It's not too late to start playing pickleball
By: Jennifer Hojnacki | January 10, 2024 |

Is It Too Late to Hop On The Pickleball Bandwagon?

I’ve heard pickleball has exploded on the scene but am I behind the curve? Is it too late to jump on the pickleball bandwagon?

Lately, I seem to be going about my typical day – business as usual, but one thing has changed.  I hear overt rumblings of, “Pickleball this, Pickleball that.” I hear people chatting about how they are headed to play pickleball and how they are addicted to the sport. How they recently bought the newest paddle and how they are listening to pickleball podcasts. How they are registered for tournaments and how they get roped into watching countless videos of pro pickleball players.  The list goes on.

I sense the excitement. I feel the buzz.  But am I too late to learn how to play pickleball?  I start to have a major case of FOMO.  Will I ever catch up to the skill level, the strategy, the understanding of the game?  Will I find a group of people to play with? Can I even get a court now?

Well, I have great news for you! Not only can you climb on the bandwagon, but with a little planning and effort, you can become a confident and competent player in no time.

Objection #1: Seems Like Everyone Has Been Playing for Years; Can I Catch Up?

It’s true, the average recreational player out there today has been playing for 2-5 years. These players have had the opportunity to develop an understanding of the framework of the game, to study the strategies that would increase their likelihood of success, and to dramatically improve their stroke mechanics.

The good news (for you), is that most of players out there haven’t actually done much of that work. A typical player plays 3-4 times per week without spending any time in between drilling or studying the framework or strategy of the game. But you’re not going to do that! At the end of this article, we’ve included a few simple steps that will help you catch up to the players who have a head start on you. Follow them, and you’ll be amazed at how quickly you can become competitive with most of the folks on your local courts.

One of the reasons pickleball has exploded in popularity is that it is relatively easy to pick up in a short period of time. You can learn pickleball skills quickly regardless of your age or athletic experience. With a little extra effort, you can leapfrog the “competent” stage and become a real contributor to your team’s efforts on the court.

Objection #2: I Feel Like Everyone I Know Already Has a Regular Pickleball Group; How Will I Break In?

Getting started with pickleball

Likely one of the biggest reasons you’re so intrigued by pickleball is that you’ve witnessed the camaraderie and friendships that have developed between people playing together regularly. Who wouldn’t want that in their life? But just because your inner circle already has their regular Friday foursome, don’t think for a minute that you can’t join the party. Here’s why:

  • As a beginner, you’re going to follow our advice (below) and find a local beginner’s clinic or Pickleball 101 class. There, you’re going to meet a variety of nice people playing at your level. All of whom will be in the same boat, looking for other beginners with whom to practice and play. You’ll form your own foursome, and when you’ve developed your skills enough you’ll…
  • Sub. Every regular group, whether it’s a group of friends or a more formal league, is in constant need of subs. Once your good friends know you’ve been playing awhile and can “hang” on the court, they’ll want you to play when one of the regulars is traveling, injured, or has jury duty.
  • As mentioned in Objection #1, you’ll discover that you will be able to form your own group that includes a beginner like yourself along with more experienced players. Because you are putting in the work, you’ll be ready to compete with the majority of rec players pretty quickly.

Objection #3: It Looks Like the Courts Near Me Are Always Packed; Where Will I Even Play?

It’s true. Courts are often full and many municipalities are scrambling to build new courts to keep up with the growing demand. But as a new player, there are a few things you might not understand about the court situation out there:

Open Play

Getting started with pickleball.

Pickleball is unique in the recreational sports world in that many of the opportunities to play come in the form of Open Play. Note: it may be called Paddle Stack, or Organized Play, or any number of things in your area. Open Play is the equivalent of pickup basketball. Show up during the published (or sometimes just known via word of mouth) time, and wait in line to get in a game. You typically play one game to 11, then come off the court and put your paddle back in the line. You don’t have to know anyone, or come with a partner. All levels are welcome. Note: some complexes designate courts for novice, intermediate, and advanced players.

