up by himself at a pickleball court. “People are willing to rotate out of a match to allow a new player to come in — and no one cares about a newcomer’s level of experience.”
Dunn adds, “Because pickleball is a relatively new sport for many people, it’s easy to remember their first time approaching the courts. While it may be intimidating at first to jump into a large pickleball community, new players are welcomed wholeheartedly. Once you’ve been bitten by the pickleball bug, you’ll then want to share that enthusiasm with players new to the sport. It’s an easy way to meet people and develop lasting friendships.”
Pickleball at Life Time
At most Life Time clubs, pickleball is included with your membership during Open Play (predetermined hours where you can reserve your spot, show up, and play). You’ll find the nets are in place, and paddles and balls are provided if you don’t have your own. While you don’t need a partner to play, you can show up with one — or even a group of people. With pickleball, you’ll come to find out that the mentality is the more, the merrier.
A growing number of Life Time clubs also offer instruction and additional pickleball programming, such as beginner and advanced classes, leagues, and mixers. View your club’s schedules page for details.