The chances are you have heard of pickleball. It was invented by three middle-aged men in 1965 and was named after a dog called Pickles. It’s a mishmash of badminton, ping pong and tennis and uses a ball similar to a wiffle ball. While it’s over 50 years old, the number of players has doubled in the last five years, making it one of the fastest-growing sports in the country.
It now has two national professional tournaments, and proponents of the sport are lobbying to have it included in the Olympics. Pickleball’s most enthusiastic players, the folks playing more than eight times a year, are over 65. But it’s going in popularity with younger people as well. As of June of last year, 33.7 percent of avid players were over the age of 65, and 60 percent were over 55.
“We’re still small and scrappy, but we’re not so innocent anymore,” said Stu Upson, CEO of USA Pickleball, the sport’s official governing body. “People are looking for avenues to have some fun, get some exercise, but do it in an environment that’s not divisive. That’s a pretty important thing in our society today I believe.”
Because interest has grown, access has also become easy. It used to be hard to find pickleball courts. Now they are all over the place! You can look up your zip code on the USA Pickleball Association website and find a location near you. Beginners are welcome, it’s easy to learn and the equipment is usually provided. And pickleball courts are mostly indoors, so you don’t have to worry about the weather upsetting your game.
The court is much smaller than tennis, so you don’t have to be as agile or fit to play, especially if you play doubles — it’s not as much running about. It’s meant to be a fun, light sport with plenty of socialization and getting to know the other players. And it has enormous health benefits. People who played pickleball for an hour three days a week for six weeks improved their blood pressure, cholesterol and cardiorespiratory levels. It also boosts your fitness level, decreases arthritis pain and aids reflexes, balance and range of motion. While the court is much smaller and you don’t have to run as much, the ball stays “in play” longer. You move more without stopping, even though it isn’t as strenuous. That means it’s gentler on the joints while helping players get a great workout!
Pickleball also boosts companionship. “It’s not this individual journey, like going to the gym by yourself to walk on the treadmill,” said Chris Gagliardi, a spokesperson for the American Council on Exercise. “You can play doubles, you can have a teammate, and someone is expecting you. For some people, it can be the only socializing they may have that week.”
“Because this is a sport with two people playing together, you have that engagement,” said Dr. Jonathan Casper, an associate professor of sports management at North Carolina State Univ. “And people are so passionate about pickleball — they look for opportunities to show other people and share their enjoyment. That’s more so with pickleball than any other sport that I’ve studied.”
The sport is so much fun because it’s easy to learn, not too physically demanding and still fast-paced. You can enjoy it no matter your age! “I teach seven-year-olds and 78-year-olds who all walk off the court with a massive smile on their face. Pickleball is a sport everyone enjoys,” said pickleball pro Matt Manasse.
Ed Wertz plays the sport and cofounded a company that makes pickleball paddles. He sells paddles to people of all ages and whole families. “Though people of a variety of ages are spectators of many sports, I’ve never seen a sport with such mass appeal to players crossing over all age groups the way pickleball does.”
“Pickleball is a sport that seniors can play with relative ease and find enjoyable, which is important as age and medical conditions may make some sports more difficult to continue as we get older,” says Dr. Edward Laskowski, a specialist in physical medicine, rehabilitation and sports medicine at Mayo Clinic.
With these benefits and testimonials in mind, we highly recommend checking out pickleball. It’s not often we are so enthusiastic about our suggestions. This is a fun, easy way to get into exercise that is a game rather than a workout. You can play it with any of your friends or family members. So play and boost your health and well-being at the same time!