More and more ex-tennis and racquetball players are migrating to the relatively less strenuous game of pickleball. In fact, it’s often been described as the fastest-growing sport in the world.
That’s only the half of it, however.
Pickleball has its own special attractions that are sometimes chess-like, and at other times require lightning-fast reflexes. Plus, at the social level of play, you’ll hear appreciative exclamations for good shots, regardless of who’s won the point. Friendly competition is the name of this game.
Anticipating this surge of interest in pickleball, the board of the YMCA of South Collier (Marco Y) 2 years ago set expansion plans in place. Recently, the Y duly unveiled nine brand-new courts at the north end of its campus. The cost was around $600,000 and fundraising continues with the goal of wiping out a line of credit for the project.
Mae Brown is the head pickleball pro at the Y, and conducts round robins Monday, Wednesday and Friday mornings, as well as being available for clinics and private lessons on those afternoons.
A divisional gold medalist—mixed doubles—at the U.S. Open 2018 championships in Naples, Brown is a former competitive badminton player and swimmer originally from the Philippines. She loves playing and coaching, and during round robins often joins players to lead by example as well as offer tips.
The Y’s CEO, Cindy Love-Abounader, is more than happy to have Brown’s talent and expertise.
“We have a new state of the art pickleball courts and are fortunate to have ‘state of the art’ instructors on our YMCA team,” Love-Abounader says. “Mae has a great personality, patience, and professionalism. You will enjoy taking lessons from her!”
“The game is about finesse and placement,” says Brown, explaining that much of the action takes place near the net and involves the “chess” aspect of nudging the ball back and forth into the “kitchen” – a 20’x7′ block on each side of the court nearest the net.
Return a ball a little high during these “dinking” exchanges, and an opponent can smash the ball back provided none of their feet are in the “kitchen.”
This requires constant attention to positional play, because players are permitted to enter the kitchen to return balls that have been strategically dinked—like a tennis drop shot.
About the only other real technicality is that the serving team cannot immediately lunge forward to cut off returns in the air—as in serve and volley in tennis—but have to let the ball bounce first.
This basically puts the ball in play on an even keel, although some serves—delivered with an underarm, windmill-like motion—can be varied in speed and trajectory to put the initial pressure on opponents.
Brown shares duties with certified coach Jodi Pree, who does Tuesday and Thursday morning sessions for beginners, and also offers clinics and lessons.
An avid sailor along with husband Frank, Brown picked up pickleball just 3 years ago, and attributes the balletic and frenetic sport of badminton for making it easy for her to assimilate.
For more information about pickleball, as well the Y’s wide variety of programs and activities for adults and children, visit marcoymca.org or call 239-394-9622. Follow on Twitter at ymcamarco, on Facebook at marcoymca, and Instagram at ymcamarco.
A Lesson from Mae Brown
In preparation for this article, Brown gave writer Quentin Roux a pickleball introduction and playing lesson. Here are his observations:
As a former squash and racquetball player now a little grayer of plumage, a little broader of girth and slightly slower out of the saddle, I found pickleball a sort of natural progression.
On bicycle rides around the island, I’d heard the slightly peculiar “pock” sound of wiffle-like ball against pickleball paddle, and often stopped in to take a look-see.
Mae first batted drives at me, after which we did some dinking drills in the “kitchen,” and thereafter some serving that isn’t quite as easy as it looks.
It wasn’t long before I broke a sweat—it was a cool morning, actually—and I attributed this almost entirely to darting in and out of the “kitchen.”
The day after the session, I became aware of muscles I never knew I had, plus my back and knees—courtesy of playing college cricket and rugby in South Africa many years previously—didn’t emerge entirely in mint condition.
A couple of days and select pharmaceuticals later, I was back to my particular level of physical normalcy—having thoroughly enjoyed the rush of exercise and the infectious enthusiasm of the players who religiously play this game.