Is your HOA looking to repurpose underutilized assets? Here’s is an engineer’s perspective on one way to utilize the tennis courts on your property and once again make them an asset for residents. The article takes a fun look at a fast-growing sport that may be a good fit for your community association.
An Addictive Phenomenon
I will take some of the blame, but in all fairness, I did not know it was addictive. I am talking, of course, about the sport of pickleball. Six years ago, in this section of Condo Media, I presented the article “Pickleball, Anyone?” My goal was noble; I wanted to provide a solution to the many idle tennis courts in Maine’s condominium and HOA communities due to aging boomers with bad knees and arthritic limbs putting down their tennis rackets. This has resulted in unused common assets that were both expensive to maintain and difficult to convert to other uses given the bylaw restraints.
At the time, I observed this trend while performing reserve fund studies and hearing the complaints from the board or property managers who requested options in dealing with unwanted tennis courts. My research of pickleball around the country revealed the sport provided a win-win solution. Rather than doing away with under-utilized tennis courts, the community could convert each court into two pickleball courts of 20 feet by 44 feet, each with an economical portable 34-inch-high net. The investment in personal equipment was minimal. Good athletic cross-training shoes were a must, but the clothing was anything comfortable and casual. The solid composite material paddle was inexpensive, being only twice the size of a ping pong paddle. Indeed, the sport has been described as playing ping pong while standing on the table. In fact, it is sort of a combination of ping pong, badminton, and tennis. The ball is like a thick skinned whiffle ball with a top speed of less than one-third a tennis ball.
RULES OF THE GAME
So as not to sound like a set of IKEA instructions, I will be brief on the specifics of the game. There are only 5 basic rules:
- Rule 1: The ball must stay inbounds.
- Rule 2: There must be one bounce per side.
- Rule 3: You must serve at the baseline.
- Rule 4: Serves cannot land in the no-volley zone (called the kitchen).
- Rule 5: The game ends at 11, 15, or 21 points.
With all the serves being underhanded and the ball traveling at modest speeds, the players do not have to be exceptionally athletic. The underhanded serve must bounce once on both the serve and return, and then it only must be kept inbounds. Balls returned without a bounce (called a volley) must be at least 7 feet from the net to prevent spiking. Typical games are played to 11 points, and like most racket sports, a player must win by two points. Points can only be earned while serving.
Beginners can learn the game quickly at their own pace while experienced players can have quick, fast-paced, competitive games. Players can be of mixed ages. The average player across the country is 38 years old with 53% being male and 47% being female. Whole families—from the grandkids to the grandparents—can participate in the same game. It is a very social game. It is usually played with doubles and with games ending with a low number of points, the quick turnover of the games allows many people to play in a short span of time. As the games are usually played close together, it is an ideal activity for people to meet others on a casual basis, allowing new friendships to blossom.
Given the demographics in many condo communities, perhaps the greatest gift of this sport is the health benefits to community members of all ages. It gives a boost to the cardiovascular system to help prevent unwanted aging problems such as hypertension, stroke, and heart attack. At the same time, it improves balance, agility, reflexes, and hand-eye coordination without putting excess strain on the body. Perhaps this explains why in the last two years, pickleball has reportedly been the fastest growing sport in the United States with over 4.8 million players and tournaments and venues seeming to pop up everywhere. Maine has hosted three New England Regional Tournaments in the last year. There is even an ‘app’ called Places2Play which directs participants to places to play in every corner of the country.
As I said earlier, when I first recommended the sport, I had very little playing time and was not in a position to warn you of its addictiveness. Now with more experience, I must add this additional warning from the USA Pickleball Association (USAPA): pickleball is “highly contagious.” The consequences of introducing pickleball to your community may be irreversible.