Stay out of the kitchen! ... Pickleball fun, but rules a little confusing

Daily Sentinel sports reporter Dale Shrull practices his return shot during a recent pickleball class at Pineridge Park. The fast-paced game with a premium on shot making and reaction time was a hit.

Everywhere I went, people with these funny-looking paddles said the same thing.

“Pickleball is addictive.”

“Once you start, you’ll never want to give it up.”

I’m not sure if it was appealing or scary, but I knew I had to try the crack cocaine of recreational sports to see just how addictive it really is.

Most everything about the game is a little odd. From the strange “clop” sound that comes from the paddle smacking the long-lost cousin of the whiffle ball, to the court, to the rules, it all intrigued me.

In a way, the game seems like what tennis would be if Paul Bunyan and the Jolly Green Giant squared off on a court.

Pickleball is played on a court a little smaller than half of a tennis court. The small court is a huge appeal to many.

It’s a great game for older people who still want to be active.

As someone said during a recent pickleball clinic: “The tennis court just got too big for me.”

But it’s still a game of movement, quick reflexes and exertion. It’s just not as intense as tennis and a lot less running and movement.

It’s like playing pingpong if you could stand on the table.

I love the fact this game was born out of boredom and evolved as a backyard game, where it seems rules were just made up on the fly.

Rules are another odd part of the game.

As I listened to experts explain the rules, I felt my eyes starting to glaze over. I guessed it was probably easier for a pilot to explain how to land a jet plane to a hermit.

Like a demented cook who throws together ingredients willy-nilly, this odd game is a combination of a bunch of different games blended together.

Combine tennis, racquetball, handball, badminton, pingpong and the irritation of golf — and you have pickleball.

The first thing I realized is the stupid pickleball ball bounces like a quarter.

That takes some getting used to, but after a few whiffs, I got the hang of it.

OK, let’s talk about the rules. Some of these rules are just too weird to try to explain, but here are the basics.

In doubles, each partner gets to serve before the ball goes to the other team — but wait! Except on the first point of the match. That’s when only one person serves, and when he or she loses the serve it goes to the opponents.

Weird, but whatever. Also, you can only score points on the serve.

Let’s talk about the score. “Two-three-two,” someone calls out. Another game, the server calls out, “Five-two-two.” Then there was a “nine-two-one.”

Now, I’ve played a lot of sports and games over the years, but I’ve never heard of an imaginary third opponent getting points.

Let me explain. The first number is the serving team’s score; the second number is the opponent’s score. Simple enough. Now, in every arena I know except pickleball, that’s where it would end. But no, in pickleball the server also calls out what server they are — No. 1 or 2. That’s why there’s three numbers.

Let’s move on to the playing rules.

The ball, which has very little bounce, must bounce twice — one time on each side — before you get to bash the little round thing directly in the air. Get it? Return serve is one bounce, then the return of that shot is the second bounce. Then it’s smash city.

The game goes to 11 points, and you must win by two.

The game gets pretty interesting when all four players are at the net, popping and dinking the ball back and forth.

But wait, here’s another rule: You can’t be all the way at the net. The no-volley zone is something called the “kitchen.” It’s a small area a couple of feet in front of the net that keeps players from getting too close.

As I learned the game during the recent clinic, I had a hard time not venturing into the kitchen. It felt like I was at my ex-mother-in-law’s house for Thanksgiving.

“Get out of the kitchen!” “Don’t go into the kitchen!”  “Hey, dummy, why can’t you stay out of the kitchen?”

Probably the simplest rule of the game — stay out of the kitchen — but it didn’t come easy to me.

Time and time again I ran to the net, pounded the pickleball ball with an overhead smash only to have everyone staring at me. The only thing missing were the hands on hips and the tapping of a toe or two.

But after a little while, I finally managed to stay out of the kitchen, and I was cooking pickleball style.

A fun game, I must say.

It’s fast-paced with a premium on reaction time and shot making.

I didn’t find the game too hard to pick up, after mastering the stay-out-of-the-kitchen rule, and I think most people pick it up quickly, so the learning curve isn’t too difficult.

There are so many appealing things about the game, including the social aspect. Most of the time, players rarely play with the same partner, so you have a different playing partner many times.

I don’t see the game ever making it into the Olympics, nor do I think it should. But it’s a fun game in which strategy, a little athleticism and shot making are required to be successful.

But addictive? I’ll have to wait to see and play it a few more times.

It’s an odd game but a fun game. And, of course, a very weird name with even weirder rules.

I was just a little disappointed that only a ball and no pickles were served at the clinic.


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