Tryoneer Pioneer: Taking on pickleball

Trying+something+new%3A+Junior+George+Zhang+serves+the+ball+to+begin+a+match.+Initially+disliking+the+sport%2C+Zhang+grew+to+recognize+the+skill+that+pickleball+requires+and+now+plans+to+play+more+frequently.

Evan Lu/The SPOKE

Trying something new: Junior George Zhang serves the ball to begin a match. Initially disliking the sport, Zhang grew to recognize the skill that pickleball requires and now plans to play more frequently.

By George Zhang, Photography Editor

I used to hate pickleball. I would dread the feeling of walking into the Upper Main Line YMCA gym – looking forward to having a nice hoop session with my friends – and then seeing five pickleball nets set up with a bunch of senior citizens playing. I resented them for stealing my beloved basketball court, a place that I use to relax after a long day of school. One day, however, I remembered an old saying: “If you can’t beat them, join them.” And so I did.

I decided to give pickleball a shot. After all, I do play tennis, and the two sports seem to have a bit in common: They are both played with a racket and a net. I also aspired to become a professional tennis player – like Roger Federer – when I was a kid. That dream does not seem like a reality any longer, how do you put it, not adequately skilled. Therefore, I started the journey to go professional in pickleball instead, beginning the long trek to stardom while enlisting the help of some of my friends on the way.

It was a chilly Thursday afternoon when we arrived at the local YMCA with high hopes of mastering this sport. But there was a slight problem: we did not have the equipment to play. Luckily, the front desk staff was able to lend us some paddles and balls. As we got to the court, we started rallying with one another. Something I forgot to mention is that all of us are tennis players, and so we all tried to hit the ball as we do in tennis: with brute force. To our dismay, the ball flew straight into the net almost every time.

We eventually switched up our technique to controlling the ball more and hitting with more spin, as well as playing near the net and hitting the ball out of midair – a move known as a volley. Finally, we were able to get a rally going. I felt like the game had a faster pace and the points lasted longer. Furthermore, the ball was easier to hit compared to that of tennis, making it easier to volley. I especially enjoyed the intensity of playing near the net and having to react quickly to each shot in order to return it. After rallying for a bit, we decided to start a doubles match. But there was another problem: we didn’t know the rules of the game.

A quick Google search remedied this issue. Some of the rules were similar to that of tennis: the ball may only bounce once, and it is considered out if it goes outside the court. But there were also differences. Each side must complete a ground stroke before volleying and players may not volley while their feet are inside the area marked by the line in front of the net, also known as the kitchen.” After a long and competitive match (which included many heated arguments), my partner and I were finally able to pull through with a win. Although this was a small victory, it marks the start of my hopefully successful career as a professional pickleball player: everyone starts somewhere.

This experience has also changed my outlook on pickleball. Maybe next time when I walk into the gym and see a pickleball net, I’ll ask to join in on a game instead of groaning in disappointment and sulking


George Zhang can be reached at [email protected]