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Pickelball and The Pandemic

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Around six years ago, a friend invited me out to try my first game of pickleball. Having no background in racket sports, I was armed only with:

1. A desire to run around more,
2. Some evidence that my hand-eye coordination wasn't utterly horrible (I'd played a fair amount of water polo in my youth), and
3. A sense that pickleball's origins as a niche sport invented in the Pacific Northwest suited my somewhat eccentric character and love of the region.

In the intervening years I have become a dedicated student of the game and have learnt (among other things):

1. Sometimes you improve more by running less,
2. The biggest improvements in your game can be made from time spent without a paddle in your hand, and
3. Pickleball's days as a niche sport are probably behind us: though us eccentric characters will hopefully always be welcomed!

Some Positive Thoughts on the Growth of Pickleball During the Pandemic

As a non-contact sport whose basic rules enforce a degree of physical distancing between players, pickleball has become an especially good option for those who’d like to stay active and socially distanced. Although large tournaments are still undesirable, when played outdoors in smaller groups, pickleball represents a low risk activity.

City of Vancouver-based pickleball players have been fortunate to see a growth in the available venues for outdoor play. Thanks to the advocacy and hard work of the Vancouver Pickleball Association, a number of new courts have been installed and improved around the municipality over the past few months. These courts occupy both dedicated (Queen Elizabeth Park) and mixed-use spaces (e.g. Pandora Park and Dunbar Community Center). The courts at Queen Elizabeth Park have (non-permanent) nets provided by the VPA in place, although other locations require players to bring their own.

Burnaby has a great distribution of outdoor courts that require the use of non-permanent nets or share a permanent net with a tennis court. The North Shore Pickleball Club has seen the installation of new public courts with permanent nets at Mahon Park, joining similar courts at Murdo Frazier and 29th and Marine. In Delta (which touts the first dedicated courts in the Lower Mainland at Memorial Park), a number of permanent courts are expected to be completed towards the end of summer and into 2021 as part of their Sport Court Replacement Program. Not to be left out, Richmond has recently opened a total of nine floodlit(!) courts at Hugh Boyd and South Arm Parks – I am rather keen to find an excuse to check out these new, spectacular sounding facilities myself.

All of these organizations would welcome players who respect their guidance regarding physical distancing.

South of the border, the explosive growth of pickleball is perhaps best highlighted by the recent attention it has received from both NBA athletes and their referees. These sports people recognize pickleball as a great source of play, relaxed competition and physical conditioning within professional basketball's Covid-induced bubble.

Pickleball Planning for the Cold Months Ahead

As we transition to the winter months, opportunities for outdoor play will become more limited. We are fortunate in the Lower Mainland that our outdoor courts tend not to be covered in foot-deep snow even in the winter time and temperatures for outdoor play remain just about acceptable year-round.

For the last few years I have found myself saying that so long as it's above 12OC and sunny then I'll head outside to play. By January, these conditions have usually been modified to 'above freezing' and 'not raining'...

I have found that as it gets colder, the more rigid balls that are best for outdoor play in the summer months tend to break a little too frequently. When this starts to happen, a shift away from the Dura Fast 40 to, for example, the Penn 40 can ease the burden on the wallet. 

In the past, the winter-staple of pickleball in the Lower Mainland has been the indoor, community center-based open play session. What these sessions will look like in the current environment is uncertain as individual municipalities develop their plans for reopening at different paces. As an example, Edmonds Community Centre has recently introduced a court booking system for hour-long sessions for groups of four players.

What is certain is that the growth of interest in the sport, coupled with a likely reduction in the number of spots available at these indoor sessions, will mean that indoor play opportunities may be somewhat restricted.

Coming up in the next edition: as play opportunities in the winter months potentially decrease, I'll look at how athletes may find ways to improve their game even when they don't have a paddle in their hand...

Ian Greig has been playing pickleball for over six years. In his youth he played bridge in international Junior (U25) competitions and waterpolo. Now safely middle-aged, his desire for a greater level of activity led him to pickleball. Emma, his wife, dreads to think what his retirement projects will be.

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