A Beginner’s Guide to Pickleball in Westchester

Like a pulse-pounding mix between tennis, badminton, and table tennis, pickleball is an excellent (and fun!) way for young and old players to get in serious exercise.

Pickleball is having quite a moment in Westchester. So grab your paddle and follow along as we explain the ins and outs of the game, reveal top tips from a pro, show how to avoid injuries, and provide a helpful list of pickleball lingo to get you prepped for the court.

Few sports can claim the cultural cachet of pickleball. With adherents like LeBron James and Drew Brees, this two-to-four-person sport involves whacking a perforated plastic ball on a court with a paddle — and it is extremely hot right now. Municipalities throughout the county are racing to build courts or refurbish existing facilities to support local enthusiasts of what is the fastest growing sport in the United States.

This popularity is in large part due to the game’s accessibility. The low-impact, fast-paced game draws people from across generations and skill levels, with a particular appeal for older adults, who have flocked to the sport. According to Katie Taylor, head pro and pickleball director at Hawthorne’s Cross Court Pickleball, the game is “basically a combination of ping pong and tennis,” says Taylor. “You play on a small tennis court, but it has different rules and different scoring than tennis.”

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According to the Association of Pickleball Professionals, there are about 48-million players in the United States; and in Westchester, plenty of picklers (as players are called) have made the sport part of their indoor or outdoor exercise routines.

Tibbetts Brook Park in Yonkers
Tibbetts Brook Park in Yonkers. Photo by Ken Gabrielsen.

And if you are wondering about the name, it most likely comes from Joan Pritchard, the wife of the game’s inventor, Joel Pritchard, who once stated that the mix of different sports reminded her of “the pickle boats in crew, where oarsmen were chosen from the leftovers of other boats.” However, many also believe the name came from the family’s dog, Pickles, which is admittedly a lot more fun.

With easy rules to follow and a manageable level of effort required to compete, pickleball aligns with the lifestyle of casual athletes who seek a social, competitive, and viable form of exercise. “It is a sport that by the end of an hour lesson most people can be playing the game, as opposed to tennis which can take months for you to be able to even play a set,” says Taylor. “Once you learn the scoring and the very few rules, you could be out there competing the same week you learned.”

As for any worries about injuries, Taylor of Cross Court Pickleball feels that pickleball is no more dangerous than most other sports. “There are a lot of grumblings that pickleball is dangerous and people get hurt,” says Taylor. “With the sheer number of people playing you are bound to have injuries — and the sheer number of people playing is amazing.”

Wondering where to get in on the action? Our county boasts plenty of superb spots to sharpen your pickling skills. The first indoor facility dedicated to the sport in Westchester, Cross Court Pickleball, in Hawthorne, is perfect for both newbies and pickleball pros. “We have six dedicated pickleball courts. That means they are lined and painted just for pickleball,” says Taylor. “We also have many different lessons available and clinics for all different levels.” She notes Cross Court has open-play periods for solo players or small groups, as well as league play, just in case you want to get a bit more competitive.

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Eastchester’s SPORTIME: Lake Isle is another spot to get acquainted with pickleball. SPORTIME: Lake Isle offers social-play programs, for those who want to make friends while serving, as well as clinics and private instruction from certified coaches. Additionally, it features competitive play for people of all skill levels as well as open-court time.

If you already know your stuff and are just searching for a place to play, Westchester boasts plenty of courts to show off. The Croton Avenue Pickleball Court, in Cortlandt, is a recent addition to the county’s fleet of courts, which also includes Ossining’s Joseph G. Caputo Community Center, Yorktown’s Granite Knolls Sports & Recreation Complex, and East Coast Sports & Fitness, also in Yorktown, where members and nonmembers can rent out courts for $25 per hour and $45 per hour, respectively.

The Tibbetts Brook Park Pickleball Community, which has grown to over 400 members, gathers in Yonkers’ Tibbetts Brook Park.
The Tibbetts Brook Park Pickleball Community, which has grown to over 400 members, gathers in Yonkers’ Tibbetts Brook Park. Photo by Ken Gabrielsen.

And if you don’t see your town mentioned above, have no fear. Multiple Westchester municipalities are currently constructing or already have courts amenable to pickleball, such as Briarcliff Manor’s Chilmark Park, Bedford Hills’ Memorial Park, and Depew Park, in Peekskill, which is in the process of converting an aging clay tennis court into four pickleball courts.

For Taylor, it’s easy to see why pickleball is surging in popularity across the county (and country). “The great part of pickleball is that every age can play, from child to 90,” says Taylor. “If you have a little bit of hand-eye coordination and a little bit of mobility, you can play. It is very inclusive and a very social, inviting game. Many people meet their best friends playing.”

The Court:

Invented in 1965, pickleball is played on a court one-fourth the size of a standard tennis court, with the ball always served diagonally. This badminton-sized court must measure 20 feet by 44 feet, with a net measuring 36 inches on each side and a central droop of 34 inches. There is also a seven-foot no-volley zone on each side of the net, forcing players to use strategy rather than simply spiking the ball at one another.

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The Equipment:

Paddle

“There are many different paddle brands at many different price points,” says Cross Court Pickleball’s Katie Taylor. “You can get a very inexpensive paddle for $15 or $20 on Amazon. You probably won’t have the best experience with it, but you can start small. Paddles go up to about $250 to $300, depending on the company,” says Taylor, noting that Jolla is a top source for pickleball gear.

