Opinion: What’s the big dill with pickleball?

Published 10:46 am Friday, November 3, 2023

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By DONALD MOTTERN | Staff Writer

Pickleball. The word itself sounds like a punchline to a joke that wouldn’t make you laugh. In reality, it’s the name of a sport that has been sweeping across parks, recreational centers and even professional sporting arenas with a shocking velocity.

The craze has players and the occasional onlooker practically standing in lines waiting for the next game and has even inspired many of our local municipalities to fund the creation and construction of a fair number of its courts.

In recent weeks it was even announced that Alabaster is adding three additional courts to the ones already present at their Patriots Park. Movement like this would seem to indicate that the sport which has been labeled, “the fastest growing sport in America” is appealing to both seasoned athletes and enthusiastic beginners.

Yet, despite this, and at the risk of any public image I might have, I have to say that I don’t get it. I find myself standing on the sidelines, scratching my head, and coming up empty with any explanation as to why. Why, of all things, of all the sports, why Pickleball?

I’ve sat many times here in the office begging those around me to explain what the special appeal surrounding this sport is. Despite their kind and caring efforts, I remain just as lost on this topic as the day I first learned about it. Never since trying to learn the game of Cricket has a sport made me feel so lost.

“It’s like table tennis but on a court,” was one of the first explanations of the sport I was given.

I might be mistaken, but table tennis scaled up and played on a court sounds nearly identical to tennis.

Their further efforts have only successfully met me with another simplification, “it melds elements of badminton, tennis and ping pong,”

I hope the game’s many avid players will forgive me when I say that, to me, it just doesn’t make any sense.

For the sporting uninclined, like myself, I understand badminton to be tennis, except with a small racket and even smaller ball that isn’t allow to touch the court. Ping Pong, or table tennis as it is commonly known, is tennis but with a paddle and on a relatively microscopic course.

How exactly you meld those two sports together and get something other than tennis in return is something I cannot wrap my mind around.

I also don’t quite understand just what exactly prevents this new conglomeration of tennis from simply being played on a tennis court. Why must new courts be constructed when, from the information I have at my disposal, the sport can be played on tennis courts with relatively minor adjustments to the net height and differently marked boundaries.

I’d like to know why we can’t simply paint different color lines on preexisting courts, but I cede this point, because I again, don’t understand the sport.

I understand how all of this might sound like I have something against pickleball, but I assure you that is not the case. I merely, and militantly, wish to understand it. If the game is touted for its ease of entry and inclusiveness, why is it that I can’t seem to grasp the concept or the reason for the sport’s existence.

Of course, I respect the enthusiasm and skill of those who find enjoyment in the sport, and I would never wish to take that away from them. If this is what is getting people out and experiencing community togetherness, then I suppose it can’t be all too bad. I simply wish I understood why it has the appeal it has. The meteoric rise of this institution has me questioning if I’m missing out on a nearly universal appeal or if it’s simply the municipal version of a fidget spinner.

In the end, I suppose it’s not about understanding the sport that more or less sounds exactly like tennis but somehow still isn’t, but it is instead appreciating the joy it brings to others. Pickleball seems to have a magic that resonates with a great many people and I’m honestly happy for them. I hope they enjoy the sport, and, in the meantime, I will keep trying to figure out just exactly what it is.