Archive for October, 2017

Game Plan

Pickle ball is the fastest growing sport in the United States, particularly among seniors, and several of the friends whom I play table tennis with have encouraged me to try it. They, like me, are in their seventies or even older and they tell me I should have no trouble picking it up. The trouble is that, every so often, I hear of another friend or acquaintance  who has injured himself playing the game. Last year, Akhil fell and broke his collar bone. His arm was in a sling for three months, he had to have surgery and he is still not 100%. This summer, Frank wrenched his back and Rich hurt his ribs. Hearing about these mishaps makes me cautious about trying the sport myself even though it seems a lot of fun. After my less than successful attempt at badminton, I have become even more leery about trying pickle ball much as I am tempted to do so.

Last week, therefore, I went to the pickle ball courts, mainly to see my friends in action and partly to resolve my doubts. Pickle ball, for those who have not seen it being played, is like a combination of tennis and badminton. It is played on a court half the size of a tennis court which means much less running around. The ball is a hollow perforated ball of hard plastic and the racket is like the one used in paddleball. Scoring is like badminton except that a game consists of eleven points. Unlike tennis, the serve is underhand; none of those 120-140 mph tennis serves that you see Raonic or Cilic release. Rallies , particularly when seniors are playing, are short and there was not much running about. Given the low speeds of the  ball and the half size court, it is no wonder that pickle ball is so popular with the senior contingent. As I watched my friends play, I realized that I could probably do as well as them. At the same time, I resolved not to  overestimate my physical abilities or to try to do too much.

A friend of mine who lives down the street told me that the main cause of injuries is that out of shape people who have never played any games before try to do things that they are not accustomed to. He himself, before he goes to the pickle ball courts , does twenty minutes of yoga and then has pickle-ball practice for another fifteen minutes. In his garage, he has a large square of plywood leaning against the wall. He hits a pickle-ball against it, much like tennis players hitting a tennis ball against a wall. Between the yoga and the practice, he is thoroughly warmed up and limber by the time he takes the court. It’s a routine that I think is eminently sensible.

My plan in the coming months is to get a similar sized plywood piece for our garage, borrow a racket from one of my wounded friends and see how I do. By the time spring rolls around, I should have a good idea of whether pickle ball is in my future. Next April, either I will be on the pickle-ball court or I will have given up the game once and for all.


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At a picnic last month, a friend called out to me , saying that he had badminton rackets and shuttles and would I like to try a few rallies? I accepted with alacrity because I’d always loved badminton. We walked a little ways to a grassy patch and began to play. What a disaster! For one thing, there was a mild breeze blowing. When it was at our backs, the shuttle sailed over our heads and far out of reach. On the other hand, when we were hitting into the breeze, the shuttle didn’t make much headway and fell well short of where we wanted it to go. All in all, it was the rare ” rally” that lasted even three shots. What was more frustrating though was the difficulty I experienced in trying to get to the shuttle. My reactions were slow and my feet felt leaden. It was no fun stumbling around and I was not unhappy when my wife sent word that I should call it a day. A doctor friend who had been watching us play cautioned her that we were risking injury by playing in our casual footwear.

As we walked back, I reflected how the passage of time lays everyone low. I had last played badminton in 1975 and now, more than forty-five years later, at age seventy-five, just getting the racket on the shuttle was difficult. I had thought that because I still play table tennis reasonably well, that my skills had not eroded so much. I was wrong, as my brief foray proved my badminton playing days were over. So gradually does the change take place that one is not aware of it and thinks he is still almost the same as he once was.

However, the discovery was not in the least a cause for lament. After all, I had not played the game for forty-five years so how could I miss what I’d not enjoyed in so long ?  In fact, it was a liberating feeling. There is nothing to prove anymore. If others continue to play the game, more power to them. I’m not in competition with them or with anyone else.

There are other  advantages too. Now, when I see a game being played I am better able to appreciate the skill, the dexterity and the endurance of the players. At the recent All England championships,  Nozomi Okuhara ( Japan) defeated P.V. Sindhu in the Women’s Singles final in an epic match that some have called the greatest of all time. One amazing rally lasted seventy -three shots. Seventy three ! In fifteen minutes of play, my friend and I barely managed to hit the shuttle that many times. I now appreciate Okuhara and Sindhu’s performance even more than I previously did. So too do I feel about Roger Federer’s balletic grace on the tennis court or Odell Beckham’s acrobatic catches in the end zone.

So, you will not see me feeling sorry for my lost skills or for the fact that some pastimes are now beyond me. When one door closes, another one opens. Next spring, as soon as it is warm enough outdoors, you will find me on the bocci court trying to pick up a game which I can easily hope to play for the next decade.  Who knows? I might even try my hand at pickle-ball.

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