The Pickleball Takeover

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Where to play, how to play and staying safe

Women’s doubles match. (Photo from the SPORTIME instagram, @sportimeportwashington)

With more than 36 million players nationwide, pickleball has raced across the U.S., quickly becoming its fastest growing sport. In Port Washington, there are several locations to play, including SPORTIME Port Washington and Manorhaven Beach Park.

The game, which is a combination of badminton, tennis and ping pong, is uniquely accessible for people of all ages and skill levels. The small dimensions of a pickleball court—one-fourth the size of a tennis court—are appealing to older crowds.

“The beauty of pickleball is that people can learn and play quickly. While skill levels vary, the game is so popular now that people can always find others to play with at their same level” said David Radisch, the Director of Pickleball at SPORTIME Port Washington. “Pickleball is about angles and strategy, not necessarily about how hard you can hit the ball. This is the reason why many older people can play competitively against younger players as they tend to hit smarter not harder.”

In addition, paddles are affordable—the cheapest wooden options are $10, furthering the game’s inclusivity. The most expensive professional paddles can sell for more than $150. The sport can be enjoyed in a singles or doubles format.

At SPORTIME, there are currently six fully dedicated indoor pickleball courts. However, the facility, which was formerly the Port Washington Tennis Academy, is undergoing renovations.

“We are adding 6 more dedicated courts to our existing pickleball building this summer, making our new 12 court indoor pickleball facility the largest in New York State,” said Radisch. “More courts means more opportunities for players to enjoy the game. Our $7 million full facility renovation, including the tennis courts and common areas, is scheduled to be completed by this fall.”

Winning point in a doubles match. (Photo from the SPORTIME instagram, @sportimeportwashington)

The program offers a wide array of adult clinics and programs, including Pickleball Zone, which features high-energy, challenging games, and Pickleball Open Play, which pits equal-level players against each other with an instructor simultaneously providing feedback.

Private and group lessons are also available for those looking to hone in on and improve their skills. In addition, SPORTIME will soon have a true pickleball league for men and women.

“We have a lot [to offer] and it’s going to be non-stop during the upcoming 2023-2024 indoor pickleball season. We’ve recently hired additional instructors, with the intention of having 5-7 pickleball coaches on staff at all times,” said Radisch. “SPORTIME understands that pickleball is here to stay and we want to be the industry leader heading into the future.”

The social aspects of the sport are especially appealing.

“You can go to any outdoor public court, with friends or by yourself, and just put your paddle into a rack or bucket, and wait to play the next game.” said Radisch. “The culture of pickleball is to play with lots of different people, which creates new friendships, rivalries and overall camaraderie. In just 90 minutes, you can play with and against dozens of new people from a variety of different backgrounds.”

Tournaments are also organized at other SPORTIME locations, including the upcoming Mixed Championship on July 22 and the Pickleball Challenge on August 5. Both competitions will be held at SPORTIME Hempstead Lake. Radisch also arranges Pickleball Parties, often with seasonal themes or special events.

“My pickleball parties, which we offer twice a month, are incredibly popular. Each theme-based party, which varies based on the time of the year, includes four hours of pickleball, refreshments and fun. It’s basically a big level-based open play party,” said Radisch. “Last year, I even tried a pickleball rock night, with  a live rock band performing while everyone was playing. That event sold out immediately so we are definitely bringing it back again this year.”

At Manorhaven Beach Park, there is one available pickleball court; the lines are taped over an existing tennis court. This location is free to use by the public.

Young girls birthday party at SPORTIME. (Photo from the SPORTIME instagram, @sportimeportwashington)

Pickleball was invented by congressman Joel Pritchard and businessman Bill Bell on Bainbridge Island, Washington in 1965. Following a summer golf outing, the two men returned to Pritchard’s house, only to find their families with nothing to do. There was an old badminton court on the property, but with no available badminton equipment, they instead played with ping pong paddles and a perforated plastic ball. They initially played with the net at the standard badminton height of 60 inches. However, the net was lowered to 36 inches, with the ball bouncing nicely over it on the asphalt. The following weekend, Barney McCallum was introduced to pickleball at Pritchard’s house, and the three men created the rules for the game.

Since then, pickleball has exploded in popularity. Membership in USA Pickleball, the governing body for the sport founded in 2013, grew to 70,000 people in only 10 years.

“This sport was originally associated with senior citizens and was played predominantly in retirement communities. As younger people started playing, the game started catching on,” said Radisch. “Over [the] past several years, as more people started playing, more people became addicted to it. I have never seen such demand for an activity like I’ve seen for pickleball over the past 2-3 years.”

Pickleball has also spread into the Port Washington school district, with Schreiber High School gym classes spending an extended unit learning how to play the sport.

The rules are fairly simple, making the game easy to learn for beginners and very exciting at high levels. On each side of the court, there is a non-volley zone—known as the kitchen—which is closest to the net. The remaining parts of the court are divided vertically into a left and right service area—known as the odd and even courts.

To start each point, the ball is served diagonally into the opponent’s service court. The serve must be underhand. Here, the first major rule comes into play: the double bounce rule—following a serve, each side must hit one groundstroke before volleying the ball. As the point plays out, the other notable rule becomes important: balls cannot be volleyed—hit out of the air without bouncing on the ground—when the player is standing in the non-volley zone.

Points can only be won by the serving player or team and are earned when the opposing side fails to return a ball or hits it out of play. After each point won on serve, the server switches between the odd and even courts. Pickleball matches are played to 11, win by two, creating a fast-paced, energetic environment.

Despite the smaller court size and relatively simple rules, injuries are still common, especially among older crowds.

“Pickleball is an easy game to pick up, and people just take it for granted. People get out of the car and they start playing and if you’re not in good shape and you’re running around on the court, it’s very easy to strain a muscle,” said Roger Gerland, the Senior Director of Rehabilitation Services at Northwell Health STARS across their outpatient network and the team physical therapist at Hofstra University.

Gerland has seen injuries ranging from calf and hamstring pulls to wrist and hip fractures as a result of the sport. In fact, pickleball injuries are expected to cost Americans between $250 million and $500 million this year.

“One of the things that we do as a health system is identify needs in the community. One of those needs that we have recently seen over the last couple of years is an influx of pickleball injuries, not just in our physical therapy offices, but in our emergency rooms, as well as our physicians offices,” said Gerland. “And as a result of this initiative, we felt the need to increase awareness of pickleball injury prevention, proper warm-up, proper training and conditioning.”

A full-body, active warm-up is important. To begin, Gerland recommends jogging around the court several times. Next, partaking in a series of active stretches, such as squats, leg swings, walking lunges with rotations and overhead arm movements, may help to reduce injury.

Nonetheless, pickleball offers certain advantages over other racket sports.

“From a physical standpoint, I think it’s less physically challenging on your joints if we’re comparing it to racquetball… And if I’m comparing it to tennis, I think it’s less demanding on the shoulder than tennis is,” said Gerland.

As pickleball continues to explode—and shows no signs of stopping, remember to stretch before playing and to have fun.