Pickleball is the latest recreational pastime to sweep the nation’s courts (despite having been created in 1965) and the YMCA of Metropolitan Washington is answering the racket by serving up one of the nation’s largest pickleball programs. To learn more about this socially and physically inclusive game, we spoke with Carlo Impeduglia, Association Director of Racquets for the YMCA, about the popularity and accessibility of pickleball.
(Note: all puns intended.)
For those who don’t know about the sport, how would you describe pickleball?
Pickleball is a version of badminton, tennis and ping pong, all bundled into one game and played on a miniature-sized tennis court. You use a wiffle ball and a wooden (or similar material) paddle and there is serving involved, much like in tennis. However, the scoring and rules are different [from] tennis.
How did the Y decide to launch this pickleball initiative and what are its primary goals for the community?
Pickleball is an inclusive and social sport that allows for players of all skill levels and ages to play as soon as they pick up the paddle. It became the perfect fit in a post-pandemic world, and even during the pandemic, because it’s an outdoor sport, though it can be played indoors as well. We’re welcoming a ton of new members and accommodating current members with a safe, social sport that’s easy to learn and easy to play. I mean, It’s addictive!
We have what we call drop-ins, a session where a member can just hop on the court, start playing with someone they’ve never met and then a friendship is kindled in that moment. A new playing partner is made every day because of these drop-ins. There are a lot of elements within the sport itself that make it a perfect fit for the YMCA community.
What is it about pickleball that’s drawn so many players in recent years?
Its inclusivity and social aspects, 100%. As I’ve said, it’s inclusive because it’s an easy game to pick up but also for the physical distance that you would need to move in a normal pickleball game. You don’t need the same endurance as a sport like tennis would require, and so a typical play session consists of several games. You’re rotating partners, rotating courts and playing many games in, say, the span of three hours. You would never be able to do that with a classic tennis match.
As of July, about how many Y’s in the Metro area have been outfitted with pickleball courts?
We have four facilities and counting, equipped with almost 30 pickleball courts. We have the YMCA Bethesda-Chevy Chase with 14 outdoor courts, YMCA Silver Spring with eight outdoor courts, YMCA Reston with an indoor court and then we have YMCA Arlington Tennis Center which is outfitted with six indoor pickleball courts.
It sounds like when asking “who is best suited to play pickleball” the answer is: “everyone”?
Yeah, pretty much! Everyone from kids age 5 or 6 all the way to seniors in their 90s. We had a senior who was, in fact, 90 playing just the other day. So it really has a wide span of age ranges and skill levels. You can be an expert tennis player and a beginner pickleball player and still have an amazing time.
What kind of equipment, if any, would prospective players need to bring with them to play?
Make sure you’re wearing athletic clothes because you’re going to be moving and sweating, including comfortable tennis shoes. You’ll also need a paddle and a few pickleballs. If you don’t have a paddle or balls, the Y is equipped with those and can loan them out to members.
What is your top tip for pickleball beginners?
“Stay out of the kitchen” is a common phrase that comes to mind. The “kitchen” is an area near the net, on the upper half of the court, where you’ll lose a point if you volley or hit the ball out of the air when any part of your body is in the kitchen. So if you can “stay out of the kitchen,” then you’ll have a good time and not lose too many points.
What sort of pickleball community events can Y members look forward to?
We have Pickleball Jamborress. These are social events where we invite players of all ability levels to come join a large round-robin session and be able to play a number of games with different members and non-members in doubles pickleball. The event is capped with a pro exhibition, so new players can watch a high-level experience of the game and learn how the scoring works, or if you’re an advanced player you can watch and pick up some better strategies. We have food trucks as well at these events.
We host events like these each month across our YMCA locations. You can check out your local branch’s calendar of events for dates and details: ymcadc.org.