The Routt to Adventure: Stepping into the kitchen and other pickleball problems
Let’s be honest, Steamboat Springs has a dinking problem.
That’s not a typo. I really meant to say a dinking problem. A dink is a type of hit in pickleball that doesn’t allow the ball to bounce first.
Steamboat loves pickleball. Pickleball was the original pandemic. It swept through Steamboat and found solace in the adventurous, fit and competitive population that makes up the Yampa Valley.
Naturally, I had to see what all the fuss was about.
A couple weeks ago, I went to a beginners clinic taught by Marcy and Sean Pummill. Over 90 minutes, I learned all the basics: where to stand, how to hold the paddle, how to keep score, when to move up and how to serve.
I felt comfortable at the end of the 90 minutes, but I felt comfortable as a beginner among beginners. If I were to improve, I’d have to challenge myself and play with people who were better than me.
Last Sunday, my boyfriend and I went to the Tennis Center to take part in open play. I would be lying if I said I wasn’t a little nervous. People are intense about their pickleball. Thankfully, my boyfriend knows what he’s doing, and in our first game, he pretty much carried us. Overall, I didn’t bring us down that badly. I had a decent serve, could return serves consistently and almost always made some sort of contact with the ball, even if it went soaring in the wrong direction.
I kept remembering what I was taught in the beginner clinic: forward.
Everything in pickleball is forward. Your weight is forward on your feet, and you need to remind yourself to stay closer to the line near the net, which establishes the kitchen. It’s easier to hit the ball near the front of the net, but it comes at you so fast.
I am not a coordinated person. There was a reason I ran cross country and track in high school. I’ve never played a sport that requires a reaction time or rapid hand movements or ball tracking or any of that.
In the first game I played, I was so astonished by my ability to hit a speeding ball back over the net inbounds that I didn’t even move to get the next ball that came at me. I was still internally celebrating my last hit. I often got so excited about returning a ball that I stepped into the very front of the court, or the kitchen, and hit the ball without it bouncing first. That’s a no-no.
To my surprise, most of the skills came pretty easily. Serving was the biggest challenge. I served well in the first game, but the rest of the day, I struggled. No matter how hard I hit the ball or how much I told myself to scoop it upward, the ball hit the net. Nevertheless, my teammates and opponents were patient, sometimes even offering me a practice serve in the middle of a game.
Considering how serious people take pickleball, that was a pleasant surprise that I truly appreciated. By the end of the two-hour session, I had found my serve again. A few times it was actually a decent serve.
“That was mean,” one woman told me after my serve barely snuck into the front corner of the court.
“I don’t have the skill to be nice or mean yet,” I said with a laugh. “It just is what it is.”
Thank you to Sean and Marcy for being such a great teaching pair in the beginner lesson and thank you to Stephanie and Fred and Dennis and Carol and everyone else who was patient with me and offered me advice and tips.
As I walked out of open play, I couldn’t stop smiling. I completely understand why people love this game.
I hate to break up another competitive Sunday morning of pickleball, but I’ll definitely be returning to open play soon.
To reach Shelby Reardon, call 970-871-4253, email sreardon@SteamboatPilot.com or follow her on Twitter @ByShelbyReardon.
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