The Power of Pickleball
Naples is a hot spot for pickleball, which has exploded in popularity across the U.S., growing from about 250 thousand players five years ago to 2.5 million players today. Similar to ping-pong and tennis, with elements of badminton and racquetball mixed in, pickleball is played on a badminton-sized court with paddles and a plastic ball similar to a wiffle ball. The game started on an island in Washington state around 50 years ago, when a congressman and a senator created a version of badminton for their families to play with ping-pong paddles, a perforated plastic ball, and a small net. The sport’s creators were active rowers, so they named it after the last boat to come in during a rowing competition—the pickle boat. A pickleball mega-center recently opened in Naples, which is also where the U.S. Open Pickleball Championship is held each year. Here’s how you can get in on the action.
Tips for Beginners
Professional Pickleball players Jerry Pershing and Tami Thomas, who teach lessons at Pickleball Naples, say the sport is a game of hand-eye coordination similar to tennis, but with less impact and exertion because of the smaller court size. Thomas won the gold in the 2016 U.S. Open Pickleball Championships for the Women’s Singles 50-Plus Group. Thomas and Pershing share three tips to help players get started in this fast-growing sport.
- Adjust your stance. Face the net and keep your paddle at chest height. The game is played very close to your opponents—about 14 feet away—and the goal is to keep the ball as low to the net as possible.
- Stay on the offensive. “You have to move to the ball because it’s not going to come to you like it does in tennis or racquetball,” says Pershing, explaining that the plastic ball the game is played with doesn’t bounce like tennis or racquet balls. “If you wait for the ball to come to you, it’ll be too late.”
- Practice control. “People who don’t take lessons or have only watched pickleball being played think it’s basically mini tennis, and they stand at the baseline and hit the ball as hard as they can,” says Thomas. “The trick is to move more strategically.”
Where to Play
Pickleball courts are common in community parks across Southwest Florida. You can practice on 25 courts at East Naples Community Park, while Fleischmann Park and Veterans Community Park feature outdoor courts as well. Many local YMCAs have indoor and outdoor courts, and the YMCA in Bonita Springs expanded with another eight courts over the summer. On hot or rainy days, reserve one of the air-conditioned courts at Pickle Pro’s mega-center. The indoor courts have concrete surfaces, like those found outdoors, instead of the typical gym surface that can be more slippery, according to Tom Watson, operations manager at Pickle Pro.