By Garrett Simmons
For the Times
Pickleball is one of the fastest-growing sports in North America.
A paddleball sport that borrows elements from badminton, table tennis and tennis, the sport is most often played with four players with a ball similar to a wiffle ball.
The courts inside the Taber Community Centre Auditorium are full of pickleball players every Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday. Jeff Millward, who helps organize the thrice-weekly matchups on the courts, said attendance varies based on the evening.
“On an average night we have anywhere from six to 12 people show up to play, although there have been days where only four will show up,” he said. “Generally, four is the minimum amount to play a proper game, although you can play one on one.”
And with the help of technology, those who show up on any given night are assured they’ll hit the court frequently, with a variety of teammates and opponents.
“When enough people come to play, I have an app on my phone that creates random teams of two,” said Millward. “We use it to make sure everyone gets a chance to play with everyone and not just the people they came with. It helps people to get to know each other and to feel included in the group. We don’t want anyone to feel left out and not get a chance to play with someone that’s maybe more, or less, skilled than they are.”
No matter what level of skill players bring to the court, Millward added participants typically pick up the game easily.
“One of the nicest things about pickleball is there are very few rules so it’s simple to learn,” he said. “It’s basically large-scale ping pong with a few differences. Games are played to 11 points and must be won by two points, and you only score when your team is serving. Both players on a team get the chance to serve and points are scored when the other team makes a fault.”
The simplicity of the game lends itself to a fun experience, according to Millward, who added there’s also a strong social aspect, since players are close enough to be able to talk to each other while playing. It’s also a game that can be played by a wide variety of participants.
“People of all ages can play,” said Millward. “We have a regular player that’s just 10 years old and there’s players in their 30s, 40s, 50s and 60s. It really is a sport for almost everyone.”
With that in mind, Millward added pickleball is a community sport that is certainly worth a look.
“To people considering the sport, I would say to come out and watch and see what you think. That’s exactly how I got involved a year and a half ago. I went to the auditorium to see what this game was with the funny name and was hooked right away.”
Another benefit of the game is the fact players don’t need a lot in terms of equipment — only running shoes, gym clothes and a paddle.
“A person doesn’t even need to get a paddle right away, since the Town of Taber provides basic paddles for people to use,” said Millward. “If you find you enjoy it and want to get your own paddle, they cost anywhere from $10 for a basic wooden paddle to more than $100 for a more high-tech model and everywhere in between.”
The only recurring cost is a drop-in fee of $4 to play in Taber, which Millward added is a small price to play to participate in a sport that provides a ton of benefits.
“I think the sport is exploding in popularity because it’s simple to learn and not hard on the body like a lot of other sports can be. It’s inexpensive to get involved in and a lot of fun to play.”
The game can also be taken outside, according to Millward.
“We play mostly indoors in Taber but the tennis court is lined for pickleball for times when it’s not too windy to play outside. Coaldale has a pickleball court for outdoor play in Eastview Park. I’ve played there a few times and it’s a fantastic facility built by the Town of Coaldale and the Coaldale Kinsmen Club. I would love to see a similar facility built in Taber to grow the sport here.”
For more information on the pickleball schedule, visit http://www.taber.ca, click on Town Services and visit the Recreation area to find times for all drop-in programming. Pickleball is typically scheduled for 6 p.m. on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday, with 2 p.m. slots also available on Mondays and Wednesdays.