Game-Time Decisions


We asked pickleball players from all over the country, aged 16 to 86, to look back on their memories of the sport and finish this sentence: “I can remember the first time I…”


“I Can Remember the First Time I…

“…heard that distinctive ‘pop’of the ball hitting the paddle.”

“I was walking through my YMCA, having finished a workout. And I heard this pop, pop, pop; I stuck my head inside the basketball gym, and there was a gentleman giving a lesson. I asked, ‘Hey, what is this?’ And he hands me a wooden paddle and puts me on one side of the net. We started meeting up to play, I became hooked, and when he retired from coaching several months later, I got my Professional Pickleball Registry certification and took over for him.”  

SONNY TANNAN, 44, Laurel, Maryland

Courtesy Sonny Tannan

Courtesy Lydia Blaakman
“…taught people how to play pickleball— at age 82.”

“I was mostly playing tennis until 2017, when I had major back surgery that limited my tennis abilities, so I switched to pickleball. It was a natural transition, but then I got serious about it. We didn’t have it up at my home in the mountains, just tennis courts, so I started teaching a few of the ladies and gentlemen up here how to play on those. Most of the people here are younger than I am 50s, 60s, 70s—but that didn’t matter. I set up games, and people just dropped in. It’s a great way to make new friends. Now we have four pickleball courts painted on the tennis courts and a growing group of enthusiasts—there’s about 60 on our email list—and we’re looking to get some permanent pickleball courts put in. I’m the pickleball ambassador up here.” 

—MAXINE BROWN, 86, Pine Mountain Club and Manhattan Beach, California

Courtesy Christopher Carson

“…realized pickleball restored my health.”

“I was leading a pretty sedentary life, working an office job, busy with family. I became overweight and had high blood pressure, asthma, achy joints. I couldn’t stick to a diet. I tried running. I tried CrossFit. Nothing clicked. Then my little brother asked if I wanted to play pickleball. On June 21, 2020, I met him at nearby courts. We played for two hours. Then I looked at my Apple Watch and saw I had burned about 1,000 calories! I started playing every single day for two to three hours a day. I’ve lost 30 pounds, I don’t have high blood pressure anymore, no signs of asthma. Quite literally, pickleball has saved my life.”  

CHRISTOPHER CARSON, 40, Pleasant Grove, Utah

“…went on a pickleball vacation.”

“A friend and I signed up for the 2017 USAPA Great Lakes Regional in Michigan. It was in July, so my wife and I decided to make a vacation of it with our daughter and twin sons. We camped, picked blueberries, tried rope-climbing, had ice cream at Sherman’s—and played the tournament at courts along the way! It was so great that I said, ‘All our vacations have to be planned around pickleball!’ When we went to the Grand Canyon, we stayed at the JW Marriott Phoenix Desert Ridge to play on their courts. On a getaway weekend recently, we made sure the hotel had courts. We don’t go anywhere now without knowing there are courts nearby; it’s non-negotiable.”

—ROCKY BROWN, 51, Columbia, Maryland

Courtesy Rocky Brown
Courtesy Rocky Brown

“…played with strangers.”

“My husband had been playing and taught me how, but I wasn’t confident in my abilities. One evening I went by myself to the open play at the park. I was standing back, not sure how to get into a game. One of the players invited me to play. That’s what’s so nice about pickleball: People are so encouraging. Now I play at a 4.0 level, but I am always asking people who look like they might not be sure what they’re doing to join my games.”

—NICHOLE MILLER, 41, Grand Rapids

Courtesy Nichole Miller

Courtesy Alix Truong
“…competed in tournaments.” 

“I entered my first local tournament in February 2020
with my dad; I had a tennis background, but didn’t really understand pickleball. But we decided to just go for it, and we won! Fast forward five months. My dad and I signed up for the Virginia Classic. We did really well, and in August 2020, I played my first women’s tournament with one of my now best friends—and we won that. Last January I played my first pro tournament…it was the first time I didn’t place. But I wasn’t upset. Watching other pros play inspired me. It’ll take a while, but I’ll eventually get to their level.”

—ALIX TRUONG, 16, Falls Church, Virginia