Courting Fun

Tracy and Dave Frick of Fort Morgan enjoy one of their favorite activities: Pickleball.
By Sally Huss
Photos by Kylee Coleman 

You might be wondering what all the fuss is about — this thing called “pickleball.” It has nothing to do with pickles and very little to do with a regular ball. It is the latest fad spreading across the country. If you haven’t caught the bug already, you soon will. 

Pickleball is the newest game or sport that has entered the health/fitness/athletic scene. Officials connected with it can’t decide which it is — a game or a sport. Either way, it is the most fun you can have anywhere. It is played on a small court, about half the size of a tennis court, either outside or inside a tennis barn, bubble or even a commercial space that has been converted for pickleball play. 

The game is essentially a combination of badminton, tennis, racquetball, and ping-pong. All this only means that if you play or have played any of these sports or games, you will have a definite advantage in the beginning over anyone who hasn’t. That’s what Jane and Dennis Miceli of Denver found in their first pickleball clinic. As avid tennis players, they dipped their toes into this new stream and found it easy to paddle. And, if you haven’t played any of these sports, no worries: You can still play pickleball. It is truly that easy to pick up. But scoring is another story. In no other game or sport has the scoring system been so confusing. Still, it is worth making the effort, and it will certainly improve your mental acuity. 

Doubles is typically the recreational form, although singles, with just two players, is another option. Keep in mind that with four people in a small space, the action can lead to much more hilarity. Fun is the name of the game. With a ball that moves in unexpected ways with a mere whiff of wind and players who are not Olympians, there is no guarantee of a ball’s perfect bounce. Stretches and strains, lunges and leaps have players moving in erratic ways to save a shot or win a point. Winning may be the goal, but it’s the path along the way there that is the fun, whether or not you reach that goal. 

Dave Frick, general manager of Morgan County REA in Fort Morgan fessed up to his affection for the game. “My wife introduced it to me. She had been playing for a year and kept asking me to play,” he said. “I kept telling her ‘No’ because the name ‘pickleball’ just sounded silly. Finally, I caved and went with her to play; from that moment on, I was hooked.” 

Dave and Tracy volley during a singles match of pickleball.

Pickleball seems to be an all-inclusive game. Nobody cares what color, size, shape, age, or gender a player is. If a person can hit the ball in the court, that person is included. If they can’t, someone will be happy to show them how. Attire also has an inclusive air to it. The only thing that is truly needed is a pair of solid tennis shoes, not running shoes. Because of the leaning and side-to-side movement required during play, shoes with some side support are recommended. Hats are optional. One thing that is absolutely essential to participating, especially in Colorado, is water. Have lots of water handy. Expect to be active and warming as play accelerates.

You will, of course, need a pickleball paddle. Experts can be fairly particular about their paddle. Some even seem to feel the difference between paddles that come from one company or the next. But regular folks seem to be able to play with any paddle. Paddles range in price from $35 to $300 and there are some very fine paddles in the $50 to $80 range. 

Then there is the ball. This is what separates pickleball from most every other ball sport. The ball used in pickleball is not exactly a ball; it is a bunch of air holes with a little plastic to hold them together. It is a child’s toy, close in size to a tennis ball and whiffle in nature. It pretends to bounce, but not well. The one thing that it does have: a sound that brings an enormous delight to the person who strikes it. A ping sounds upon impact with a paddle — that is music to a pickleball player’s ears. Again and again, the ball pings, inviting another player to have at it. The ping is considered by many to be the source of something called “pickleball addiction,” or “OPD” — obsessive pickleball disorder.” Pickleball addiction is common among players at most pickleball venues, whether at a public park, private club, or converted driveway. Players can’t seem to get enough. 

Mary Kelley, 63, of Manitou reveals her fondness for the game: “As a recent widow and an empty nester, there is nothing like pickleball for making new friends and having fun while exercising. If you don’t take it too seriously, there is plenty of time for socializing.” 

“Dink responsibly” is a common expression heard around the courts and proclaimed on a variety of T-shirts. Dinking, the tenderest of motions, is the basis for building a winning point. To dink is to dump a ball into the “kitchen,” low enough not to be slammed back in your face. The dink must be mastered … eventually. 

The kitchen is the area of the court 7 feet on either side of the net that seems to be the focus of all players’ attention. It is the place to be near in pickleball, as it is in life. All good things happen in the kitchen. It is where most points are won, if you can hit into it or out of it. Pickleball officials are trying to rename this particular area of the court to “The Non-Volley Zone,” or “NVZ.” It is where a ball must not be hit in the air. It must bounce first, then hit. Thus, no volley. However, “kitchen” is the preferred lingo of most all social players. It retains the basic underlying humor which is part of the game. Humorous expressions are thrown around haphazardly during action to ward off any seriousness that sneaks into play. 