So, when you drive by a park and see full courts, and people standing around waiting, it’s likely they are merely waiting their turn for a “pickup” game. In some areas, during some seasons, the waits can be a little long. But you can use the wait time to socialize with other players, warm up, stretch, or do some footwork drills. And if you pay attention, you can usually figure out times to play when the lines are shorter.

Resident Privileges

Many municipalities set aside blocks of time where their residents/members can reserve courts. Check with your city’s Department of Parks & Recreation to see how that’s done. Often you have to pay an annual fee to become a Pickleball Member or pass holder, but this is a great way to get a court for a group of friends or for yourself to do some drilling.

Indoor Courts

Your town may also have indoor courts that you aren’t seeing as you drive around. These courts create even more opportunities to play throughout the week.

Private Clubs

Finally, while typically more expensive, new private pickleball clubs and combination restaurant/bar/pickleball courts are popping up everywhere. Result:  more places to get instruction, reserve courts, and participate in Open Play. And unlike municipal courts, private clubs have the ability to limit memberships so that everyone has opportunities to play.

 

4 Tips for Beginners Hopping On the Pickleball Bandwagon

Now that you’re convinced there’s still room for you on the pickle wagon, how should you begin your pickleball journey? Follow these tips for getting started:

Beginner Pickleball Tip 1: Find a Trusted Source of Information

Find one trusted information source to provide you with instructional videos, written content, and feedback that is appropriate for beginners. There is a lot of “noise” out there, and it is easy to get confused from listening to all of the different voices telling you how to play. For starters, join Better Pickleball’s Beginner Pickleball Community on Facebook. When you join and provide your email, you will automatically receive a series of beginner videos and downloads to help you get off on the right foot. Not on Facebook? Get the same good stuff here.

Beginner Pickleball Tip 2: Invest in the Right Equipment

Make a small investment in your equipment. You do NOT have to spend a lot of money to get started in pickleball; that’s one of the beauties of the sport. However there are a few things you will need: a paddle (check out the definitive paddle guide here), a few balls, and most importantly, a good pair of pickleball shoes. The right foot wear will keep you comfortable and safe on the pickleball court. Click here to see a video explaining why the right shoes are critical in pickleball.

Beginner Pickleball Tip 3: Sign Up for a Beginner Clinic

Find a local club or rec center that offers a beginner clinic and sign up! You can find local places to play here. A clinic will not give you a comprehensive in-depth understanding of the game (your trusted information source from Tip #1 will do that). But it will get you out on the court with a qualified instructor and allow you to meet other players who are just getting started.

Beginner Pickleball Tip 4: Just Do It!

Don’t overthink it; just do it! There is no perfect way to start out in pickleball, and in all honesty, pickleball is a lifelong journey. The pickleball puzzle pieces will come together one step at a time.  You might have years of a tennis background and hit the ground running.  You might be naturally athletic and move around on the court in an effortless fashion.  Conversely, you might have no racquet sports background or you may have recently recovered from an injury.  The fact of the matter is everyone enters into the sport of pickleball at a different spot and you should simply start playing and see where it takes you.

Don’t Miss Out…Get Started on Your Pickleball Journey!

No matter what, I anticipate you will feel a love for the game the moment you step on that court. You will find a like-minded group of players and you will partake in some truly fun, interactive and social games. From there you can continue along your journey, learning the framework of the game that will guide you along your path.  Let the learning and enjoyment of playing pickleball begin!

Jennifer Hojnacki

Hi, I'm Jennifer! I'm a member of the Better Pickleball team, and a pickleball fanatic who loves learning more about the framework and strategy of the game. Pickleball is the first sport I've ever played, and it has taught me more about myself than I ever would have imagined. Before pickleball I kept in shape with walking/hiking, and yoga, both of which I still love to do and provide excellent cross-training for my game. I enjoy sharing my observations and experiences with the game on the blog!