The Pickleball courts at Walnut Grove Community Centre will be a busy place during the Langley 2014 Senior Games to be held in Langley City and Township this fall, from Sept. 9 to 13.
Pickleball is a relatively new racquet sport which combines elements of badminton, tennis, table tennis, and ping-pong. The sport is played on a court with the same dimensions as a badminton court. The net is lower than most other racquet sports allowing for faster play. The game is played with a hard paddle and a wiffle ball, making the technique required for pickleball different than other racquet or net sports.
The story goes that the history of pickleball began with the familiar summer whine that often causes parents to take drastic measures. In the summer of 1965, the “I’m bored” mantra was chanted by the children of two families on Bainbridge Island in the Puget Sound area of Washington. Two desperate dads, Bill Bell and Joel Pritchard, who was a U.S. Congressman, invented a new game.
The game started on an asphalt badminton court in Pritchard’s backyard. But, alas, no one could find the shuttlecock. The dads quickly improvised with a Wiffle-type ball. The kids found it difficult to hit the three-inch ball with the lightweight rackets. Once again, necessity was the mother of invention. The dads made wooden rackets that resembled ping-pong paddles. As the game evolved through the afternoon it was determined that players could hit the ball on the bounce as well as out of the air.
One afternoon of fun was had by all. But what about tomorrow? Bell and Pritchard huddled to form a strategy to keep the kids interested in the game. They lowered the net from five feet (badminton height) to three feet (tennis height). Now, they just had to solve the dog problem. Their dog Pickles kept stealing the ball. From there the sport has taken off to become one of the fastest growing racquet sports in North America.
Ross Priebe is the Sport Chair for Pickleball for the Langley 2014 Senior Games.
“I have been attending the Senior Games with Pickleball since 2011,” he explains. “In 2009 there were 42 players registered for the sport, in 2011 at Trail there were 76,last year in Kamloops there were 147 and this year we are anticipating there will be 200 registered for the Langley Games.”
“We are starting to see the sport extend to younger age groups as well. Recently there has been the formation of the Fraser Valley Pickleball Association that accommodates all age groups and levels and cities like Surrey have many locations where people can play every day.”
In some Snowbird locations in the United States, Pickleball courts are very prevalent and people can play every day. “There is one spot that has 24 courts and there are always people waiting to play.” says Ross.
Pickleball attracts many former tennis or racquet ball players who no longer have the stamina or mobility to play on the larger courts.
“In Pickleball the ball does not come to you as in tennis. You have to go to the ball and you can really work up a sweat during a game. It is great exercise but not all Pickleball players are former athletes and the sport is easily learned. We may have a few very competitive and aggressive players but for the most part, everyone displays positive sportsmanship.”
“Last year was the first year the Seniors Games changed to categories based on skill levels rather than age. There were some 70- and 80-year-old players that were very good at the sport and dominated their age classes so a ranking system based on skill level was developed.”
The rankings go from a Beginner Skill Level of 2.0 which includes assessment of such observations as:
Players are probably not moving around the court in a safe or balanced manner yet, but are receptive to learning
Players may not be familiar with pickleball terminology.
Up to a level 4.0 Skill Level which includes observations of:
Skill level 4.0 is a term used to describe players who are capable of consistently executing play above a 3.5 skill level. The 4.0 player will distinguish himself from the 3.5 player by possessing increased skills and strategy or by more speed, power and consistency.
At the Seniors Games level, if you win a gold medal one year you are automatically moved up to the next skill level. There are levels of 4.5 and 5.0 but not too many achieve that status.
The court layout and scoring differ from tennis as well as it designed to control the movement of the players on the court and ensure that serving is carried out in the right order. “The scoring and court movements are the biggest challenge for the beginner,” Priebe says. “They have to stay out of the ‘kitchen’ and try to avoid ‘poaching’ while learning when to ‘dink’, ‘lob’ or ‘smash’.”
The sport is not expensive. A paddle is between $70 and $80 dollars and that is the only cost, unless you want to buy expensive court shoes or gloves. Many centres have paddles available for those wanting to try the sport for the first time.
There are tournaments across the province and Canada throughout the year where players can hone their skills. Most of these are Pickleball Canada-sanctioned events and they attract players of all skill levels.
Priebe has some great memories from his past Seniors Games.
“It is so inspiring to see all the competitors in this multi-sport event. It has always been a positive experience with great food and so many great people. We have made some good friendships and look forward to seeing them each year. Each of the host cities has done an amazing job and the opening ceremonies are always very moving.”
Langley competes as part of Zone 3 and will be sending 8-10 Pickleball players to this year’s Games. There will be over 40 players representing the Zone.
In addition to playing at a Level 4 in September, Priebe will have the added duties as Sport Chair. “It will be my responsibility to make sure the sport runs smoothly, set up schedules and roundup over 150 volunteers. We will need people for scoring, traffic control, and helping to organize the daily flow of over 200 players. I encourage people to sign up now to volunteer and help out.
He encourages people to check out the sport by dropping by the Walnut Grove Community Centre on Wednesdays from 1-3 or Fridays from 3:15 to 5 PM.
“This is a growing sport in our community and we hope that a legacy from the Seniors Games will be some additional indoor or outdoor Pickleball facilities to accommodate all the new players.”
The BC Seniors Games is an annual multi-sport competition celebrating active, healthy seniors 55 and over. The Langley 2014 BC Seniors Games Society is the host society, responsible for planning and delivering the Games. It is led by a volunteer board of directors.
Milt Kruger and Michael Jackstien are the president and vice-president of the Langley 2014 BC Seniors Games.
“We are very proud that Langley was selected as the site for this year’s Games,” says Kruger. “We are have already been working hard to build our organizing team, set up our offices and get open for business and we are encouraging volunteers to apply.”
The Langley 2014 B.C. Seniors Games Office is located at 20560 Fraser Highway in Langley City, and the web site for the 2014 Games is www.2014seniorsgames.org. Volunteer registration and sponsorship information is available on the site or phone (604) 533-8065.