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Why do 2,000,000 Americans play Pickleball?

Why do 2,000,000 Americans play pickleball? That’s the question I asked myself every time I passed the tennis and pickleball courts at my new housing complex on Arbor Creek in Southport, North Carolina. The first few weeks I was too busy unpacking boxes to join in the fun, but a friend (who plays twice a week) said, “Joe, you’ll love the game because you already love tennis, racquetball, and ping-pong.” She was right.

The game is a combination of the four activities. The paddle, made of graphite or wood, is larger than a ping-pong paddle and shorter than a racquetball racket. It is lighter than a badminton racket.

The court is rectangular, 20 feet wide and 44 feet long. The “kitchen” is seven 7 feet long from the net and twenty feet wide. The kitchen is a security where you can’t hit the ball in someone’s face. If the ball lands in the kitchen, you must let the ball bounce once for the volleyball to continue. Save face, pickleball. (Pun intended.)

The official pickleball court is a rectangle with dimensions equal to 20 feet wide by 44 feet long (including lines) for both singles and doubles. The non-volley line is the line on either side of the net between the sidelines and parallel to the net. These lines are located 7 feet from the net.

You must serve the ball past the kitchen and land within the bounds of the rectangle to continue play. The server only gets a serve if the ball goes out of play. Then the second player from the same team serves. You can’t score unless you have the serve. We play to win 7 or 11 points, and you have to win by 2 points.

Wiffle balls come in four colors, from yellow to white. The lightweight paddles allow you to spin the plastic ball by cutting it. The ball bounces reasonably high and cannot be hit into a flight the first time it is served during a round of play. A word of caution: don’t back off when a ball hits overhead. Quickly turn around, run towards the ball with short steps and hit it or just drop it. It is never worth hitting a ball against the green asphalt. I fell to the ground 5 times before I learned how to play ball more safely and wear shoes that were right for me. I haven’t fallen for many months, I touch a scale board.

The beauty of pickleball isn’t that it’s called “pickleball” and supposedly named after a dog named “Pickle.” According to legend, Congressman Joel Pritchard invented the game in 1965 on Bainbridge Island just to keep kids busy on a summer day. Actually, the name of the dog is because the game was invented. It is now the most popular game in the entire United States, played inside or outside by more than 2,000,000 players at retirement community centers, physical education classes and YMCA groups.

Why is it sweeping the country beyond the good cheer it provides its members? Many retirees are stepping out of their comfort zone—the recliner in the living room or the rocking chair on the porch—to play outside with their friends and neighbors in a challenging game of skill and wits in the sun. Do you want to crush your opponents? Are they looking for blood? No. They just want to play their best, listen to friends chat, get some sun, exercise and one exceptional paddle stroke to remember.

“Good shot!” it’s music to the ears of these gamers.

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