Outside pickleball nets have come down for the season, however you possibly can nonetheless play

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With winter’s fading daylight comes another reason for seasonal blues: empty pickleball courts stripped of their nets and dignity, their gates sealed with padlocks that ensure even the most enticed devotee stays outside.

I’ll admit I wasn’t prepared for how depressed I would feel when the nets fell at my regular outdoor pickleball hangouts. A scene that brought so much joy in spring and summer seemed to go underground after that first snowfall of the year. But as it turns out, you can find a pickleball game during Minnesota’s colder months — if you know where to look.

“There are actually a lot of opportunities, but they’re not seen well,” said Twila Jesso, co-founder of the North Star Pickleball Association and administrator of the Pickleball Minnesota Facebook page.

This fall I started playing on the gym floor once a week at my local community center. Playing in a gym is not a pure pickleball experience – you can accidentally hit the ball against a basketball hoop or low ceiling. And since the gym is reserved for different uses, the rainbow of colored lines on the floor can be confusing when playing. The ball also bounces differently than it would on an outdoor court, and the gym’s lighting can strain eyes of middle-aged people while chasing a fast-paced shot.

But the regulars there, mostly retired women, have been welcoming and can teach a lot about the game to beginners like me. (They asked me the other day if I used to play volleyball because of all the “diving” I’ve been doing. Um, no, ladies – that’s just clumsiness and it’s ruining my back!)

Jesso says if you don’t mind the makeshift nature of these gym courts, they’re your best bet. In some places, you can play for hours after paying a drop-in fee of as little as $2.

More indoor pickleball destinations are popping up to meet demand, and seat reservations fill up at lightning speed in many cases during the winter. Lucky Shots and Minneapolis Cider Co. in Minneapolis, Mega Pickle & Pong in Chanhassen, Picklebarn in Mankato, and the Premier Pickleball Club of Minnesota in Brooklyn Park all offer an outdoor indoor space.

I share this with you because we, the casually possessed, are legion. I was shocked to learn that when we google “pickleball,” our humble, heat-rejecting state of Minnesota ranks fourth nationwide. Unsurprisingly, for our search for “indoor pickleball,” we shoot at number 2, behind only Utah. People also want to hit their pickleball and drink – and cities, centers and private companies have responded.

“Minnesota did an extremely good job,” said Chris Olson, a 26-year-old amateur player from Bloomington known for his paddle reviews and podcast, which he hosts under the Pickleball Studio brand. “When I first started playing, I was told Minnesota was a good hub for pickleball. I thought, ‘That’s not true at all. Four or five months of our year you can’t even play outside.’ But since I’ve traveled to many different states — I’ve played tournaments across the country — Minnesota is actually very spoiled with places. The amount of outdoor seating we have is ridiculous.

Another reason for the expansion is a Minnesota-based behemoth: Life Time. The health club chain says it operates more pickleball specialty courts than any other company in the United States, a claim backed up by the sport’s national governing body. Life Time has built 365 seats in less than a year and a half and plans to surpass 600 by the end of 2023. In Minnesota alone there are 10 clubs with permanent spots, including the North Bloomington Club, which was vacated to make way for a pickleball facility.

The vision behind the expansion belongs to CEO Bahram Akradi, an enthusiast of the game who “was the one who saw Pickleball coming. Not me .

Pant, a lifelong tennis player, added, “What Pickleball is doing, tennis has failed miserably.”

Now he understands the power of Pickleball: An incredibly easy learning curve. A social and inclusive atmosphere. A wealth of health benefits. Lots of ball contacts. He notes that the average point in tennis lasts just three shots, while the average pickleball rally lasts nine shots.

“When people start getting more rallies, it releases all sorts of good chemicals in the brain, and it’s telling you to get happy,” Pant explained. “There is nothing not to like.”

However, Life Time’s high fees aren’t for everyone. As a mediocre player, I can’t justify a $340 monthly club membership for a family of four. So I’ll probably keep playing in the gym this winter – at least until my backhand improves.

It doesn’t take a crystal ball to see that there will be even more opportunities for indoor gaming in the next year or so. A number of beer-and-paddle concepts are planned in suburbs like Maple Grove and Roseville. Pant said significant competition will only make the industry better. And he thinks recreational pickleball is nowhere near where the growth is headed.

“People go nuts,” he said, “because there are too many good things happening in this sport.”

So keep drinking and keep your skills sharp, Minnesota. You know the glorious first outdoor game of 2023 will be worth the wait.

How to find an indoor pickleball court near you

  • Check your local city government’s website and call nearby recreation centers, such as the YMCA or a Jewish community center, for pickleball deals. You might be surprised to learn that there are hidden gems in nearby elementary schools with modest drop-in fees or punch cards.
  • While you can find many listings of local courts online, a map curated by the Twin Cities Pickleball Club (bit.ly/3VzkzDH) stands out from the crowd as locations are color-coded to indicate indoor or outdoor courts, and whether it is whether they are “true” or “lined” sites. Another resource is places2play.org, operated by USA Pickleball, but check with local organizers for up-to-date game times.
  • Join Pickleball Minnesota, the Twin Cities Pickleball Club Group, or other Facebook groups to learn more about options near you. It is common for members to share information about leagues and open matches. There are smaller groups on Facebook that serve pickleball communities by city or even by specific park or facility.
  • Consider indoor pickleball destinations like Lucky Shots and Mega Pickle & Pong, where you can pre-book a seat or register for open games. Life Time members can also use pickleball courts at various locations throughout the Twin Cities.