Wednesday: Still trying to figure it out

I know the problem. I know how it’s supposed to work.

And the answer isn’t coming to me.

“C’mon Bill. You know how to do this. Just relax, and you’ll figure it out.”

Sometimes, it comes. Sometimes, it doesn’t.

Sometimes, it’s a math equation. Sometimes, it’s pickleball.

The unit in my high school gym class was called “lifetime sports.” I think we only did it one year, and it was volleyball, some combination of table tennis, tennis, racquetball and bowling (memory is fuzzy) … and this game called pickleball.

We played it in class for a week or two, and then the school held a couple tournaments, one singles and one doubles.

I played in both, might have won one match in each, then promptly forgot about it for the next 25 years or so.

Let’s just say there are very few places where you can be a “kid” at 47 years old.

When I mention pickleball, the people who haven’t heard of it ask what it is, and the easiest answer is “old people tennis.”

The court is a little narrower and a little longer, but is basically the size of half a tennis court, and although it’s tight, you can fit three courts on a basketball court.

And most of the people in the three years since I started playing have been older, some a lot older. Let’s just say there are very few places where you can be a “kid” at 47 years old.

It means my style of play is a little different than most other people’s, in that speed is a big part of my game. One of my favorite shots is flying across the court for a short ball, whipping it down the line or through the middle and then admiring my handiwork while everyone else marvels at it.

Granted, as often as not, I hit it out of bounds or serve up an easy return for my opponents on a mostly empty court because I’ve left my partner alone, but when it hits, it’s pretty sweet.

I could hit the absolute tar out of the ball, and because I was a pretty good athlete for my mid- 40s (now my late 40s), I could run, and had good hands and feet.

All of which was wonderful … not so wonderful was my inability to keep the ball within the lines, which is mildly important.

I started playing a few years ago because I wanted to stop being a slug. I had just started my exercise class, and Suzi was going away for the weekend with a girlfriend. The town recreation department was offering a try-it-out pickleball session at the local tennis center, so I gave it a try.

I was awful.

I could hit the absolute tar out of the ball, and because I was a pretty good athlete for my mid- 40s (now my late 40s), I could run, and had good hands and feet.

All of which was wonderful … not so wonderful was my inability to keep the ball within the lines, which is mildly important.

Also, did you know it was possible to hit the ball in such a way that once it landed, the spin would make it jump left or right, leaving you to flail away at where you assumed the ball would be?

But it sparked something in me, something that had largely been dormant for several years.

My competitiveness.

I am extremely competitive, to the point where I try to back off on making everything a competition because it does kind of make me a monster, but actual opportunities had grown few and far between.

Pickleball, however, gives me a reason to let that side loose, where the only thing that matters is trying … to … beat … you.

It does has its downsides. I can handle losing, but I’m not so good at playing badly. It’s a weakness. I’m working on it. I think I’m making progress.

But make no mistake, no matter how much I like you, and I won’t yell at or trash-talk you unless it’s in good fun, if you’re on the other side of the net, I want to take you down.

I promise we can still be friends afterward.

Every time I play is a chance to figure out something more, to add another piece. When it’s going well, I feel like I can do anything, which is good, because I’ll pretty much try anything.

Not long after I started playing, Suzi found the U.S. Open pickleball tournament on TV. One of the first things they showed — after a guy whiffed on a wide-open smash, causing me to say, “I can do that!” — was some statistics on competitors in the tournament, including that the oldest was 90.

Well, it is a “lifetime sport.”

“Hey, I have 45 years to figure this game out!” I said to Suzi.

I’m not sure she was amused.

Every time I play is a chance to figure out something more, to add another piece. When it’s going well, I feel like I can do anything, which is good, because I’ll pretty much try anything.

But then there are the days when it’s not working, where I know all the parts of the equation, but can’t make the figures work out.

When it’s a place I’ve never been comfortable because I have trouble seeing, and everything is a little bit off.

Shots that would normally find lines are drifting wide or long. Volleys that I normally put away ferociously are slamming harmlessly into the top of the net.

My footwork, normally smooth, is a half-step slow or six inches off. I step on the side of my foot getting in position for a backhand and wind up flat on my back pretending to do snow angels on the court.

I will be back, though.

You can be sure of that.

To see the previous days of my project to write a story from each day this week —

Sunday: Lunch with friends

Monday: Greetings from the post office

Tuesday: Ugh … just ugh

 

 

9 thoughts on “Wednesday: Still trying to figure it out

  1. I must admit, tying to learn a new sport later in life can be a bit daunting, if not a trial of the will. When I was 48 years old I tried out for an all female roller derby team here in town. I made it to the second round before I was eliminated, apparently they thought I and another lady my age were, a bit too aggressive. I was like, it’s freaking roller derby, it’s suppose to be aggressive, go figure?

    Liked by 1 person

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