Pickleball: A Popular New Sport

Pickleball is the fastest growing sport in the U.S. and popular with seniors, offering a good workout year round with low-impact on joints. 

By Karen Feld

 

The Caseys, a senior couple from Rochester, NY, tried the game this summer. Like many others, including this writer, they learned while on vacation and now play at home. The game is a mix of tennis, ping pong and badminton. The racquet is the size of a ping pong racquet but has a longer handle; the ball is whiffle-like and the court is about half the size of a tennis court or a doubles badminton court.

In the mid-sixties Congressman Joel Pritchard—who named the game after his dog, Pickles—and pals created the game in Washington State by piecing together old sports equipment to entertain their kids. Today, 2.5 million people in the US play and 75% of the core players are age 55 plus, according to the 27,000 member association, USA Pickleball (USAPA).

The sport has a language of its own. If your partner yells, get out of the “kitchen,” she’s referring to the no-volley zone adjacent to the net (not where food is cooked) to prevent players from slamming the ball. Watch those backhand “dinks.” You can get pickleball elbow.

Kara McKinney, 55, is passionate about the sport. “I gave up tennis for pickleball for the social aspect of it,” says Kara, a certified pickleball instructor who conducts clinics on Long Island, “But it’s hard to play both.” While there are a lot of long strokes in tennis, in pickleball you hit the ball in front of you. The strategy is different. In tennis you try to finish a point. In pickleball you wait for your opponents to make the shot you can put away.” In addition, you serve the pickleball underhanded and unlike tennis, you can only score points when serving.

New Yorker Michelle Foster, 68, who winters in Florida, plays daily and she is building a house with a pickleball court. “It keeps me fit and healthy,” she says. “You don’t wear yourself out like in tennis. And it’s easy to learn at a basic level. There’s a lot of joy and laughter associated with the game. Foster explains that like many tennis players she struggled at first because in the zone by the net you play a soft game. “You have to get out of your comfort zone and override muscle memory,” she explains.

Three years ago, Linda Cappello, 60, who was a dedicated runner in the city, took up pickleball at the Y in East Hampton.  She’s now a pickleball ambassador in East Hampton and a gold medalist from the US Open pickleball championship. “It brings together a diverse community who are like minded in their passions,” says Cappello.  “It’s a way to make close social connections. At this age we have more time for that.” She sees many women playing into their eighties and hopes to be one of them. “As mobility becomes more limited you want to play with your age group.”

“Anyone can do it once you know the rules,” says Cappello, who prefers to play outdoors. “It’s a little more challenging with the variations in wind and sun on the court.”

New York City, however, is lagging behind the rest of the country when it comes to dedicated pickleball courts. Players who learned the sport on vacation find they must go to Hoboken, Livingston and other New Jersey spots, Fairfield, Nassau or Suffolk counties to pick up games or find courts. Part of the shortage of courts in the city is the high price of real estate although around the country, many resorts are converting existing tennis courts to pickleball courts to accommodate the popular growing sport. Kara McKinney thinks the shortage of courts in the city is “about spreading the passion” for pickleball. In many cities, pickleball has begun as a court-sharing sport.

William Hanft, who plays both tennis and pickleball in the city, says, “There is a need to grow awareness that will force “the city” to create courts be they shared courts with basketball and tennis or eventually dedicated courts. One enthusiast even travels from Brooklyn to Hoboken for a regular 6 am game.

Enthusiastic Picklers everywhere are eager to grow the sport. “The biggest downside,” said McKinney is “not enough dedicated pickleball courts.” As more tennis centers embrace the sport we’ll likely see a change. Aficionados are waiting.

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MANHATTAN PICKLEBALL

92nd Street Y, Indoor Courts, 1395 Lexington Ave. For more information contact Brian Kaplan at 212-415-5500

Asser Levy Recreation Center, Outdoor Courts, 392 Asser Levy Place (East 23rd St & FDR Dr). For more information contact Hakeem Omolade at 212-397-3159

Gertrude Ederle Recreation Center, Indoor Courts, 232 West 60th St (btw. West End Ave–11th & Amsterdam Ave–10th), 212-397-3159

Robert Moses Playground, Outdoor Courts, 41st Street and 1st Ave.

The West Side YMCA, Indoor Courts, 5 West 63rd Street, 212-912-2600. Coming January 2018: Pickleball on Tues & Thurs.

Chelsea Recreation Center, 430 West 25 St (btw 9 & 10 Ave). For more information contact Jamel Gist at 212-255-3705

East 54th Recreation Center, Indoor Courts, 348 East 54th St. For more information contact Dave Valesques at 212-754-5411

Tony Dapolito Recreation Center, Indoor and Outdoor Courts, 1 Clarkson St. For more information contact Colleen Flood & Alexandra Morman at 646-300-2271

McBurney YMCA, Indoor Courts, 125 West 14th St (6th Ave), 212-912-2300

Hamilton Fish Recreation Center, 128 Pitt St (East Houston & Stanton St), 212-387-7687

Hansborough Recreation Center, 35 West 134th St (Lenox & 5th Ave), 212-234-9604

Jackie Robinson Recreation Center, 85 Bradhurst Ave (West 146th St), 212-234-9607

Thomas Jefferson Recreation Center, 2180 1st Ave & East 112 St, 212-860-1383

BROOKLYN PICKLEBALL

Aviator Sports and Events Center, Indoor Courts, 3159 Flatbush Ave. For more information contact Charles Wodicka at 718-758-7584

Court 16, 526 Baltic St,  718-875-5550

QUEENS PICKLEBALL

Roy Wilkins Recreation Center, 177th St & Baisley Blvd, 718-276-8686

LONG ISLAND CITY PICKLEBALL

Court 16, 1306 Queens Plaza South, 718-875-5550

Readers, please let us know if you know of other pickleball courts. To check for other locations in New York, try this link: USAPA Places to Play
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