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Pickleball Turned Out to Be Just the Right Sport for Me. It Might Be for You Too

by on September 15, 2020 5:00 AM

Scientists have proven time and time again that there are overwhelming benefits to regular exercise and social interaction. This is especially important given the current COVID-19 pandemic. Whether you are ready to get out now or will be looking forward to a new activity when you feel more comfortable interacting with others, I may just have the right sport for you to try.

My wife, Heidi, and I accidentally stumbled upon what just may be the perfect sport for all ages. It’s a sport that’s growing rapidly and it’s sweeping the nation. It’s called Pickleball. Pickleball? Yep, that’s right, pickleball.  What in the world is pickleball?

Simply put, it’s a cross between tennis, racquetball and ping pong that is played on a smaller surface than a tennis court. It can be played indoors or outdoors on a pickleball court or using existing tennis courts with regulation pickleball lines painted directly on the court. It usually takes no more than an hour, but people are having so much fun that many times they will play longer.

I am so clueless about pickleball that I thought it was a relatively new sport until I did some digging and found that it’s been around since the mid 1960s.  Heck, there is even professional pickleball! CBS Sports televised the 2019 U.S. Open Pickleball tournament from Naples, Florida There is even a Pickleball Channel.  

What hockey puck have I been hiding under all this time?

I do remember hearing about pickleball in the past but didn’t really get interested in learning more until I was driving by the State College YMCA and saw activity taking place on the “JoeBa’s Inline Rink.” Perhaps I was drawn to it because the rink is actually named after, well, yours truly, and what I saw was definitely not roller hockey. Intrigued, I decided to pull in and check out the action for myself.  What did I see? It looked like a bunch of retirees playing mini tennis on “my” inline hockey rink. Blasphemy, I say! “Off to the penalty box with you all,” I thought to myself.  

But as I took in this new looking game, I noticed something that really stuck with me. Everyone was having a blast. Sure, they were playing competitively but mostly they were enjoying their games as others were anxiously waiting their turn to play. Hmmm, I should find out more about this sometime when I am “older” and retired. Of course, when I first described what I had witnessed to my wife she coughed sarcastically and said, “What do you mean when you get older? You are older!” Ouch. Reality can be harsh sometimes.

Still, I dismissed it as a senior citizen’s activity and said we ought to give it a try sometime in the future. Well, several months went by and I kept hearing friends talk about pickleball and that my wife’s sister Karen Tinstman and our brother-in-law Mike played it regularly over in Danville.  Well if Karen and Mike are playing and telling us how much they enjoy it, then we better get in on it.

Fast forward to Labor Day weekend. We take a trip to Long Beach Island, New Jersey to visit my former Penn State hockey teammate and good friend Glenn DeStefano and his wife, Donna, at Donna’s She Shed by the Sea Shore. Turns out the DeStefano’s have already discovered the many benefits of this crazy sport.

My first thought as we strolled onto an actual pickleball court was, “Wow, I am officially a senior citizen.” Wow, was I wrong. Pickleball was not only a lot of fun and a great social activity, most importantly it was a great workout. I was immediately hooked Heidi, my son Jonathon and I had a ball playing with the DeStefano’s and their friends. Pickleball was certainly not just a game for senior citizens, but it was clearly something we could enjoy for years to come.

This past weekend we visited Karen and Mike Tinstman and on Saturday morning in Danville we played pickleball again. It was another great workout, it was even more fun as we sort of understood it more, and we made some new friends. There was even a pickleball instructor, Sebastian, who took the time to teach us the finer points of the rules and the game.

I have been searching for that perfect combination of a low-impact exercise, something that gets the competitive juices flowing, is a great social activity, is something I can do with my wife, is affordable and doesn’t take a lot of time. 

You see, back in 2014 I had cervical neck surgery and pretty much had to take it easy for a while, even giving up playing hockey and briefly golf, the two sports I have the most passion to play. At the urging of my wife I had to start exercising as my innertube around my belly was getting a bit large.