Photo by Ken Gabrielsen.

Ball

The ball used in pickleball “is very similar to a whiffle ball,” says Taylor. “It’s a hard, plastic ball with a lot of little holes, which you need when you are outside for the wind. The very big-holed balls are indoor balls. They also bounce a little higher.”

Shoes

Taylor notes that good shoes are an underestimated necessity when it comes to playing pickleball. “You really need a tennis shoe or a court shoe,” says Taylor. “They are better for lateral movement. You do not want to wear running sneakers. It is very dangerous; you can roll your ankle.”

The Lingo:

Want to fit in with the pros? Check out this list of pickleball terms that you need to know.

  • Dink: A soft shot, close to the net and strategically aimed to land in an opponent’s non-volley zone
  • Kitchen: The seven-foot area on both sides of the net that is a non-volley zone; players are not permitted to volley while standing in the kitchen.
  • Erne: A tactic where a player executes the shot from the non-volley zone to hit the ball out of the air
  • Bert: The same shot as an Erne, but executed around the kitchen on your partner’s side of the pickleball court (usually in front of your partner), rather than on your own side
  • Flapjack: A type of shot that needs to bounce before a player hits it; these are usually midair shots and can be hit during either of the first two shots, whether it is the returning of a serve or a return of that serve.
  • Lob: A shot where the player hits the ball high in the air towards the backcourt
  • Pickled: When one side scores zero points in a game, they’ve been shut out, or pickled.
  • Pickler (or Picklehead): A pickleball player, particularly one who is obsessed with the game
  • Smash: An aggressive overhand shot from a high reach that is directed downward toward an opponent
  • Third shot drop: After the server hits the ball and the returner returns, a third shot drop is a soft, low shot that lands over the net into the kitchen or non-volley zone.
  • Tweener: A shot hit between your legs

Top Tips From an Expert

Manny Boya of Cross Court Pickleball reveals his best insider tips.

Manny Boya, co-owner of Cross Court Pickleball, in Hawthorne, is an avid player and professional coach. He has watched the game change people’s lives by improving their physical and mental health. “[Pickleball] is a multi-generational sport that mothers can play with daughters and granddaughters; people with Parkinson’s Disease or those who have had a stroke have improved their lives,” says Boya. “People who battle depression and poor mental health show up to open plays — others who thought they could never play another sport again — the game has opened doors, and it means so much.” Below, he offers some tips for picklers to get the most out of the game.

Find the Right Equipment

Coach Boya recommends players first try out the game at a recreation center or pickleball facility where open play is offered. Join in a rotation and play with paddles and balls that are available to use. If you then decide to purchase your own equipment, he says to choose an official paddle and ball, either online or from a sporting-goods store — just avoid the ones made of wood, a paddle-style that is no longer used in the game.

Don’t Worry about Finding a Partner

Pickleball is fun and competitive, but it is also social. Players can show up, from beginners to advanced, and wait their turn to join a game. It is “really easy to learn, but hard to master,” he says, “and players often turn into best friends.”

Rules to Remember

The first rule is to have fun, according to Boya. But then remember to “stay out of the kitchen,” he says. “As long as you are behind the non-volley zone line, you can hit the ball in the air, and you can hit it hard or soft.” When the server initially hits the ball (underhand), the returner must wait for it to bounce before contact, and when it is returned back to the server, it must bounce again (the two-bounce rule). His three Ds to keep in mind: Dink (or Drop Shot), Deep Serve, and Deep Return.

Get Moving

Anyone, from a former professional tennis player to a 90-year-old, can play the game. It is very much about quick hands, lateral movements, and small swings, the coach explains, recommending that players remain in the ready stance. “What I tell everybody is to always keep your hands up and expect that ball to come hard and fast,” Boya says.

How to Stay Safe on the Court

A board-certified doctor of sports medicine gives her tips on how to avoid injury.

While pickleball is generally considered a safe sport, both new and experienced players may encounter some unexpected aches and pains. White Plains Hospital physician Dr. Nicole Solomos, board-certified in Sports Medicine and Lifestyle Medicine, urges aficionados to anticipate various ailments that can result from overuse. “Just like any other activity, you want to vary what you do, so that you are using different muscles and not overdoing the same motions that can introduce injuries,” Dr. Solomos says. Because physical and social activity is just so good for us, she adds, keep on playing — but prepare yourself before picking up a paddle.

Strength Training

People are less likely to injure themselves if they make a habit of strength training as part of their routines, says Dr. Solomos. She recommends utilizing resistance of any type, such as bands, weights, or your own bodyweight, to build muscle.

Cardiovascular Endurance

Dr. Solomos suggests that rather than going from the couch to the court, build up your physical condition by slowly increasing daily activity, with a focus on improving balance, to avoid falls. People tend to have less stability as they age, so lunging forward or backward for a shot can result in a slip, and sometimes bone fractures or strains in the wrist and other areas.

Shoulder, Wrist Strain, and Pickleball Elbow

Joints and tissues tend to degenerate as we get older, though the repetitive motions of the game can cause issues for players of any age. “You can certainly strain or tear the rotator cuff,” Dr. Solomos says, “and lateral epicondylitis, which is known as tennis elbow, can happen in pickleball too; it can be the result of too much wrist extension. And if your paddle is not the proper size or you are gripping it too tightly, you can get wrist tendonitis.”

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