I'm taking a trip down memory lane this week; I’m sure you can all understand why I want to do so. In 2017 and 2019 I took a week-long vacation in New Brunswick and stayed at a family cottage on the Northumberland Strait, overlooking PEI. Both vacations consisted of eating yummy seafood, ocean kayaking and plenty of beachcombing. But did I bring my pickleball gear with me? Absolutely! Day trips to surrounding towns and cities always meant there was a possibility I might sneak in a game or two, or more. And I did. I played with a group at Mount Allison University in Sackville; at some beautiful outdoor courts in Shediac (I was in Shediac to pick up crab for dinner) and also played outside on the island of PEI, which was quite picturesque, I might add. The courts were just outside of Charlottetown. Tall trees and greenery surrounded the four courts and with bald eagles flying above and around us, the environment couldn't have been more different than playing in Toronto, where I am from, and I felt so fortunate that even on a non-pickleball vacation, I was still able to play.
So what is the best part about playing in different cities? For me, it has to be playing with and against players of different backgrounds and experiences. I love seeing how people make the game their own: their own playing style and even their own lingo. I also love seeing what is universal. For example, everywhere I’ve played, that “chicken wing” shot is same across the board.
As much as I enjoy meeting new players, I also really like to observe how clubs and facilities are running their pickleball programs. Some drop-ins I've participated in have been structured as a round-robin mini-tournament, or the group will have a challenger's court where the winning team stays on the same court (for up to 3 games in a row) and other teams will challenge them to a game. Every place will have a system to maintain an efficient flow for the players; which is necessary because the demand for pickleball is growing faster than there are courts available. Understanding what the successes and challenges are from club-to-club is a huge learning opportunity that I will take away as a part of my overall guest experience.
Durango Hills Pickleball Club, Durango Hills, NV, 2019
I’ve now been a guest in so many new places that I’ve really come to know what to expect. A quick Google search on pickleball options nearby starts me off on the right foot. If that doesn’t get me the details I need, then I turn to Facebook and look for pickleball group pages. I’ll speak to someone running the group, or they’ll direct me to someone else, usually a club president or regional ambassador. After knowing the playing options and structure of their program, it’s just a matter of showing up. The great thing about reaching out beforehand is that somebody is then expecting you to show up. I remember for Mount Allison, after not reaching out to anyone I arrived ten minutes early and people kind of kept to themselves. It took me a while to start up any dialogue with anybody. These guest experiences have really taught me one thing though, pickleball communities are typically welcoming and friendly with newcomers. I sometimes get a bit of a look at first and the question, “do you know how to play?”, but after the first game, it’s a very fun and social time with connections being made. I'm always returning the invitation and make it known that if they're in my neck of the woods we'll meet up for some games.
Traveling for work or pleasure has meant that I’ve been a guest player in Niagara Falls/St. Catharine’s, Kansas City, Durango Hills in Las Vegas, and so many other places. This has now become a tradition that I’ve come to love, and I look forward to continuing in safer times.
It’s made me wonder how many others - in your time of playing pickleball - have taken a trip of some kind and made it a necessity to check out the local pickleball scene? Have you noticed the similarities or picked up on any differences from club-to-club? I’d love to read some comments below on where you visited and played and how the experience was for you!