By: Tom Schulte, CFP®
As I’ve shared with you all before, my father and I are quite competitive. Golf and basketball are no contest in my favor, Scrabble is not a sure-thing for him anymore, and even his suffocating grasp on Progressive Rummy (or as we call it ‘Greg’s Game’) is relinquishing. His last safe haven and my final frontier? Racket sports—more specifically, Pickleball.
I have come to terms that I will never defeat my father in tennis. Even at age 95, hooked up to oxygen in the comfort of a wheel chair, I am confident he will continue to make me trip over my feet in attempts to return volleys. He gets a sick and twisted kick from cutting the ball and leaving me guessing which way it’ll bounce, making me run from one side of the court to other, while he remains virtually in the same spot, hardly breaking a sweat.
Earlier this spring he, Khrista and I met in our favorite place in the world, Hilton Head Island, South Carolina to visit my Grandma and enjoy some nicer weather. As he checked in at the tennis courts with loosely tied shoes, I sat down and laced up my ankle supports and then my high top basketball shoes to prepare for the worst (impending broken ankles). To my delight, he walked away from the check-in area holding a set of odd plastic paddles and a hard-plastic whiffle ball. Turns out all the tennis courts were booked and the only available court was a Pickleball court. Pickleball meant nothing to my Dad, but everything to me. You see, in high school PE, no one wanted to exert much effort for the fear of getting sweaty and gross before the day’s remaining academic classes. However, the racket sports PE class was held during 1st period every semester in our gym with access to showers. Because of this, you could sleep in a bit later by forgoing a morning shower before school, actually compete with all of the other try-hards that were willing to get sweaty and shower off before a day of classes. It was a win-win-win situation. Needless to say, after several semesters of racket sports PE class against like-minded competitors, I had gotten pretty good at a sport I had believed to be made up by my teacher.
It had been eleven years since I had set foot on a Pickleball court (sheesh I’m getting old). After forgetting the rules, my Dad and I watched a quick ‘how-to’ video on YouTube and began to volley. Wanting to go easy on my poor old father, I suggested we just continue volleying and chatting until we were summoned by Grandma for lunch. He had other plans. “Best of 3, games to 21, win by 2,” he announced with the authority of a dictator. I chewed him up in the first game. He had no sense for the small sized court and was ripe for fumbling hard-hit returns at his body. The second game however, he became much more comfortable and had me running all over the court in a similar fashion to tennis. He won in extra points. Sadly, the third game turned out similarly to the second—and that’s all I’ve got to say about that.
If you have played Pickleball, then you understand how enjoyable an activity it is. It is leisurely in nature given the smaller sized court (even more so when playing doubles), but can be made as competitive as desired. If you haven’t played Pickleball and are looking for an activity to get some exercise outside of a gym, I cannot recommend Pickleball enough. Though it is currently the fastest growing sport in America, so it can be difficult to find dedicated courts to play at, especially in the northeast. This website (Pickleball court locations in MA) is a good place to start to find available courts along with local Pickleball Facebook groups.
What’s next for my Pickleball career? Who knows—but I sure do relish my time playing Pickleball with my Dad (hehe--apologies for a truly awful joke).