So, I got back into a stationary bike spin class at the YMCA which I really enjoy. However, in my very first spin class back, I overdid it and ended up getting a hernia that required surgery. Out another six weeks. After I healed up, my wife convinced me to go on a 17-mile bike ride on the rail trail near Alexandria. Two days later I ended up spending my birthday in the hospital with a kidney infection because of dehydration. Lesson learned: no more bikes, at least for a while.

Next, I went back to playing adult hockey. Surely it would be “just like riding a bike.” I took that a little too literally and on my very first shift on the ice. I tripped over my own two feet. I landed on my tailbone, bruising it, as well as my ego, as my opponent went in on a breakaway and scored. I returned to the bench to see my teammates trying not to laugh when I blurted out, “You guys said playing hockey again would be just like remembering how to ride a bike. You forgot to tell me I had two flat tires!” 

Just when I started to feel comfortable on the ice again, COVID-19 struck and the rink shut down. Next up, I tried running with my friend and fellow columnist John Hook. Hey, I was a competitive cross-country runner in high school, I should be able to get right back into running, right? It started off great and we were doing a little over 3 miles in a comfortable 10 to 11-minute pace. Three weeks in I was suddenly in so much pain I had to stop. Due to the pounding from the running, I ended up with severe bursitis in both hips. I know, some of you are thinking, this guy suffers from “LOFT.”  Lack of talent. How about swimming? He should try swimming.  I tried swimming…first, I tend to sink, and the chlorine wreaks havoc on my skin.

Alright, how about if I stick to golf? Well, I love to golf, it is my first passion these days and I just enjoyed a round yesterday with my son Ryan. However, it takes four to five hours, my wife does not play, and it would not be cheap, or pretty, for her to learn to play.  Besides, as Heidi says, “I can pick up golf anytime and be bad at it, what’s the rush?”

What sport meets the following criteria?  It’s multi-generational. It’s great exercise. It’s easy on the body. It’s very affordable. It’s competitive. It’s something I can enjoy with my wife, family and friends. And most importantly, it’s a lot of fun. Pickleball!

If you want to learn more about how the game is played I suggest going to this website:

The hardest part of learning the game for me, at least at first, was learning to stay out of the area on the court known as “the kitchen.” If you ask Heidi, she would say remembering to stay out of the “kitchen” should be easy for me to remember because I am not a great cook and I am usually very good at avoiding the kitchen. In fact, the only thing I am really good at making are reservations.

Then there is the scoring. You can only score points if you are serving and the first team to 11 wins the game. However, you must call out the score before you serve, and it sounds something like this: “3-4-2.”  Which translates into the team currently with three points serving to the team with four points and it’s the second player on the team with three points serving. Got that?  Neither does my wife, who still hasn’t figured it out yet. It was also pointed out that sometimes, after a long rally, no one could remember the score or who even served. Oh, and if you want to be successful, you have to master “the dink.”  I’ll let you look that one up.

Pickleball has been called, “the fastest growing sport you’ve never heard of.” Its popularity is growing at such a rapid pace that it may not be long before it’s as played as much as tennis or golf and it’s not nearly as expensive. Pickleball is the perfect combination of exercise and social interaction—it’s quick, cheap, and easy to play. What more could you ask for? 

You want a fun new activity? Try pickleball.

Joe Battista has been an integral part of the Penn State and State College communities since 1978. He is best known for his effort to bring varsity ice hockey to Happy Valley and in the building of Pegula Ice Arena. “JoeBa” is the owner of PRAGMATIC Passion, LLC consulting, a professional speaker, success coach, and the vice president of the National Athletic and Professional Success Academy (NAPSA). He is the author of a new book, “The Power of Pragmatic Passion.” Joe lives in State College with his wife Heidi (PSU ’81 & ’83), daughter Brianna (PSU ’15), and son’s Jon (PSU ’16), and Ryan (State High Class of 2019).
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