How hard can it be, right? A miniature tennis court. An oversized ping pong paddle. And a virtual wiffle ball. Oh, but do not be fooled my friend, Pickleball is a study in human behavior and inner issues. It ranges from the simple fan to the extreme fanatic. The former tennis player to the present housewife. The former college athlete to the “I was never picked for any team.” In the middle of the world of pickleball pandemonium I was thrown. Or, well I threw myself. However, I was unprepared for what I would discover about my own heart.
When we moved to our new home in Georgia, I felt the Lord tell me I needed to be intentional about making friends. So, I researched the neighborhood app, crazy, but that is a thing, and discovered that they had a beginner Pickleball class. For the previous six months, multiple friends had been crooning over their new found love of all things Pickleball. They had even tried to get me and Philly out there to no avail. However, Pickleball 101 felt like a common playing field to make new friends.
I talked Philly into going with me. On the outdoor courts in rural Georgia, we met eight other wide-eyed beginners. Our Pickleball pro, Drew, yes that is a thing, too, was more like a California surfer boy or ski instructor than something you would think to find on a mini tennis court. But his enthusiasm and kindness won me and Philly over quickly. First, you must realize there is a big difference between me and Philly. Philly was born with a football in his hand and came home from the hospital wearing a jersey. Virtually every picture on the hallway wall of his family home has him with a number on his chest. His father was a football coach his entire life, and Philly played football and baseball through his school years and throughout college. Thus, he birthed very competitive children as well.
I, however, grew up in more of a musical family. By the time I was six or seven my older brother and I were singing with my mom and dad at the church where my dad pastored. We all took piano whether we wanted to or not. My younger brother was a trumpet major in college, and toured many years after in bands. I came to Nashville to sing. And my older brother was a worship pastor for a few years. Both my mom and dad played instruments and thus, you get the picture. Music was the atmosphere in our home. My older brother did play baseball until he broke his arm in middle school, and then he played tennis in high school. My baby brother had a brief run at football, and I had a few recreational encounters in forced P.E., and one year playing on our church softball team, only to be asked by my cousin, “Are you planning on playing next year?” Other than that, my only experience was the humiliation of being picked last most of the time in P.E. class because of my height. So, picking up any sport for me was monumental.
Right after Philly and I married I decided to pick up golf. Beautiful locations. Cute clothes. Hanging with my man. It was a no-brainer. There was a quaint little par three close to our house, and they had a lady’s clinic. I decided I would give it a try and thoroughly enjoyed myself, though I didn’t like it quite enough to practice day after day to get better. However, I did love going with Philly, playing a few holes, and then reading a book while I rode in the cart for the remainder of his round. Shortly after I started taking lessons, Philly had a business trip to California for work. He decided he was going to take his clubs, and he humored me and purchased me a travel golf case so I could take the clubs I had purchased because of the pretty colors of the golf bag. (As I type this, I’m having a better understanding of how my golf playing went south.) We arrived at a local course one morning for a very early tee time. However, there was something greatly amiss about this experience. It had never crossed my mind that other people might be playing with us. We had always played just the two of us, or with my baby brother, who I didn’t care what he thought about my golf abilities. We had never, and I mean never, played with strangers. A man and his son pulled up in their cart and that was when the heart palpitations started.
“We have to play with other people?” My voice shook.
“Yes, babe, it’s too busy this morning for us to play by ourselves.”
The knot in my throat made it almost impossible to speak. “You never mentioned other people.
I’m not good enough to play with other people.”
“I’ll tell them you are a beginner.” He tried to reassure me. “They’ll understand.”
Now I had taken enough classes and played enough rounds to know how to hit a fairly good driver. It was my 3 wood that mocked me. But, no amount of knowledge that I was completely capable of hitting the ball off the tee was assuring enough. He pulled the cart up to the first tee. They teed off from the more skilled “tee box.” They all hit beautiful drives. Then Philly pulled the cart up to the shortest tee box and I climbed out. I walked up with my oversized driver. I looked cute. Salmon colored pants. White crew neck shirt with a purple polo sweater over top for the cool California morning. I pushed the tee into the soft soil. Sat my hot pink ball on top. As I stood back, driver in hand, my mind was running through all the positions I had learned in my golf clinic. But, I could not get my mind off the six eyes that were staring holes in my back.
“You got it, babe.” Philly’s words came from behind me.
As my arms pulled my driver back, they began to shake and quake as if I had consumed fifty-four espressos prior to our arrival. They never stopped shaking the entire way back down either. When the head of my club finally made impact with the hot pink golf ball, the ball dinked off of the tee and landed about three feet in front of me. My face flushed fire. My legs wobbled underneath me. I slunk towards my ball and picked it up and headed back to the cart, head hung down, humiliated.
“I am not doing this.” I announced in a crying whisper when my legs pulled themselves inside the cart. “I am not humiliating myself. I am just going to sit here in the cart.”
I am not sure what got into Philly, but he wasn’t having it. In our previous five years of marriage he had never really scolded me. But he was making up for lost time. “You are not quitting. You are going to get out there and at least finish this hole.” He announced in a rather loud and animated voice.
“I am not!” I spat back. “I am not making a fool of myself!”
“They know you are just beginning. You need to do this. You need to get out there and finish.” Our golf cart felt like it was speeding up.
I crossed my arms. “Well, I am not, and you can’t make me. And I don’t want them waiting on me out here while I look like I’m playing “Whac-a-mole.”
He pulled up to his ball. “Drop your ball here with me.”
The men we were playing with pulled up next to us. They offered genuine encouragement.
Philly calmed himself. His voice far less parental. “Just finish this hole.”
The men drove off to find their own balls, so their eyes were off me. My heart settled slightly. I climbed out of the cart and grabbed my 3 wood. I dropped my ball and glared at Philly. My first swing scooped a pound of earth and reverberated through my entire right arm and came out through my elbow. My second swing connected with what now looked like a hot pink tic tac and landed maybe thirty yards in front of me. I would finish the hole. But I would spend the rest of the time finding the most beautiful California pinecones in the woods. To this day, that stack of pinecones I brought home fosters the best of stories, and they look lovely in the copper container in the center of the breakfast table in the fall season.
However, this experience would be front of mind as I entered the world of Pickleball…