Sport has often helped bind people together at the worst of times but there have been a few times when even sport has come to a grinding halt. The two World Wars aside, the latest such episode came in March 2020 when the coronavirus pandemic hit the world and with millions affected world over, sport was bound to take the brunt as well.
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Pickleball’s Response During the Pandemic
Most leagues from nearly all sports had to be suspended, even outdoor activities like running had to be stopped for a while and major sport tournaments rescheduled or cancelled completely.
Tennis’s most premier tournament, Wimbledon, was cancelled for 2020, the French Open was postponed by four months, cricket’s t20 World Cup and soccer’s Euro Cup postponed by a year, most American sports delayed and the world’s greatest sporting event, Olympics, also pushed to 2021.
With such major sporting events affected to such a large scale, what hope do the other, smaller sports have? Well, thankfully, at the time of writing, things are slowly – and rightfully at a cautious pace – returning back to a remote semblance of normalcy.
Tennis, for instance, saw a plethora of exhibition tournaments planned during this off period. Some of the soccer leagues have resumed to no stadium audiences too.
Advantages of Pickleball over Other Sports
But if there has been one sport which has taken the lead in this respect, especially at the amateur level, it’s been pickleball. The popularity of pickleball, if anything, has soared during these times because of the ease with which it can be played even in small areas.
Unlike tennis it doesn’t need a very big court or booming serves, unlike table tennis it can be played outdoors (and ‘locked-down’ people are desperate for that) and unlike squash or racquetball, one can maintain one’s social distance without worrying about the nemesis virus. It has seemed to be the perfect antidote to counter the rotten cards dealt out by the nature in 2020.
The lower requirement of space implies friends can join hands – probably not literally though! – buy themselves a chalk or quick paint and mark out the court dimensions even in their own garages, tiny backyard or home terraces. A net or even a string at the right height is enough to get started. (here’s how you can buy your pickleball equipment in the USA)
And because pickleball is so awesomely addictive and at the beginner level not even the costliest sport around, the non-players from families who are left with not a lot to do, have also jumped into the fray.
It has definitely helped that even some celebrities are talking about this. Check out the video below of Ellen Degeneres talking about pickleball and how she got addicted to it during the lockdown. So much so she did her lower back (but don’t worry, it’s a very healthy sport even for senior citizens) but as far as the fun element goes, it’s quite something.
Picking up from speaking of how pickleball can be played by elders too, this is a big advantage in multiple ways and one of that is it can be played between two players from different generations. That allows people in a family to not just have a vent-out but keeps them fit too.
The reason for this is quite simple; at the lower, amateur level of the game, pickleball can be picked up by people with very little or no real racket sports skills unlike a sport like tennis or badminton which needs a lot more pedigree even at that level.
People don’t need to smash the pickleball to get the better of other players which nullifies a lot of the power advantage someone younger could have against an older person.
Funnily the peculiar pickleball kitchen rule in pickleball, which is also called the non-volley zone, makes it the most ultimate form social distancing in sport.
To the uninitiated, the non-volley one or the kitchen is a 20X7 feet area with the net being one of the side of that box and players cannot play a volley from that area.
Issues with Pickleball During the Pandemic
Now to the other side of the story. And this is because we do not want you to underestimate the illness itself given the massive destruction it’s brought with it.
While there are a lot of benefits of playing pickleball even during the pandemic lockdown or restrictions, we cannot emphasize enough on the care that needs to be taken. For one, the advantage of a smaller court makes it a disadvantage too in that maintaining social distancing becomes a near impossible task if one wants to attempt playing doubles.
Pickleball fans love doubles but this might not be a great time for it. Even the USA Pickleball Association has been advising the same. If you are more than two, play shorter singles matches instead with a round-robin tournament in your backyard adding to the fun.
For example, a round-robin tournament can be had with each player playing every other player once, say play a set apiece with the top two making it to the final.
Some of the other aspects to look at if you are playing pickleball either at home or even if you have started going to clubs include:
- Wear a Mask Before Play
- Wash Hands Before Starting Play
- Wipe Your Paddles During Play
- Bring Your Own Pickleballs (and Marking Them Accordingly)
- Kicking Your Opponent’s Pickleball Back with Your Racket Without Touching Them
- Dip Pickleball into a Bleach Solution at the End of Play
- Use Own Sanitizer As and When Needed During and After Play
- No Shaking Hands or Fist-Bumps at the End of the Match
Clubs have also reduced the number of members it’s accepting these days to prevent over-crowding for court space. Obviously only singles play till things improve considerably.
Other things to obviously take care, and this is irrespective of which sport you are playing is to not venture out if feeling unwell or have any of the symptoms associated with coronavirus.
The biggest issue associated with pickleball is the age group of people playing this sport. Nearly 2/3rd of those playing pickleball are over 55 in age which means they belong to the age-group most vulnerable to the infection. That makes it super imperative to follow the aforementioned instructions.
After all, it’s a trade-off between being holed in at home, which gets tougher for those in that age-bracket, and using pickleball as a way to get their lives back to semi-normal. What’s important if you are using the latter option is to do it in as safe a way as possible.
The Future of Pickleball
It’s difficult to predict when things get back to normal with respect to the virus but if there’s been one sport which has grown in stature, it’s been pickleball. Once things do start getting back to where they were pre-pandemic – and the hope is we should get there with time – the growth of pickleball won’t just be restricted to the pace it had shown earlier. It would be by leaps and bounds.