Pickleball is the fastest-growing sport in America, and the pickleball craze has hit FFC! FFC Creative Director Josh Beaton shares his experience learning the sport and explains why it’s a great way to stay active and connect with fellow Chicagoans.

With the sting of sweat lingering in my eyes, I got into position. Squinting to see through the sun’s gaze, I heard the crack of the paddle hitting the ball. The game was on. Barreling toward me was a neon green wiffleball, spinning in the air like a major league pitch. I adjusted my stance and swung my paddle. Crack! The ball exploded off my paddle, barely clearing the net and flying toward the sideline. “Out!” yelled a player on the opposing team. The word echoed in my head. Followed closely by, “That’s game!” After muttering an apology to my partner, I walked off the court with my head down. This was defeat. This was pickleball. 

If you’re unfamiliar with pickleball, it is a paddle-sport that is similar to tennis, ping-pong, badminton and other racket sports. Pickleball was invented in Washington State in 1965, and according to USA Pickleball, there are now around 4.8 million players in the US. Pickleball can be played outside, typically on a tennis court surface, or indoors on a basketball court. The court is smaller than an average tennis court, and the game can either be played as singles or doubles.

I came onto the pickleball scene recently. In February 2022, our Director of Fitness was telling a group of us at the FFC Corporate office how fun the game is. I have to admit, I thought pickleball was for senior citizens. I assumed this was just a modern version of shuffleboard or something. Little did I know, I would become addicted after one game. 

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A group of us from the office headed to FFC Union Station for a lesson on the rules of pickleball. Truth be told, pickleball rules are a bit confusing at first. There are areas that you can’t step foot in, new words to learn and rules about bounces. The serving order is also tricky. Because of these things, the initial intimidation factor is high, but it doesn’t take long for the rules to become second nature. In no time, you are tiptoeing along the “kitchen” line and hitting “dinks” to win the point. 

To actually play the game, the learning curve is low. Hit the ball over the net without it going out of bounds. Seems easy enough, right? The thing is, pickleball is a lot like chess. It take minutes to learn and a lifetime to master.

Related: Read More FFC Employee Stories Here!

Soon after our first lesson, I was on Amazon searching for pickleball paddles to buy for myself. After some intense research, I decided on a paddle and eagerly awaited its arrival. Once the box hit my doorstep, I was looking for ways to play more games throughout the city. Through the app Team Reach, I discovered many groups around Chicago that play pickleball in area parks and decided to head to meet up with a group in Rogers Park.

When I got to the park, I timidly approached the tennis courts where I could see the pickeballers playing. There were around 20 people already playing, and I thought I would sneak my way in and just watch for awhile. As soon as I stepped on the court, a game ended and someone asked, “Hey man, do you want to play?” I was scared, but also determined, so I said, “absolutely.” 

I thought I would immediately be banished when the group saw how new I was to the sport. On the contrary, they were very welcoming and helped me when they saw me struggling. After losing the first game, I moved on to another court. Again, the players were amazing — not only in skill but also attitude. They never made me feel dumb for not playing at the level they were used to. After losing game after game and moving from court to court, I finally won a game. As a highly competitive person, I thought that would be the most important thing that happened. I was wrong. While I was moving around the courts, not only was I learning how to better play the game, but I was also meeting a great group of people. 

Related: The Fitness Community I Found At FFC

Fast forward a few months and now a group of us in the office play every Thursday. Not only that, but I also play with the Rogers Park crew every Saturday and Sunday for four hours each day! It gives me some solid exercise, and I get to see the people I can now call friends. My game has gotten a lot better, and now I get to welcome people when they show up for the first time. I even joined a pickleball league that starts this fall, and I’m looking forward to seeing how I compare to other competitive players in the area. 

I know what you are thinking…”Josh, I have social anxiety and I would be too scared to just walk up to strangers and ask to play with them.” I get it. What I have found is the pickleball community is one of the most welcoming and friendly groups out there. If you are interested in learning to play pickleball but feel nervous about joining a group, come to Rogers Park any weekend or FFC Union Station on Thursday mornings! I promise there will be a court and a few friendly faces waiting for you.

FFC Elmhurst, FFC Gold Coast, FFC Oak Park, FFC Park Ridge and FFC Union Station offer open pickleball play on their basketball courts. Lessons and tournaments are also offered from time to time. To view open play times, head to the Club Events section on the FFC+ app.

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Post written by FFC Creative Director Josh Beaton.