BANGERS & SMASH: Picking up pickleball

Last year, pickleball was crowned the fastest-growing sport in the United States. I’d never played before. Until now.

My instructors at the Dr. Phillips YMCA and I had tons of fun playing pickleball together. It definitely was a great introductory experience to the sport.
My instructors at the Dr. Phillips YMCA and I had tons of fun playing pickleball together. It definitely was a great introductory experience to the sport.
Courtesy photo
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The first sport I ever played was tennis. 

Fast-forward a few years, I won’t say how many, I was taken back to my tennis lessons during my first pickleball class last week.

I believe having played tennis — and a number of ping-pong matches with my siblings and dad growing up — was the reason why it didn’t take too long for me to get the hang of pickleball. I already knew how to hold the paddle and swing. 

Don’t get me wrong, though: Although pickleball isn’t hard to pick up; it sure is hard to master.

To be honest, I never expected the perforated plastic ball to be so tricky to hit over the net or to hit after a bounce on the court. But it was. Even though the ball bounces, it’s not the same as hitting a tennis ball. I found myself hitting air quite a number of times during the half-hour class. Once you’ve gotten into the rhythm of things, though, there is a better chance to read the ball after a bounce. 

Even though pickleball welcomes players of all ages — children and adults alike — there is one thing amateurs should be aware of before stepping onto a court. The sport is fast-paced and definitely a good source of cardio to help players stay in shape. Within minutes of hitting a few “dink shots” —  a soft shot that falls into the opposition’s non-volley zone or kitchen — my breathing quickened, and I was already feeling the sweat. 

My instructors at the Dr. Phillips YMCA, Bobby Vereb, Mo Vafamand and Kim Kahana, ensured I learned important terms related to the sport and even played a few points with me in a double format. When tasked with serving, I missed my first couple of balls; I wasn’t used to the intensity with which I needed to hit the ball. After a couple of laughs and a few apologies, I finally placed the ball where it needed to go.

There was a lot of zig-zagging from my part during the match. I was lost around the court — not knowing whether to stay in the kitchen or play deep. I was taught then that it is always better to come up close to the net and dink the ball. I have to say, after a couple of tries, my instructors, and I had a blast. 

Rules are simple to learn, but the terminology of the sport can be a handful. There are a lot of terms used when playing pickleball, but my favorites that I learned that day were “smash,” the shot that you hit above your head with a serving motion; “digs,” defensive shots you hit with the intention of them falling into the kitchen; “kitchen,” the non-volley area close to the net on both sides; and “bangers,” the hard shots hit to your opponent when playing deep. 

The bangers are, from my humbling and fleeting experience with the sport, the hardest shots to return and the toughest to hit right, because directing the ball is tricky. There are a lot of factors that come into play, including adjusting your stance when hitting the ball and knowing where the lines are on the court. 

Toward the end of the session, I can say I truly see myself playing more pickleball in the future. I loved how fun the sport is, how you can get a full-body workout in and how social it can be. I am truly looking forward to playing again.

And maybe, I’ll even buy my own paddle soon.



Andrea Mujica

Staff writer Andrea Mujica covers sports, news and features. She holds both a bachelor's degree in journalism and an MBA from the University of Central Florida. When she’s not on the sidelines, you can find Andrea coaching rowers at the Orlando Area Rowing Society in Windermere.

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