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Pickleball IS NOT “Just a Game”

By Justin Umbs, Team GAMMA Contracted Player |

Chances are, since you’re reading this, you already have it. You have “the pickleball bug.” But why does this happen? Why does almost every player as soon as they pick up a paddle for the first time, become addicted? Let’s dive a little deeper.

As a graduate of Slippery Rock University (go Pride!), I received my degree in Health and Physical Education. During my time at SRU was when I was first introduced to pickleball. We were taught it in one of our classes as an “introductory racquet sport.” The idea was to teach pickleball to young children before teaching them tennis or table tennis. Pickleball was the preferred entry level racquet sport because players do not have to account for near as much power or spin as they do in the previously mentioned sports. This allows for much more success early on in pickleball as compared to tennis and table tennis. This success makes us feel good right off the bat, which makes us want to play even more! This can be easily related to many of you golfers out there (me included). As average as I am at golf, I generally find myself always wanting to golf more as soon as I’m done. Although I could golf poorly all day (I generally do), hitting just one good shot is an addicting feeling. It makes me want to try to hit that shot, over and over again. This is the feeling that pickleball offers, and on a much more frequent basis. We LOVE that feeling of hitting a great shot. In my opinion, this terrific feeling of hitting a really nice shot, also encourages one of the most common mistakes in pickleball, lack of patience. We want to hit that nice shot and we want to hit it now! That is much more fun that dinking the ball 5, 10, or 15 more times to set up the “right” shot!

Justin and friends at the English Open

So, at this point you’re probably saying, “Okay, Justin, we get it. Pickleball makes you feel good. But what does this have to do with pickleball being more than just a game?” To answer that question, we don’t have to look far. The simple answer is, look at the relationships you have formed since you started playing pickleball. Take me for example. I’ve been playing the game for about 3 years now, my wife a little bit longer than that. We had 2 full tables of pickleballers at our wedding. As anyone who’s gotten married, you know that bad feeling of having to “cut” down your guest list. Had we been able to invite everyone we wanted, we would’ve had MANY more pickleballers at our wedding! However, had we not started pickleball, we would have never been friends with any of these people. Not only are these people my friends, I consider them some of my closest friends. Pickleball has this innate ability to bring people together like no other sport I’ve ever played (and I’ve pretty much played them all). I cannot fathom going to a hockey tournament, crashing at the opposing team’s house for the weekend, and going out to dinner and drinks with them after the game. This sort of thing just doesn’t happen in other sports. This is the exact intangible that makes pickleball so much more than just a game. The number of true friends I have made through this wonderful game, is truly impossible to count. It began for me at my first tournament, the Kalamazoo Regional in 2017. As I go back and look at all the teams I played against that weekend, I am now friends with almost all of them. This stands true for pretty much every tournament I have played since then. As a matter of a fact, I have a young gentleman from the UK staying with me and my wife during the Gamma Classic this year. We first met playing against each other at the US Open last year. This is what makes pickleball so much more than, “just a game.” Meeting someone from another country (an opponent nonetheless) and a year later they’re crashing at your house for an entire weekend! To me, that’s pretty darn cool.  

So now, two and a half years after my first tournament, pickleball has made an immeasurable positive impact on my life, as I’m sure it has for all of you. The amount of fantastic relationships I have created in this small time is truly amazing. It has made such an impact on me, that I have decided to try to turn pickleball into a full-time job. Being able to run a 6 court pickleball facility and see the impact this game has on all our players on a daily basis, is a true joy for me. I love the idea of being able to spread the joy of pickleball to as many people as possible in hopes that it will positively affect all of them as it has me. And I know it will. These friendships and bonds are why the number of pickleball players have exploded in recent years and why it will continue to grow exponentially. The most important question you must ask yourself is, if you’re not playing pickleball yet, why not!?


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