Why I love Pickleball

Article Written By Kristy Phillips

I shoved open the sliding glass door of my new kitchen of my new house. Well, new to me. The forty-year old house sat empty around me, waiting for the moving trucks to arrive.

Five years after my divorce, I’d left the small town of my married life and moved fifty miles away, back to the area north of Seattle, where I’d grown up. The move took me closer to my family but farther from my friends. I was hoping a new area would offer a fresh start for my sons and me. And although I knew few people in Mill Creek, I was excited about this new chapter.

My agent had just given me the keys, and I was finally alone in the house, in that silent, still space between ownerships. The echoes of the last owners had just faded away, and the chaos of my arrival was yet to begin. The house was no longer theirs and not yet mine—a brief, blank slate, waiting to see what we could create together.

After the blur of open-house visits and frenzy of inspections, I now had a chance to take a look at the yard behind the house. I stepped out into that hot July afternoon in 2016. Birds and insects sang and ticked happily around me. I walked off the deck and past my brand-new Shasta daisies, which laughed at the sun. Then I pushed my way through a chain-link gate and into the wide, green expanse of my private tennis court.

I don’t play tennis.

What am I going to do with this? I wondered.

You should convert this unused tennis court into a pickleball court

Four years later, on a similar July afternoon, I leaned back at my desk in my home office and looked idly out the window at the tennis court. The Shasta daisies were smiling again at the sun, and the court still sat there, green and empty. But life in Mill Creek hadn’t panned out as I’d expected. I’d spent those four years doing major home renovations, going through a painful breakup, moving a son to college, and shifting my work life to full-time remote. The breakup and my focus on work and the house had left me feeling isolated and lonely. And in 2020, that feeling was compounded by global events. COVID-19 was stalking the planet, and America seemed to be burning down around our ears. Division was everywhere—in our politics, in our health care, and in our living and working arrangements.

In an idle moment, I picked up my cell phone to look at what was happening out in the world through the safety of my screen. After checking news, weather, and social media, I happened to click on the Nextdoor app. I scrolled through a few posts, then one caught my eye: “Looking for women in Mill Creek interested in playing pickleball.” It had been posted by Patti C., who, it turned out, lived down the road.

I vaguely remembered pickleball from high school. We’d played in the school gym. And since I’d moved to Mill Creek, several people had said, while looking at my unused court, “You should convert this to pickleball. It’s so popular these days.”

Pickleball players

On a whim, I typed a response to Patti: “I don’t play pickleball, but I have a tennis court. You’re welcome to use it.”

Hours later, she was on my court with paddles and balls. “Let’s just hit for a while. Get some practice in. You can see how you like it,” she said with a big smile. “I’m so glad you responded! It’s hard to get time on the public courts.”

And with that, she dropped a yellow pickleball and served it to me over the neglected net.

Over the next several days, a handful of local women began streaming in and out of my backyard. It turned out I wasn’t the only one to respond to Patti. She’d been collecting a group of shiny, new pickleball players—friends, neighbors, and strangers who’d replied to her post.

None of us knew how to play pickleball

None of us knew how to play.

We quickly set up a schedule of meeting in my yard on Wednesday evenings and Sunday afternoons. Each time, my Ring system would tell me there was someone in my driveway, and I’d hear the iron gate on the side of my house clang shut. Then I’d hear happy voices chattering as the ladies made their way through the garden paths around my house to the back. I’d rush to put on my shoes and grab my paddle, then I’d go out to spend time with my new friends.

And play pickleball.

It was a strange sensation—after years of isolation and the first months of the pandemic—to have guests. But I found I liked being in a group. The others did too. We talked about how nice it was to be with people—in the fresh air and under the honeysuckle that climbed the court fence. We felt we were being socially distanced by being outside. When we switched sides while serving, we made big, polite arcs around one another. We were careful not to brush fingers while handing our partner a ball. But we could still visit and chat while laughing over our confusion.

“What’s the score again?”

“Wait. Who served that last one?”

“Does it count if it hits the net on the way over?”

While learning about lobs and dinks, I also learned about my new friends. Michaele had twin granddaughters who played basketball for Stanford. Sylvia had been born in Spain and was a travel agent. Tamara was hoping to move to Utah. Patti was a snowbird who spent her winters in Phoenix. Kate loved British history and Eleanor of Aquitaine as much as I did. And everyone lived in or near Mill Creek—some within walking distance of my house. Kate and I became good friends—getting to know each other over wine and coffee—and I found myself running into fellow pickleballers at the grocery store. For the first time since I moved, I no longer felt so alone.

Michaele started arriving early for games. She’d bring huge chunks of chalk, and I’d help her sketch out the lines of a pickleball court over the fading lines of my tennis court. And even though Kate ruptured her Achilles tendon while practicing one day, she came for each game, inching down the paths on her knee scooter, to watch and throw us balls. Our group ranged in age from early fifties to mid-seventies. No one talked about politics. Instead of focusing on what divided us, we discussed what united us: life in Mill Creek; our roles as mothers, daughters, wives, and friends; navigating the pandemic; and learning to play pickleball.

Most of us weren’t great at our new sport, but we had a wonderful time. We learned together, and the hollow thwack, thwack, thwack of pickleballs being hit, along with laughter, became a regular sound in my neighborhood. I went from being a nobody in town to being known as “the lady with the pickleball court.” After a memorable summer, we ended the season one fall night, roasting marshmallows over my firepit and looking forward to the next year.

My friends took Pickleball classes and were then better players than me

Over that winter, however, several of the ladies kept playing in gyms and YMCAs. They took pickleball clinics and classes. Some got trainers. I, as a single working mom with two jobs, kept working. And when spring rolled around again, I was shocked to discover how good everyone else was!

Kate was especially devoted to improving her game. One summer day in 2021, she arrived home after an eight-hour pickleball clinic to discover a state representative walking down her driveway. He was out campaigning, and they stopped to chat. Turned out, he’d been approached about submitting a congressional bill to make pickleball the official state sport. After all, pickleball had been invented on Bainbridge Island, Washington, in the 1960s. Kate loved the idea. The next thing she knew, she’d been recruited to help spearhead the effort.

That was the summer pickleball really took off. More women joined our little unofficial league. Some were friends of friends. One saw us practicing at the local middle school and asked to join. I ended up repainting and restriping the tennis court for pickleball, and cutting down the old tennis net and buying one made for our new sport. We threw together an unofficial tournament and played for a trophy—with wine, snacks, and prizes for all.

A member of the city council showed up at my door that summer. “Can I see your pickleball court?” she asked. “We’re thinking of converting a city tennis court for pickleball use, and I want to see how big your court is.”

The city was jumping on the pickleball bandwagon.

Kate continued working with the state representative—who was now a state senator—to get the “picklebill” passed. She was also working with local pickleball associations to help get pickleball in the schools. Newspapers were calling her for interviews. I helped her campaign for senator.

And we ladies kept playing.

I’d enjoyed my pickleball experience so much that I went on Nextdoor and started a book club. Which led to a writing group. Which led to me making more friends in and around Mill Creek.

“Join us for pickleball!” I kept saying.

When the picklebill passed the state congress in early 2022, Kate, the sponsoring senator, a county council member, and I celebrated by playing a chilly game on my court the very next day. There were no leaves on the trees and we were bundled up, but we laughed and had a wonderful time.

And the day after the governor signed the bill into law that March, Kate called me and said, “Can the local news station come film us playing on your court? Today?”

So I ran out and cleared leaves off the court. Next thing I knew, a bunch of us were playing in the background while a local reporter and cameraman filmed and interviewed Kate and the senator. They talked about what pickleball meant for Washington and why it had become so popular.

Pickleball is named Washington State’s official sport

A day after Governor Jay Inslee signed a bill naming pickleball as Washington State’s official sport, we met with the players who have been advocating for this moment since last summer.

Pickleball is a great competitive sport. But it’s also inclusive. Anyone of any age or ability can play. You don’t need expensive equipment. It’s social and socially distanced. Easy to learn. Fun to play.

Over the past couple of years, I’ve become a better pickleball player. Not great, but better. I don’t have the best paddle, and I still don’t understand a lot of the terminology. Strategy is beyond me. If I get the ball over the net and inside the court, I’m thrilled. Scoring a point is just a bonus.

But pickleball has given me much more than recreation. It’s given me a community. Friendships. Exercise. It gave me a place in this town. The connections that pickleball offers are priceless. My son helped campaign for the senator this year. I feed Kate’s cats when she’s out of town to watch or play in tournaments. Michaele, a retired nurse, has given me wonderful suggestions for fitness and nutrition. My little backyard games have spawned impromptu dance parties and BBQs. Women who played together on my court have formed their own friendships. They’ve gone to baseball games in a group and traveled together.

The sense of accomplishment, fun, and community—the feeling of belonging—is well worth the price of a paddle and court shoes.

I had no idea that day when I replied to Patti’s post what it would lead to. And when I bought this house in Mill Creek, with the tennis court out back, I had no idea how much I needed it.

Or what an amazing gift it would turn out to be.

A day after Governor Jay Inslee signed a bill naming pickleball as Washington State’s official sport, we met with the players who have been advocating for this moment since last summer.


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Why I love pickleball by Kristy Phillips