The whole name of the sport seems so innocent, so innocuous — pickleball. How in the world could a sport named after a cucumber that has been immersed in brine or vinegar be so intimidating? Really, the gal who greeted me at the entrance to the Anderson Center in Edmonds a couple of weeks ago should have suggested that I check my ego at the door because it was gonna take a whoopin’ in the small gym where the first night of the Edmonds Parks and Recreation’s men’s upper division Pickleball Fall League was being held. Crud, I had no idea that pickleball could be so stinkin’ competitive.
So, in spite of the fact that I got schooled more thoroughly than a Chinese student preparing for the gaokao, the 30-minute game against a 42-year-old pickleball sage named Quentin Cannon was a great learning experience. Kinda like getting kicked in the teeth is a good learning experience.
Never in my wildest dreams did I ever think that a wiffle ball could spin so much, drop so quickly, or knock me around on my side of the net. And never did I realize that a wooden paddle could swing at so much air. Granted, the ball didn’t literally knock me around and occasionally my paddle hit that ball, but for the most part, it sure as heck felt like the ball slapped me silly and my paddle didn’t come to my defense.
It’s been three weeks now since I picked up a pickleball paddle for the first time since 1976. And while I struggled the first couple of times out, my game is improving. I’m more competitive. I’m moving around the court with a little more mobility. I’m actually making some good contact with the ball and even putting some of the old spin I used to be able to deliver on the ball back before I could shave. And, I’m getting more and more confident every week. In fact, I even won a three-game set the other day in what I billed as a “Battle Royale” between the two bottom-feeders of the league. Suffice it to say that it was a game effort by both combatants where I actually emerged victorious. Talk about an emotional high!
The lesson I’m learning from all of this schooling by the pickleball masters of the greater Edmonds area is immeasurable. Thank goodness they are all great, patient guys. They understand that the last time I was playing, Converse canvas high tops were still outselling Nikes. They understand that the ol’ guy is lacking any explosive lateral movement (which they occasionally take advantage of and then give me a courtesy lob on the next point so that I can emotionally recover). Most importantly, they remind me to be patient, just like a true sage would tell his student.
The pupil is ready, and many teachers have appeared.
Perhaps the Buddha was right. I wonder how his backhand was?
NOTE: The winter league begins in January and registration started on Dec. 2. If you are interested in learning or mastering this fast-paced game, I encourage you to sign up at athletics.edmonds.gov. or call Todd Cort at 425.771.0230. But don’t delay; there are limited spots. You won’t regret it unless you are desiring a championship t-shirt. Then, you may want to consider the Buddha’s Second of the Four Noble Truths, that suffering results from the attachment to desire. “Let the desire go, grasshopper.”