On the ball: testing out the pickleball phenomenon
Journalist gives pickleball a try to see what Longboat's fascination with the sport is all about.
| 8:10 a.m. June 13, 2018
When pickleball started making a lot of racket on Longboat Key, I was intrigued.
Mostly because I had never heard of it, partly because it looked just like tennis. Aside from traffic on the Key, it was all people on Longboat could seem to talk about.
So, last week, I headed out to Bayfront Park to try out this trendy game for myself.
Local player and instructor Jared Brooks took on the challenge of teaching me. Brooks began playing the sport about two years ago after a tennis match with his friend in Jacksonville Beach. As he and his friend finished up their match, a woman approached them and asked if one of them would play pickleball with her.
Brooks stayed, played and instantly became hooked.
“I just didn’t even pick up a tennis racket after that,” he said.
Now, Brooks travels for tournaments and will take on new students, though he said it’s hard for him to get in the rhythm of hitting it softly for beginners. In tournaments, he’s used to people “whaling” the ball at him.
When asked for tips for beginners, Brooks’ answer was simple.
“Just go out there and have fun and try to make contact with the ball,” he said. “I feel like people go into it thinking they’re going to do this ... just go out there and hit the ball. Just learn how to hit the ball.”
So, that’s what we did. Brooks asked me if I had ever played a racket sport, and I sheepishly said no, but I did play basketball and volleyball — neither really helped me here.
Turns out, that was perfectly OK because I was able to volley for a bit right away.
Brooks and I stood on opposite sides of the net just over the line that marks the “kitchen,” which is the non-volley zone that is within seven feet of the net, the USA Pickleball Association website said. A player can legally be in the “kitchen” when he or she isn’t volleying. It’s important to note that there are no pickles in this “kitchen” area, and in fact, pickleball has nothing to do with pickles.
Here are some other basic rules from the USA Pickleball Association:
The game can be played as singles or doubles.
Games are played to 11 points, and you must win by two.
You must serve underhanded and diagonally across court.
After a serve, the receiving team has to let the ball bounce before hitting it. Likewise, once the receiving team has hit the ball, the serving team must let that return bounce once.
A ball that contacts any line is considered in, except the non-volley line on a serve. That is considered short and a fault.
Only the serving team can score. A ball out of bounds or into the net results in the serve passing to the opposition.
A fault by the serving team results in the loss of serving.
Brooks said with tennis, you have a huge racket you can extend, but in pickleball, it’s best to think that you’re hitting the whiffle-ball sized ball with your hand. This means you have to move your feet more than you think, which Brooks had to remind me about a couple times.
Brooks warned that playing singles full-on is much harder than the few drills we did. But, he said playing doubles won’t kill your body and is something most people can do.
All in all, pickleball was a fun and pretty easy sport to pick up on. If you can manage to squeeze in line for the courts at Bayfront, I recommend it.