By Megan Nichole Broome
Reflecting on his humble beginnings, Thacker said it was two years ago that he began playing pickleball with his friend Bob Hood. Now actively playing the sport each week, this sentiment of triumph rings true for people of all ages who enjoy this game of strategy and comradery.
From the first pickleball tournament in Tukwila, Washington in 1976, this sport has developed into a global phenomenon encouraging teamwork and an active lifestyle among all ages. Recently, the first United States Open Pickleball Championships were held in Naples, Florida in April of 2016.
The hybrid sport, invented in 1965 in Washington, combines ping-pong, tennis and badminton to create a unique athletic experience that harnesses the essence of the layout and tactics of each of these traditional sports.
Rose Dula, age 72, described the structure of the game as “standing on a ping-pong table.” She explained that the familiar concepts of hand-eye coordination and balance are very important.
“The most important thing is to have balance. If you’ve got a little balance, you can do it,” Dula added.
Although, pickleball does help seniors who struggle with balance develop it as they play, explained Penny Bryor, a pickleball instructor at the Gilbreath Center.
There are 13,000 indoor and outdoor courts in the United States and it has developed as the fastest growing sport in North America.
A convenience of the sport is that rather than needing a special court, pickleball can be played on altered indoor or outdoor tennis and badminton courts.
As a frequent pickleball player three times a week, John Thacker gives insight into what it is like to play the sport outdoors versus indoors.
“Playing outside adds to the level of excursion. There are a lot of people who play outdoors and love it,” said Thacker. So for those willing to challenge themselves and up-the-ante, playing outdoors is the way to go.
The sport is played with a paddle smaller than a racquet, but slightly larger than a ping-pong paddle. Both indoor and outdoor courts utilize the same equipment, with respect to the size and texture of the ball. The outdoor court requires a ball with a more flexible surface and smaller holes to increase bounce, while the indoor ball is harder with larger holes.
Benefits of pickleball extend to its inexpensive nature and the ease of exercise without straining muscles or having to run across the court as much as other sports, explained Dula. This is why seniors are a large percentage of the population who play it.
Michael White, 69, plays pickleball two or three times a week and says that it is a lot easier than running on a treadmill or going to the gym.
Due to pickleball’s mild nature, seniors who have heart complications or joint replacements are encouraged to maintain an active lifestyle by playing this non-competitive sport, explained Bryor. It’s easy to learn even without prior experience in sports, she added.
With its popularity only increasing throughout the United States and Canada, as well as internationally, pickleball is being taught in middle schools, high schools, colleges and retirement communities.
Tournaments are held at the local, regional, and national level for people pursuing the sport professionally.
Pickleball transformed the old man forever, as Thacker said, just as it transformed the timeless sports of ping-pong, tennis and badminton into a new era of collaboration that will forever change what defines a sport for centuries to come.
At Gilbreath, play times are Monday from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., Tuesdays at 5:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. and Fridays from 9:30 a.m. to noon.
Thornton play times are on Tuesdays from 6 to 8 p.m. and Thursdays from 9 a.m. to noon, and 6 p.m. to 8 p.m