Dont’ give up on Pickleball

There have been some — not many — folks who took pickleball lessons but later slowed down their participation. When I spoke with them, I mostly heard expected answers: a new grandchild, a pulled muscle, etc. But several told me that they didn’t feel they were getting any better, or were not athletic enough. Some felt intimidated because they were not as good as others in their gaggle of players.

Getting better is much more a function of practice than athletic ability, and just about everyone can improve. I met a young fellow, a teaching pro in Chicago’s premier indoor tennis club, Steve Zalinski, who was the top men’s tennis player in the Western Tennis Association, which is quite an accomplishment as they traditionally produce top talent.

He developed a debilitating tennis elbow, and was told it might be a year before he could use that arm. He didn’t give up. He spent two hours before work every morning on a backboard and ball machine learning to play left-handed, and then started to compete again. By the end of that year, he had almost claimed his old ranking… but left-handed.

When he considered working in the equipment side of the tennis business, I immediately hired him because of his mantra, “It’s not how many times you get knocked down, it’s how many times you get up.” He became a top executive in the tennis business and was recently inducted into South Carolina Tennis Hall of Fame.

But giving up was not an option for him, and it should not be an option for you. I said just about everyone can improve with practice, but what if you are that ONE person who doesn’t improve. So what?

If you want to give up because you are losing games to others… who the pickle is reporting scores? If you are just too busy to practice, or have many other interests, there is nothing wrong with just playing pickleball, meeting friends, enjoying a few laughs, and getting some good exercise. Think about it! You are already ahead of all those folks who don’t play because they have bad knees, or a sore hip, or… their excuses are endless. I’ve had some enjoyable conversations with one lady who has some physical issues, and she did not give up, but religiously joins the same set of friends to play pickleball several times a week. I am jealous of the special laughter and friendship that group enjoys.

You at least tried pickleball. And now you have this remarkable lead, why give it up? It is so easy to give up and to stay away, but what are you going to substitute it for? Where else can you run 10,000 steps off your Fitbit while you laugh with others.

I got news for you, for better or worse, for richer or poorer, we each have this one body, and it needs exercise. It needs stretching, bending, fast starts and, fortunately for you, longevity is not connected to how many pickleball games you WIN, but to how many you PLAY.

An option to pickleball is watching daytime or nighttime television, which is all so lame. And if that is all you do, you soon become physically lame. Another name for giving up, is really giving up, adios, followed by a memorial service, which necessarily follows your lack of exercise and purpose.

At the end, all they will say about you, “Oh what a shame, dropped out of the game and went up in a flame. Well, who’s up for another pickleball game?” None of us want that for you. We are willing to put up with that wrist flick that you think is a forehand. After all, we like your company, and besides, we NEED YOU to listen to our repetitive lame jokes and poems.

And, by the way, I just set aside his first pickleball paddle for the aforementioned tennis player, Steve Zalinski, and we plan, with his new hip and my new knees, to hit the road next summer as the 150-year-old bionic men’s doubles team, ravaging coastal towns like pirates of old. Well, ravaging might be too strong a word, but you can bet we will be laughing and having a good time.

Vaughn “The Baron” Baker is a Senior Olympics gold-medalist in pickleball, and is public relations director for the First State Pickleball Club (FSPC) and captain of the Ocean View Crew pickleball community. He spent his career working with top tennis professionals while working for Wilson Sporting Goods and introducing the Prince Tennis Racket and Wimbledon Tennis Lines. For more information, visit