One of the many benefits of this game is the pure delight of heading to the courts on any day with a water jug, snacks and a paddle. There is something in the air — the possibility of learning something new, the guarantee of fun and the knowing that you will be welcomed. 

Coloradans, like others around the country, have greeted this new sport and taken it to heart. You may arrive at a public park in any county in Colorado and find pickleball activity. There are local 

associations and national ones to connect a person with teachers of the game and appropriate level of players who will be delighted to invite you to play. 

A 70-year-old player expressed his enjoyment of the game: “There are very few activities at my age that make me feel like a kid again. Pickleball does.” Others have similar feelings, revealing the fact that pickleball offers those who have not gotten the competitiveness out of their systems as adults, to pour it out on a pickleball court. Still, others prefer to use it as a time to socialize while getting some exercise. Any level of competition is available within the sport: beginners, 2.0 players up to 6.0, and professionals.

Colorado Springs is home base for the world’s top senior pro player, Scott Moore, also known as “the beast.” “[Pickleball] is a general equalizer. Speed and power are not as big a factor as in most sports, and therefore a person in their 50s can potentially compete with those in their 20s,” says Scott, who also enjoys golf, snowboarding, and tennis. “It can be physically challenging, but it is also extremely intellectually engaging, as you have to be very patient and calculating — almost like a chess game — to think ahead and set up your points in order to gain the advantage.”

In addition to public courts, there is now booming pickleball action at nearly every private tennis club. With a little tape, a basketball or tennis court can easily be transformed into a pickleball court. More locations are popping up in converted warehouses and even private driveways. A person with pickleball on their mind can see the possibility of turning any empty space into a pickleball court or two. One could imagine that if I-25 were shut down for an hour or two, someone might hop out of a car, draw out a court with chalk on the asphalt, and start a game. 

This is not just happening along the Rockies; it is a nationwide phenomenon. From the coast of California to the shores of Maine, people are pickling and enjoying every minute of it. They even travel with their paddles. By searching online, travelers can find a suitable destination for their play anywhere their business or vacation travel takes them. Families with players of all ages can join pickleball clinics and retreats at resorts both around the world and right here in Colorado. Resorts in Steamboat Springs, Breckenridge, Vail, and Aspen have widened their typical offerings to now include pickleball. 

Longtime Colorado resident and former top pickleball competitor, Robin Stieber, 67, explained her fondness for the game: “I love pickleball because it’s not about hitting the ball back and forth between people, but rather it is the best healthy-aging activity on the planet. It increases the number of relationships you have because it’s so social; it keeps your body moving and in good shape; and it strengthens and increases neural pathways in the brain because   you have to respond quickly, think ahead, and share a court with a pickle-mate.”

Yes, there is no more unabashedly positive, social activity than pickleball. Go to any venue in the country and listen. Greetings are called out. Players are invited into games. Jesting comments are made. Kidding is encouraged, as is wildly celebratory dancing. Fun is guaranteed.

If you want to meet more people, play pickleball. If you need a good laugh, do the same. One 80-year-old player said, “The hardest part of playing pickleball is learning the names of all of my new friends!”

Avid pickleball player Tracy Frick focuses on making a solid return with her paddle.

There are a couple of things to consider before stepping into this new arena and preparing for action. First, urgent care facilities across the country report that they now see more injuries from pickleball than from any other sport. There are two possible explanations for this: One is that there are just more folks jumping into this sport/game than into any other sport/game at this time … and it’s building by the day. The other is that many folks who are no longer young, but would still like to remain active, are trying it. Some are not used to getting as much physical activity as pickleball requires. Falling or tripping can result. If it is the latter, the solution is to keep your feet under you at all times and only step out with solid footing when reaching or stretching for balls. Know your limits and ease into more advanced moves.

People in senior living communities where pickleball originally took hold are some of the fastest-growing groups of pickleballers. They find it more interesting than taking a walk, less time-consuming than golf, more mentally challenging than bridge or mahjong, more social than gardening, and absolutely more fun than anything else they have tried 

The game is certainly not just for seniors; high schools in Colorado are considering adding pickleball to their curriculum. Soon college scholarships may be available to top players. The United States Air Force Academy has some of the top pickleball players in the state. League play is being organized now in cities from Pueblo to Fort Collins. What’s next: the Olympics? 

One more thing to consider before attempting this game is that those who strive to dink, serve, and rally have been known to leave home with dishes in the sink, beds unmade, and laundry undone. Something more inviting calls them. It comes from their heart and if they follow it, it leads straight to a pickleball court somewhere where friends are waiting for them to play. 

It is true: Pickleball lightens hearts, tightens muscles, expands networks, and spreads joy. Perhaps this bug has already bitten you or it soon will. 

Sally Huss teaches pickleball and tennis at the Garden of the Gods Resort in Colorado Springs, has written several books on tennis and pickleball, and is the author/illustrator of more than 100 children’s books. Connect with her at