No, it's not a food fight -- but it does involve "a kitchen" and will get you up and moving regardless of your age and ability. This easy-to-play sport has been enjoyed in the U.S. for decades, but it's thanks to the efforts of Canadian "snowbirds" that pickleball has migrated north. Suffering from "pickleball withdrawal" on their return from sunny southern destinations, these ingenious players found ways to continue playing here at home.
The game is now the fastest-growing sport in Canada, and it even has its own official governing organization, PickleBall Canada. It's a fun way to get in shape and stay active, and you don't have to be a master or professional athlete to enjoy it.
"What the heck is pickleball?"
It's a question Wayne Roswell, one of the founding members of PickleBall Canada, is used to hearing. Even though the game is rapidly catching on here in Canada, many people are perplexed by the name.
So what is this sport all about? Its other names -- ping pong-tennis or mini-tennis -- provide some clues.
" It's a combination of tennis, badminton and ping pong or table tennis," Roswell explains. "One ambassador uses the analogy of table tennis on a very big table."
The equipment is simple: a paddle and a whiffle ball (a ball with holes in it, and no, it's not green). The setting: a court that's smaller than a tennis court with a lower net and a novel addition: a "no volley zone" (colloquially known as the "kitchen") that extends seven feet on either side of the net.
The game itself was invented back in 1965 by then congressman Joel Pritchard and his friend Bill Bell on a backyard tennis court on Bainbridge Island outside Seattle. And the curious name? It actually comes from the family dog, Pickles, who chased after errant balls and hide them in the bushes.
In the U.S. there are many private clubs where the sport is played, but Canadians have had to exercise some ingenuity worthy of the sport's driveway roots. A tennis court with an extra set of lines painted on will do the trick, as will a badminton court with a net lowered to 36 inches.
"In the past two months, I have played pickleball in a tennis dome at Blue Mountain Resort, Collingwood, in the parking lot of a curling club in Unionville, Ontario and on an ice hockey pad in Stouffville, Ontario, without the ice of course," Roswell reports. "Canadians can be innovative when it comes to finding a place to play pickleball."
It's a game that's easy to set up just about anywhere, and can be played for leisure or serious competition by doubles and singles alike. Here's a look at pickleball in action:
Why you'll want to try it
So why is pickleball taking off? In addition to being a fun way to get some crucial physical activity into their routines, players love the game for other reasons:
- It's easy to learn. You can pick up the game quite quickly, even if you're not already familiar with tennis and other racket or paddle sports. Unlike tennis, the sport can be mastered quite easily -- in a single season instead of several years.
And you don't need to be an expert to keep up. "I can vouch for the fact that you do not have to be a great athlete to enjoy the game of pickleball at a recreational level," Roswell says. "I tell everyone, 'If I live to be 95 and show up at a tournament, I may win gold for showing up.'"
- It keeps the skills sharp. Many players use pickleball to hone their racket skills in the off-season, or pick up the sport if they are no longer able to play their favourite games like tennis. It helps build and maintain good hand-eye coordination.
- Everyone can play. It's called "a game for all" for a reason: the equipment is lightweight to handle and the pace of the game is more moderate, thanks in part to the paddles (which, unlike rackets, meet more resistance in the air) and the whiffle ball (which travels at half the speed of a tennis ball).
The smaller-sized court can also be easily covered without as much running, make it ideal for younger players as well as those looking to avoid the joint and muscle strain usually associated with high impact exercise. Furthermore, the under-hand serve (like in badminton) allows players with shoulder and arm problems to continue playing racket sports.
For people over the age of 65 -- who are the least active age group in Canada, according to Statistics Canada -- it's an ideal way ward off some of the downsides of inactivity, like increased risk for diabetes, cancer and osteoporosis.
Currently, pickleball is most popular among the 55+ age group, but through the efforts of volunteers the game is being taught in schools as well. It's a game that grandparents and parents can play with the youngsters.
- It's social. Physical activity isn't the only crucial element to a healthy lifestyle. Like other sports, pickleball offers the opportunity to be socially active and to meet new people. Many centres offer drop-in sessions or regular play times that are easy on the budget.
However, just because the sport is easy to play doesn't mean people aren't serious about the game! There are competitive leagues and tournaments as well for players who are interested in some lively competition.
The game is currently most popular in Ontario and British Columbia, but groups are popping up in other provinces too, including Alberta, Nova Scotia and Quebec.
Thinking of giving it a try? Visit Pickleball Canada for a list of places to play, more information and some instructional videos too.
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