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Pickleball takes cautious approach to reopening competitive games

Club members are excited play again.

St. Albert's pickleball club resumed organized play on Monday.

Club president, Eileen McClean, said they have been cautious about safety throughout the pandemic, and only had one COVID scare.

“We encouraged people to wear masks because it was a small quarter and many people did,” said McClean. “We only had one case of COVID, which happened at the very beginning of the season, and because we have sign-ins, when the health system called me, I was able to contact all of the people who had been on the court at that time with that person.”

The relative success of the pickleball club in curbing COVID has been positive, but they don’t plan on taking things easy now that restrictions are lifted. McClean said the club is still encouraging people to continue safe practices to help avoid any more incidences.

“I’ve sent out a letter to the members saying, ‘Please feel free to wear your masks if you so choose and please sanitize.’ Even though it’s not required, it is a good policy to have in place,” said McClean. “I’ve asked my captains to keep in practice. We can’t enforce this, for our members to go out one way and come in the other.”

As for game play, the club operates on a ranking system that assigns numbers to players based on skill. Beginners typically start at 2.0, while more advanced players are at 4.0. This helps players have balanced games against each other. It also allows for more advanced players to pair up with beginners to act as coaches and mentors.

Club members are excited play competitive games again.

“When you get to the 3.5 to 4.0 level you really like a competitive game,” said McClean. “People want to play with skilled people at their level.”

Pickleball has been on the obscure side of sports for some time. It doesn’t get as much media attention as badminton and tennis.

“I used to be a tennis player ... I’ve never lifted my tennis racket once I was shown (pickleball),” said McClean.

She said pickleball prides itself on the idea of inclusivity and camaraderie. It hasn’t reached the pinnacle of the public eye quite yet, but she is hopeful as she has seen more kids pick up the sport in recent years.

“It is the fastest growing game in the world,” said McClean. “The younger ones, who have better mobility, are taking the game by storm. Communities can’t keep up with creating courts.”

Another key difference that sets the sport aside from others is that all ages can play together. Unlike the age tiers of hockey and baseball, pickleball features matches pairing youths against adults. It all depends on the skill level of the players.

“In pickleball, the youth are learning the game in schools,” said McClean. “We have taught kids in our school here and they are coming out to play.”

Under-18 players must have a guardian present at the club while they play, but they are welcomed with open arms.

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