Pickleball is more than just a sport with a cool name. It's become a way of life, a social and competitive sport that is easy to learn but hard to master. That is, according to local pickleball player, coach and Sarasota Pickleball Organization founder Terry Ryan. Ryan, aka "Pickleball Terry," encourages her students to have fun playing the fast-paced sport, at the same time recognizing that its popularity is growing with competitors all over the world.

This past April, more than 2,000 players from around the country joined the Pickleball U.S. Open in Naples. Ryan and a few players from Sarasota competed in the televised event and took home some gold and bronze medals. The Naples center currently has 59 pickleball courts with space to grow, and Ryan is hoping that Sarasota's pickleball scene will follow suit. Currently, there are 14 different indoor and outdoor courts in the county.

"I worked with the city as an ambassador and I've had people call about where to play pickleball when they come down to visit," says Ryan. "This shows how much this sport is growing."

The USA Pickleball Association names more than 4,000 locations to play nationwide. Washington state is the most popular place, and it's also where the sport began. It started in 1965, when Joel Pritchard and Bill Bell came home to their bored families after a day of golfing on Bainbridge Island, Washington. The families decided to play badminton, but didn't have enough racquets, so they used ping pong paddles and a whiffle ball. And just like that, pickleball was born.

The rules were fleshed out in 1967. The net was lowered to 36 inches and the court was lined out. A corporation called Pickleball, Inc., began selling equipment for the game.

"The game is nothing like tennis, even though the courts look like smaller versions of it," says Ryan. "It's fast-moving, and requires coordination and endurance."

Sarasota Pickleball Organization players.

As a certified coach and USA Pickleball Association ambassador, Ryan teaches several clinics and lessons for beginner to advanced players. She stumbled across the sport herself when she moved from upstate New York and was working out at a local YMCA. She saw people using paddles to hit the whiffle ball across a tiny net and was handed a paddle to play. She's been passionate about the sport ever since.

In 2017, Ryan started the Sarasota Pickleball Organization when a group of local players had trouble coordinating times and places to play. Ryan sends out newsletters to her more than 2,000 subscribers every Sunday about schedule information, upcoming tournaments and tips for play. Her blog details her own adventures with the sport, like her recent participation in the U.S. Open.

"I had a great partner, Rich Rollins, from The Villages," says Ryan. "We won two rounds, lost three, but we still had the best time. Tournaments are a great way to network, socialize and for retired folks to just go out and have a good time." 

When starting out, Ryan suggests learning how to count the score. "It's not like tennis. You have to keep the paddle in front of you," says Ryan. "You want to get up to the net, not pop the ball up and give the opponent an opportunity to slam it." She suggests wearing court shoes, not just running shoes, and being prepared to move around a lot (bring water). If you want to join a group practice, check out the organization's schedule.

Terry Ryan, "Pickleball Terry" and her husband, Kenan.

"It brings me a lot of pride to see students improve so much and become so confident," says Ryan. "The group watches out for each other, and this extends to going out to lunch, birthday parties and going to dinner together. It keeps us young."

For a list of county parks with pickleball courts, click here. For more information about Sarasota Pickleball Organization, click here or call (941) 400-0978.

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