Every sport has its myths. Racquet sports are no different. Even pickleball has a few. Most are harmless. Some not so much. Some, in fact, are down right dangerous.
The list below is what our team has deemed to be the five most prevalent myths swirling around pickleball.
Myth #1 – Pickleball is for All Ages
On the surface, this seems to be true. Almost everyone can play pickleball. Except for the very young and the very old, able-bodied athletes of average physical condition can learn the basics of the game in less than an hour. After just a few hours, most can actually play an entire match. Mastering pickleball, naturally, takes years. But most adults can become proficiently competitive in a matter of months, provided they play regularly.
The root of Myth #1, in fact, has nothing to do with whether or not people of all ages can play pickleball, the question is whether or not the sport is managed in a way that ensures it appeals to all ages. Sadly, it is not. The powers that be in pickleball are constantly doing everything they can to keep pickleball an exclusively senior-friendly game. While other sports make deliberate efforts to ensure that there are equipment options that help to create age-appropriate challenges for athletes of all ages, the leading organizations in pickleball are constantly tweaking their rules in order to prevent their game from appealing to athletes in the most important sporting demographic (males aged 18-34).
In the many years that we have been serving customers in this demographic, we have observed a disturbing and so far irreversible trend. Young players start off loving pickleball, but then give it up within months. Not all players give it up, of course. Just most of them. Typically, the most athletic give it up the earliest.
Why? We wonder the same thing. So we ask. Most are nice about it and say nice things, but the truth is the game is simply not challenging enough to maintain their interest long term. As a result, they “like” pickleball, but they don’t “love” it.
Myth #2 – You Don’t Need to Athletic to Succeed at Pickleball
Like the previous myth, this myth, too, appears to be true. Over and over again, pickleball players of average athleticism rise to the highest ranks of competitive pickleball and claim the sport’s most prestigious titles. But is this a good thing? Pickleball’s leadership certainly seems to be think so. In fact, it seems to be something of which they are particularly proud. But here in Canada, we’ve heard this story before.
The sport is called curling. Like pickleball today, curling was once dominated by older athletes. And like pickleball today, the old men who ran the sport ruled like kings and did everything they could to ensure that curling remained the purview of athletes over 40. Fortunately for curling, though, equipment manufacturers and sports broadcasters had other ideas. They understood that everyone would benefit if athletes in the 18-34 year old demographic were encouraged to participate. So a game that could still be played by people of relatively average athleticism became an Olympic sport in 1998.
Will the same thing happen to pickleball? Will pickleball, too, become an Olympic sport? Possibly. Given enough time. But unless steps are taken to make the sport more attractive to younger athletes, it seems unlikely.
Myth #3. You Can’t Get Hurt Playing Pickleball
If pickleball has a pernicious myth, it is the you-can’t-get-hurt-playing-pickleball myth. In fact, you can get hurt playing pickleball. You can get seriously hurt or you can get hurt in myriad little ways — and many people do just that.
The most common pickleball injury is tennis elbow, a repetitive stress injury that develops when players with bad technique use paddles that are too light. The second most common injury in pickleball is the wrist injury, which often occurs when players try to move explosively backward in improper shoes. Down they go, tripping on their heel, spraining a wrist while trying to break their fall.
Myth #4. You Don’t Need Lessons to Play Pickleball
Sadly, players who believe most strongly in Pickleball Myth #4 are most likely to fall victim to the reality about Pickleball Myth #3. In other words, if you believe that you don’t need lessons, you are more likely to get hurt than players who do take lessons.
The difference between a certified coach and “some guy who knows how to play pickleball” is the certification part. In order to become certified, you need to learn how to teach players safe and healthy technique. In order to become certified, you must also demonstrate to coaching instructors that you understand how to assess players of different abilities, because what is safe and healthy for one player may not be safe and healthy for another.
As coaches, we are constantly frustrated when we witness the nonsense that passes as “coaching” in the sport of pickleball. Almost everywhere we go, we see people being taught grips that lead to tennis elbow, court movements that lead to injuries and habits that lead to unnecessary pain and suffering. If we could convince the powers that be in pickleball to do anything to help their sport it would be to begin the process of professionalizing the people who teach the players how to play. Doing this would significantly improve the on-court experiences of hundreds of thousands of pickleball athletes.
Myth #5. Beginners Should Use Light Paddles
And finally, the biggest myth in pickleball: beginners should use light paddles. Wow. Is this truly bad advice.
Beginners spend an inordinate amount of time back at the baseline while most advanced players spend most of their time up at the net. This means that beginners are hitting shots that have to travel a long way while experts are hitting short shots. In order to hit a ball a long distance, it helps to have a paddle with some weight behind it. Otherwise, you are asking beginners to swing harder and faster than they are capable of swinging with any reasonable degree of accuracy. The results are disaster and frustration.
Unfortunately, myths like these are not easily dispelled. People believe them because the person who introduced them to the sport said they were true. And the more that people hear players around them repeating these myths, the more they tend to accept these myths as facts.