I recently played pickleball for the first time at the old Shaw Middle School in Gorham. I was nervous because I am competitive in everything I do and never want to make a fool of myself, but my friend had assured me the regular players were kind and helpful to new participants.

Pickleball is played with solid racquetball-sized rackets, a wiffle-ball-like ball and a small, tennis-like net. The game itself is played like doubles tennis, with some rule modifications, usually played to 11, but if there are several sideline enthusiasts, the game stops at 8 so players can rotate in more often. There is little to no cost to play.

On this particular morning, there were maybe five men and five women in the gym, mostly retirees. After my friend and I hit the ball against the wall a few times to practice, we were invited to play by two experienced older gentlemen who did indeed take the time to explain the rules and strategies to us before the game.

They played gently at first, and as we got better, they played harder so the game was competitive throughout. We lost 8-0 but laughed and competed all the way through. As we went to sit down to wait for the next game we decided that our goal would be to try to at least win the serve in the next game.

After a half-hour, we lost half the gym, so we only had one court and had to wait a little longer between games. While we were waiting for our turn, we watched the others play, cheered and talked with whomever we were sitting next to. Bob was intent on discussing strategy as we watched, while Pat, Pete and Susan happily chatted about previous racket sport experience, new hobbies and old careers. When the game ended, the next four got up to play. It was all done on an honor system, and we accepted a new doubles partner every time we took the court. I never had the same partner twice, and no one ever winced about having me as a playmate. By the last game, I had not only succeeded at winning a serve but also was on the winning team. I hadn’t made a fool of myself after all.

Years ago, a sports program initiated by the University of Maine called Sports Done Right was created to help recreation and high school programs across the state deal with the ruthless, unhealthy levels of competition and pressure that has unfortunately changed the playing fields across the state.

As a former high school and college athlete and current high school coach, I have seen sports done wrong on too many occasions. Everything that happened at my first pickleball game illustrated what is genuinely good about athletics and could serve as a model for developing a passion for playing and competing, while cultivating a genuine love for sport: exercise, camaraderie, taking turns and civil competition. I can’t wait to go again.

— Special to the Telegram