In a pickle? Play ball
Grab a paddle and head to a nearby court…to play some pickleball. Combining the elements of three racquet sports, this new game sport is finding many takers in the city
Grab a paddle and head to a nearby court…to play some pickleball. Combining the elements of three racquet sports, this game finds many takers in the city
What is pickleball?
This is a question that K Mohit Kumar often asks himself. It’s a question he likes to answer.
Even though he skillfully cuts the ball off on a blustery Saturday morning during the recent edition of the South India Pickleball Premier League at Hotfut SPR Sports in Perambur, Mohit answers questions from onlookers. He was introduced to the sport in 2019 through a family friend from the United States, where it’s a growing sport, and he’s been playing it ever since.
For the uninitiated, pickleball combines elements of tennis, table tennis and badminton. Played both indoors and outdoors with a paddle and ball, the sport can be picked up within hours and is an effective workout. Although it is a relatively new sport in India, it has recently grown in popularity, especially in India’s post-lockdown phase: in 2020, the number of players in Tamil Nadu quadrupled less one year.
“It’s also great for networking, especially if you’re new to a city. We have a community that always opens its doors to new players,” says Mohit, 36, general secretary of the Tamil Nadu Pickleball Association, which organized the League by attracting over 70 players, with aspirants hailing from Bengaluru, Kanchipuram and Shivamoga.
You don’t need to have played a sport before to try pickleball, but previous appointments with racquet sports are helpful. Sunnidhi Jain, a Class XII student at Chinmaya Vidyalaya, can attest to this. Previously a professional badminton player who represented the state, Sunnidhi changed her loyalties when her cousin introduced her to pickleball a year ago. Since then, she’s been at it – training daily with peers at DAV Gopalapuram and training on weekends.
Sunnidhi is currently among the best players in Tamil Nadu in her category, having won gold and silver medals in various categories at the recent Women’s National Tournament held in Bengaluru. “Pickleball is not as intense or physically strenuous as badminton. My sports background helped me understand quickly, as the size of the courts is the same in both sports,” says Sunnidhi, adding that she hopes to compete in international tournaments in Indonesia and the United States soon.
While Sunnidhi approaches the sport competitively, many enthusiasts also play the sport with their families for fun. “We see a lot of fathers and daughters playing, as well as players of all age groups,” said Rajath Kankar MR, general secretary of the Indian Pickeball Association, which has 16 Indian states under its wing and hopes to bring that number to 30 by the end of this year.
R Shyam Sundar of Shareplay, a mobile app and city-based startup that works to create neighborhood sports centers, says he first heard the word “pickleball” a year ago. “Now I hear it so often,” he says, “A lot of players come through us to play pickleball; an hour usually costs them ₹350-600 for a pitch.” He adds that, generally, tennis, basketball and badminton courts are reserved for pickleball.
Connection with sport
The fact that the game is rapidly spreading across the country appeals to Mumbai-based Sunil Valavalkar. Sunil, a company secretary, is said to have introduced the sport to India, having spotted families practicing there during his visits to Canada in 1999 and later in 2006 to connect with the sport,” he recalls.
Sunil returned to India armed with a few paddles and balls, determined to show it to his family and friends. He quickly earned the nickname Pickleball Uncle in his neighborhood, due to his relentless demos around the neighborhood. “It’s picked up a lot since then,” says Sunil, who went on to set up the All India Pickeball Association (AIPA) in 2008, “During the past few years of lockdown, we’ve seen huge interest in the sport. A grassroots service In tennis, it takes six months to perfect, and with pickleball, you can learn the whole game in a few hours.
Pickeball is best suited to Indian conditions given the country’s demographic and spatial constraints, Sunil points out. “It’s an ideal cardio workout for people who want to stay in shape. Based on the response to recent tournaments, there are around 6,000-7,000 active players in India right now,” he adds, acknowledging the support of Arvind Prabhoo, President of AIPA. , in the promotion of sports.
Yogesh Ramchandani, a 32-year-old Chennaiite in the construction industry, is one of them. He had never held a racquet before, but currently his weekly routine includes a few hours of pickleball with friends. “Even if you haven’t played any sport in a while, you can pick up the paddle and play,” he says, adding that “pickleball, after all, is all about having fun.”
Pickleball incorporates components of tennis, table tennis and badminton into one. The standard court size is the same as a badminton court.
The game is played with a paddle that is roughly between the size of a badminton racket and a table tennis bat. The ball is about the size of a tennis ball, but is made of plastic and holes, to help counter windy conditions. The area near the net on both sides is called the kitchen, where you cannot step in to take the ball on a full throw.
It is both an indoor and an outdoor sport; for the former, most badminton courts are also open to welcoming the space for pickleball. Temporary nets can be attached and play can begin.
Pickleball dates back to 1965 and originated in Bainbridge Island, USA. It was invented by Joel Pritchard, Bill Bell and Barney McCallum to entertain their children who were bored with routine summer activities. It is named after a pickle boat – a rowing crew that is made up of available rowers – since the sport was a mixture of rules put together.