- Written by Bill Levine Bill Levine
At my weekly live-ball tennis doubles session, featuring continuous ball-hitting sans serving, the younger, athletic player said he had no interest in pickleball. This made sense to me, since live-ball sessions at our Pompano, Florida, tennis center are a.k.a., cardio-tennis.
Pickleball is down-sized tennis, tailored for seniors of my age, 71, and for avid ping-pongers who want to bust out of their basement-table milieu. I, like the younger athletic live-ball player, am a tennis guy.
That said, in the interest of exploring the hottest sports craze since disc golf, I took a couple of pickleball lessons at the center during last year’s snowbird season. The young, enthusiastic instructor spent a lot of time on the rules and the positioning (more choreographed then tennis). Even in intro tennis lessons, racquet control is emphasized.
During the first lesson, the pickleball pro said I had good hand-eye coordination, which gave me the unearned confidence to pick up real experience at Pompano’s pickleball courts.
South Florida is a pickleball haven, so Pompano has a 12-court complex in its park. The courts are just too busy in the morning, appearing from a distance as a human beehive. I thus waited until the afternoon, when the heat would lessen the crowd, so perhaps I could get into a game.
After getting antsy on a bench, a pickleballer finally asked if I wanted to play singles. I agreed, and this gentleman showed me two consequences of single play: It is decent exercise and very humbling. I lost three games 11-0, 11-1, and 11-4.
The hard truth after this match was that pickleball requires more skill than I thought. As a tennis player, I can occasionally hit strategic put-away shots, but with pickleball I realized I had nothing resembling a killer shot. But lack of even pickleball mediocrity was not among the main reasons I decided to continue to concentrate on tennis.
I had a tennis fever during the racquet boom period of the late 1970s. My roommate and I, living in Boston, parlayed the aptly named Econo-tennis into a weekly, indoor doubles match with friends, all for $2 or $3 per person.
In the hotter weather, we migrated to the highly prized lighted outdoor courts. Taking the courts on a summer’s night felt like a table secured at a trendy restaurant. As the tennis fad faded in interest, so did the interest of our group of tennis hackers. For me, it was then onto golf.
From around age 30 to my late 50s, I played mildly enthusiastic golf. I never played it during prime weekend time and never more than nine holes per week, from May to August, always with friends. My favorite hole was the 10th because we finished strong with beer and burgers.
As time went on, my interest faded, mostly because it seemed that golf wanted to punish me. Occasionally, I would hit decent shots, but golf mostly induced muscle-memory amnesia.
Thus, picking tennis as my snowbird sport and staying with it has been easy. My futility in golf led me to all but abandon my clubs. I brought them down to Florida, but just as snowbird accessories, like sunglasses and two Hawaiian shirts.
After eliminating golf, next up was deep-sea fishing. After all, angling is a sport down in Florida. There is a strong partnership between “the old man and the sea.” At any rate, I have had difficulty reeling in Gorton’s fish and chips in the frozen food aisle.
That left as choices pickleball and tennis.
I participate in the lowest ability grouping of live-ball tennis, and at 71, I am always the oldest player, or close to it. But I feel younger when I can run (OK, not race) across court to return a ball in the doubles alley. The sessions are 90 minutes, and I feel great for completing the session without too much sweat.
I don’t think I could get that feeling from pickleball. Of course, in a couple of years, who knows? The tennis doubles lane may be unreachable, and I may have another choice to make. I’m sure at that point I will choose pickleball over Ping-Pong for its septuagenarian swagger potential.
Bill Levine is a retired IT professional and active freelance writer. Bill aspires to be a humorist because it is easier to be pithy than funny. He may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.