Group playing pickleball in
North Gower

Pickleball – the name is somewhat of a misnomer. It has no linkage to food of any kind – not even the pickle. Perhaps the ball holds a slight resemblance in its texture, though even that is a stretch.

A little history behind pickleball

Pickleball was originally created in 1965 by three dads who felt the need to create a fun summertime activity for their children, something the entire family could play.

Since then, the sport has transformed. Over the past three years it’s taken communities by storm, making it the fastest growing sport in Canada and the United States. People of all ages are playing. The number of young people playing is skyrocketing, changing the perception of this sport, and taking the game to another level.

Let’s meet Diana Dowthwaite, joined by Paul Leck – to tell us about pickleball

I was curious to know more about this fascinating sport that everyone is talking about, therefore reached out to Diana Dowthwaite, the President of Ottawa Pickleball Association. We met up on the pickleball courts in North Gower to chat, and was joined by Paul Leck, the Skills Development Coordinator at Ottawa Pickleball Association. They both looked fit and sporty, and I thought ready to play a few rounds, but in fact, they were just coming from playing their second three-hour round of pickleball for that day. If anyone is counting, that’s six hours of pickleball and they looked refreshed and energized. I was impressed – thinking, that’s what retirement now looks like.

After playing volleyball for many years, Diana took up pickleball 5-6 years ago as her pre- retirement project. She was looking for something that would keep her active and that had a volunteer element. Paul retired from 35 years of teaching – perfect transferable skills to do the training programs he is now instructing, and I joked, his patience came in handy. Once they started playing pickleball, they got hooked – a sentiment I heard from others.

The health benefits of playing pickleball abound

Diana and Paul say pickleball is fun, this came up a lot. Yet they also emphasized its social aspect. It is an excellent way to increase your social circle; and bonus, you  burn calories doing it, Diana is proof of this. She shared that while she was eating the same, she noticed that her clothes were getting loose and realized that she had unintentionally lost weight simply by playing pickleball. Lose weight and have fun doing it? Most people would say ‘I’m in!’ For Diana, it is also about being fit and active. I agree. She and Paul certainly are, no doubt.

What is pickleball and what do you need to play?  

Pickleball is an outdoor or indoor racket/paddle sport. While you can play singles,  it’s generally played in doubles. It looks like a combination of badminton, ping pong (or table tennis) and tennis. It is faster than tennis though. You play 12-minute games in groups of 4. At the end of the 12 minutes, you play with a new group of people. The more you play, the better you become.

Diana tells us that many people enter pickleball from other sports like tennis, badminton, volleyball, racquetball and the like. At the outset they’re not aware that the rules are different, therefore many start with a few ‘bad habits’, she notes, even herself.  With practice, they adjust.

You don’t need much equipment. Start with a lower cost paddle – around $50. As you improve, you can work your way up to a more expensive one – which could go as high as $400. The difference is in the weight of the paddle – which impacts touch and control. Lighter paddles help with control, the heavier paddles boost force or power.  However, Diana and Paul reminded me that it’s not necessarily about having a more expensive paddle. Skills and strategy have a lot to do with it.

You’ll also need a wiffle ball, this costs about $4-5; goggles, which is about $8 (pop the lenses out and you have goggles to protect your eyes); solid running shoes with a good grip; and comfortable sport wear.

Building your skills

Pickleball is an easy sport to learn, but before you begin, sign up with a Pickleball Program and get some lessons to fully understand the rules and scoring system. This is where Paul comes in. He does pickleball clinics at the Manotick, as well as the Ottawa Pickleball Association. He can get a novice pickleball player out on the court playing after a three-hour lesson. I had to test this out. While my lesson was much shorter than three hours, I learned some things. He’s good!

If you’re wondering about the difference between beginner, intermediate and an advanced player, Paul tells us that it is more about execution. As a beginner you’re often focused on getting the ball over the net. With practice, you learn to soften your shots and start building in strategies, including where to pop the ball.

They do encourage you to get a membership and take lessons. Look online to see where you can sign up for a learn-to-play program. Seasonal membership could cost about $120, money well spent. You advance according to your comfort level – make it social recreational, or competitive –  your choice.

The sport is evolving, it comes with some challenges

Paul and Diana talked about the evolution of the game. As the number of youth playing pickleball increases, many coming in with pro-level tennis, it’s changing the game, making it faster and more competitive. This is not deterring those in the older age range from playing. Organizations such as the Ottawa Pickleball Association are struggling to keep up with the high demand.

With the pickleball boom, Diana observes that the biggest challenge is the lack of infrastructure to keep pace with demand. A number of cities across Canada, as well as the U.S are facing similar challenges and are adapting to keep up with the growth. For example, many outdoor tennis courts are integrating pickleball lines, for dual purposes (more cost-effective). Yet, Diana tells us that there are still only a handful of indoor facilities available if you want to play during the colder season.

Given the long-term health benefits associated pickleball, this is an excellent policy challenge for community leaders as they explore what the future of cities will look like.

Want to start playing pickleball? Concluding advice to you

When it comes to pickleball, Ottawa has a solid structured system in place. A reminder, take advantage of the City’s learn-to-play programs.  The RA Centre has indoor facility that offers instruction. You can find others online.

To play properly, learn the basics. This will help you to get the right form, avoid injury, and fully enjoy the sport. 

Diana reminds us that pickleball is a great way to be active. It gets you outdoors, keeps you moving, helps you to get and stay fit, and meet new people doing it.  It’s a new way to be social. You will have banter, even a little trash talk, but it will be fun. Common words I heard throughout the interview – social and fun! I certainly had fun and will be checking out where I can start playing, hope you will too.

Check out our interview with Diana and Paul on YouTube:

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La Tropiqua – Healthy Living. For Life

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