Pickleball: Go for the games, stay for the laughs.
Honestly, I need to put that phrase on a tee because it’s why I love the game so much. Yes, pickleball feeds my competitive fire, but it’s the between-points jokes and quips that create a community and keep me at the courts for hours. In June I started playing both weekend mornings; by late July, several weekday mornings, I was getting in two hours of games before tearing myself away to work. Rewind back to January (before several bulging discs stopped my running in its tracks), and I opted out of a June marathon because the training would have cut into my pickleball playing!
Thankfully, my bulging discs eventually allowed me to play pickleball even though they’ve sidelined me from running since Valentine’s Day. In the spring, I couldn’t do either activity. But when I tentatively returned to the courts at the start of summer, I was delighted players welcomed me back—and had noticed my monthslong absence.
The players I bond best with are ones who also prioritize fun. Like Brad, a retired truck driver with a good head of gray hair. He’s a talented player with a strong drive to win, but it’s a shared, “we’re here to laugh” approach that makes us such a strong duo. (Well, and the fact we’re both tall so it’s tough to lob over our heads!)
Mock me, but I keep a Pickleball Diary, occasionally jotting down notes after I get home about the day’s standout moments. Some excerpts:
August 23: Wally + I had a fantastic, flashy point—we clasped hands at the end in triumph! And Matt suggested we be partners several times, making me feel very supported.
September 13: Tuesdays are the best pickleball day! There’s a levity and a vibe that ratchets up the fun. I also play better—I think the two correlate! Dave + I shared some good jokes/quips. He and I beat Jerry + another guy 11-0! Afterward, as we walked off the court, Jerry said, ‘I like your personality. You’re always very happy, and it’s fun to play with you.’ Made my day!
The word that’s the gift pickleball gives me pops up several times in my September 22 entry: For the first time, I felt the siren call of the community of folks I play with! After a few tough days of work, I wanted that support + camaraderie. And I got it right away from Lois, who was so complimentary as we set up nets. We talked about how the community at the courts lets us show up as our authentic selves and be seen for who we really are. Really lovely and validating.
It’s similar to the siren song of group runs for some folks. The conversations, both candid and casual, make the miles go by in an enjoyable, easy blur. Laughing courtside, I am reminded of recurring jokes my BRF Molly and I repeated on runs or confidences I shared with my running (now walking!) friend Trisha.
When I first started playing, I played at numerous locations to find my fit. (At the courts where I play pickleball, you show up and get randomly paired with other folks to play doubles.) One park had six dedicated courts, with permanent nets and painted lines, but I really didn’t jibe with many of the male players. Another location also had spiffy courts, but the players were all-business. The courts where I joke with Brad, Matt, Dave, Lois, et al are tennis courts with portable pickleball nets, a confusing assemblage of lines, and numerous cracks in the pavement that make the ball take a bizarre bounce when it hits one. I weighed all the options…and people trumped playing surfaces.
Now that it’s the rainy season here in the Pacific Northwest, I’ve explored indoor pickleball options. While it’s great to be guaranteed a dry, well-lit playing environment, indoor courts have one major, basically deal-breaking drawback for me: They’re noisy. It’s nearly impossible to hear other players on the court. No post-rally quips, no self-deprecating jokes, no good-natured ribbing. To which I say, no thank you.
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