Pickleball 101: The Game, The Jargon, and Where To Play
You can be 8 or 80, fit or flabby. Pickleball, the nation’s and area’s booming sports craze, has a place for you.
Photos by Roberto Gonzalez
Maybe you’ve accidentally entered the kitchen to hit a dink. Or maybe you’ve lobbed a falafel or needed a flapjack but ended up being pickled. If so, you’re one of about 3,000 Central Floridians who have been bitten by the pickleball bug. The nearly inevitable result: an infectious addiction to a sport that comes with its own oddball jargon and an instantaneous social circle.
Just ask Glori Kaczmarek, who was in search of a new social circle after a move from Pennsylvania to Winter Park. “It’s a great way to meet people,” she insists. And she’s met all kinds.
“It’s a nice sport for couples. It’s a nice sport if you’re single. It’s a nice sport if you’re young. It’s a nice sport if you’re old. There are no barriers. Everybody plays together, and don’t underestimate anybody’s talent.” After all, she says, pickleball is not about physical prowess. It’s about “finesse and strategy.”
The Best of Three Worlds
So what is pickleball, anyway? Think of it as a user-friendly mash of badminton, ping pong and tennis.
“You’re chasing a plastic whiffle ball around the court, which is the same size as a badminton court,” explains instructor and local USA Pickleball ambassador Dave Vander Weide of Winter Garden. “Plus they’ve added in some special rules that make the game more enjoyable and fair to everybody.”
It’s so enjoyable that 48.3 million Americans have played pickleball once or more in the past year, according to the Association of Pickleball Professionals. That’s a 35 percent jump since August 2022.
And let’s not blow past that part about pickleball professionals, because, yes, there are professionals. In January, Orlando scored its own major league pickleball team, the Orlando Squeeze, bringing the total number of U.S. teams to 24.
But most people, as in roughly one in 19 Americans, just play for fun. For Shelley St. John of Orlando, the fun begins at 7 a.m. each and every day.
“When I go in the morning, I go by myself. You pick partners. Someone wins. You split up and play again with anybody. It’s such a friendly sport.”
—Shelley St. John of Orlando
A tennis player in college, St. John appreciates pickleball’s short learning curve and accessibility. “It’s pretty easy to learn. Someone could show up a month ago and be great now,” she says.
That someone could be young or old, disabled or able-bodied. “One guy has two prosthetic arms. He plays. There’s someone in a wheelchair who plays a lot. There’s a guy who had his three of his fingers amputated. He plays, and they’re good,” she shares.
Just ask 80-year-old Shirley Dey of Orlando, who began playing in 2014. “I’ve got to keep moving, and this is what keeps me going. I’ve got something to look forward to every day,” Dey says.
Like other pickleballers, it’s less about the sport and more about the social interaction for Dey, though she does have one trick up her sleeve: She learned to spin the ball during her tennis days. “That’s the only way I can get a point,” she laughs.
Becoming a Pickler
Before long, pickleball players find themselves growing sweeter on the sport. Vander Weide remembers how he “got killed” the first time he played, 13 or 14 years ago, but how he felt compelled to come back for more.
“For most people, it’s a combination of playing something that can be competitive [while] they’re having fun, they’re socializing, they’re meeting other people, and they’re also getting exercise out of the deal,” he says.
Over the years, he’s seen a shift in the sport’s demographics. A 2023 Association of Pickleball Professionals study puts the average player’s age at 34.8.
“When I first started out, the perception was it was an old person’s sport,” Vander Weilde recalls. “But over the years, that has drastically changed. It’s becoming much more athletic. There’s a lot of young players in their teens and early 20s who are coming out.”
Among those is 30-year-old Matt English of Minneola, who began playing about eight years ago with his dad when his parents moved to The Villages. “When I first went down there with them, we saw all these courts around. I had no idea what pickleball even was,” English says.
He continues to play with his dad as he can, but they each have found their own group of fellow picklers. English, who describes himself as “not athletic” while “not a couch potato, either,” plays three days a week as his primary source of physical activity.
But he fills the gaps by talking about the sport he has grown to love. “My wife hates it so much because it’s all I talk about at home,” he laughs.
But is pickleball just a fad that will someday find itself relegated to the ranks of Jazzercise or step aerobics? Not a chance, Vander Weilde insists. “It’s here to stay, definitely. I don’t see a ceiling on it.”
Talk Like a Pickler
So what’s a kitchen, a dink, a falafel and a flapjack? And what on earth does it mean to be pickled? Here’s a crash course in pickleball jargon.
Kitchen: The no-volley zone 7 feet from either side of the net.
Dink: A shot that falls into your opponent’s kitchen.
Falafel: A weak volley.
Flapjack: A shot that has to bounce once before being volleyed back legally.
Pickled: Ending the game with no points.
Pickle!: An alert that a player is about to serve the ball.
Pickler: A pickleball fanatic.
Poach: Hitting a shot from your partner’s half of the court.
Find a Court, Find a Team
Want to give pickleball a shot? Try your hand at some of these local courts. Some are outdoors and free to the public; others are indoors and available for a nominal fee.
Donnelly Park, Mount Dora
Barber Park, Orlando
Cady Way Park, Winter Park
Clearone Sports Center, Orlando
Orlando Sports Center, Orlando
South Econ Magic Gym, Orlando
Groveview Park, Sanford
Lee P. Moore Park, Sanford
Goldenrod Recreation Center, Winter Park
Veterans Memorial Park, Winter Garden
Dover Shores Neighborhood Center, Orlando
East Park Pickleball Court, Orlando
Phelps Park, Winter Park
Pickleball Orlando, Orlando
Red Bug Lake Park, Casselberry
Westmonte Park, Altamonte Springs
Downey Park, Orlando
Central Winds Park, Winter Springs
There’s an App for That
Download apps from the App Store and Google Play to help you learn rules, find courts, track scores and find teammates: