Pickleball Is My “Third Place”

Pickleball players tend to fall hard for the sport. 

The path to addiction is so quick that friends and families are often caught off guard.

There’s a reason many of us often hear, “Pickleball, again?!

And it’s not said in the nicest of tones. 

Well, I’m not sure about you, but it occurred to me recently that pickleball is my “third place.”

Coined by urban sociologist Ray Oldenburg, third places refer to venues we visit voluntarily and informally to enjoy people outside of the realms of home and work.

Home is the first place.

Work is the second place.

And for me, pickleball is the third place.

third place pickleball

The third-place concept inspired Starbucks founder Howard Schultz. That’s why the coffee giant offers free WiFi, an attractive ambiance, and baristas who learn your name, all elements to create a place you want to spend time in. And ultimately, buy a $7 Iced Brown Sugar Oatmilk Shaken Espresso.

I can’t sit here and tell you that my local pickleball venues are as inviting as a Starbucks. Most of them smell like rubber and sweat. But here in New York, we don’t have the space or investment power, yet. However, when it comes to fostering community and connections, pickleball fits the third place like a round peg in a round hole. 

Leagues, tournaments, lessons, clinics, and social events help bond people, many looking for connection in an increasingly isolating digital world. Having a regular place to gather and interact with other people fulfills the basic human need for social connection and belonging. As gratifying as home and work can be, that third place can be a real godsend. The community atmosphere combats loneliness. You look forward to seeing your pickleball friends.

I initially started playing pickleball for the exercise, but it’s the connections that keep me coming back for more.

Having a third place to come to has many benefits, including a change of environment, stimulation that provides personal growth, and a venue to recalibrate your mood and outlook.

Pickleball requires strategy, concentration and hand speed, all items that can quickly help you forget any drama at work or trauma from home. Playing the sport forces you to focus solely on the present moment. You can’t be worrying about other things when you’re trying to hit a ball coming at your face at 40mph, even if it made out of plastic. This mindful presence provides a mental break from stresses many of us experience at the first and second place. 

In a sport already known for its third-shot drop, do we have enough room in our vernacular to call it the third place? And is it ironic that I want to come in first place at the third place?

Thanks, Ray Oldenburg, for helping me recognize pickleball’s important place in my life. 

Do you find that pickleball has become the third place in YOUR life?

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