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Conquering Fears of Playing Pickleball

If you are new to pickleball, then you may not realize how fun this sport is.

It is a combination of tennis and ping-pong. And if you are familiar with other racquet sports like racquetball or squash then these may add some additional value to your play.

The court is most similar to tennis as it uses a net, and a court that is set up somewhat like a

tennis court, but it is much smaller. A pickleball court fits on one side of a tennis court, and the net is shorter. In tennis, the net is 42 inches at the posts and 36 inches in the middle, whereas in pickleball the net is 36 inches at the post and 34 inches in the middle. The most significant reason for the difference in height is to accommodate a ball that doesn’t have as much bounce.

This article is not planned to be so much about rules, as it is about playing - playing for fun, exercise, and as one gets better - playing for competition. I want to give credit here to Bill Roehrs as Mr. Pickleball in Lincoln. One may join Pickleball Lincoln for $25 a year, and get a free lesson. Bill will walk you through all the rules, and add value to understanding the fundamentals of appropriate play, with the most important rule is everyone should have fun first.

Once, I took my first lesson, I knew I wanted to play more often.

The next important aspect of Pickleball Lincoln membership is access to Playtime Scheduler. This is a web-based layout of all the different courts that are available for play. You can play at almost anytime of the day, and there are numerous locations. Excited? At least curious?

Most of the play is done playing doubles, with the obvious reason being more people get to play, and you get to meet people, if not make friends.

Then I faced my first fear.

I am by nature a somewhat quiet person. Showing up at a pickleball court to play pickleball with strangers took a little bit of courage. Though, once you get there, you realize that everybody is super friendly. (Well, there was one person that seemed to think they should hit every shot that they could reach……that wasn’t as much fun, and they weren’t exactly hitting them in anyway.) Besides, you are there to play more than talk, so it’s just loads of fun.

Before I get to my second fear, let’s get clear on the exercise aspect. While this doesn’t require the same running as tennis, one gets a fair amount of exercise from constant movement either around the court or hitting balls. Unfortunately for me, I ended up getting lateral epicondylitis (tennis elbow, or more appropriately, pickleball elbow). This is an inflammation of the tendons and muscles in the forearm that run through the elbow. I can tell you from personal experience that this can be quite painful. In my case, as I knew it was developing, I purchased a compression sleeve to help support the arm. Then I purchased some arm pressure bands to more specifically support the forearm.

However, while playing aggressively in a tournament, I had to react quickly to return a ball and experienced some significant pain. I knew I needed to lay off for a while. And after a week, I knew I needed more than rest, so I called to schedule a physical therapy appointment. And after the first couple of appointments, I realized that I have not played pickleball for 3 weeks. I was missing playing; and I had already registered to play mixed doubles in the Cornhusker State Games, which were now less than 5 weeks away.

That brings me to my next fear.

I am not going to risk longer term injury to my dominant right arm, so I need to try playing left-handed. The fear involves not only not wanting to embarrass myself. But also, I don’t want to let other people down with whom I am playing. The night before playing on the court with some friends, I practiced against my garage door. Not great, but not going to completely embarrass myself.

People were more than reasonably receptive. They were all for me giving it a try (though, I know, also hoping that this wasn’t going to be a total bomb of a game). They would even try a shot or two with their non-dominant hand, only to say something like, “I can’t do this.” To which I replied, “If you have ever not been able to use your dominant hand, and you wanted to feed yourself, you will find a way to not starve. Then it becomes more natural, and you get better.” Same way with playing pickleball, if you want to play bad enough, you will find a way.

Certainly, I am not as good left-handed as I am right-handed. The problem is that having played tennis and ping pong for years, I have developed a certain muscle memory, which is the body learning to do something consistently because it has done it so many times. The challenge is to unlearn these specific swings (appropriate for those sports, but not for pickleball). I do not have quite the same muscle memory when using my left hand. My mistakes are simply because I am trying to learn to play the game with my non-dominant hand. Nevertheless, some are impressed with how quickly I am learning to play left-handed. Jill, one of my other new pickleball friends who has never seen me play right-handed is impressed enough to say, “If this is how you play left-handed, I can’t wait to see how you play right-handed.” This is my favorite compliment.

The point I want to make is that we all have fears about doing things.

It is through our values that we decide how to face those fears, and move into our learning zone. For me, the values that drove me are growth, creativity, courage and change. I wanted to grow into more pickleball, get creative through playing left-handed, and I was courageous enough to try playing left-handed in public, not simply against my garage door.

What are your fears? Can you identify one or two? Please do not tell yourself that you aren’t afraid of anything, it’s really not appropriate to lie. Consider, where are you falling short of your dreams of being and becoming what you always had hoped for? Do you know your values enough to drive yourself to face and move through your fears and find your greater potential? If not, let’s have a conversation.

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