Pickleball: A Fast-Rising Sport Older Adults Can’t Get Enough Of

We all know the importance of staying active as we age, but the monotony of the same exercise program can get stale after a while. Changing your fitness routine and trying a new sport can keep you motivated to achieve the recommended 150 minutes of exercise a week.

If you’ve always been intimidated by intense racket sports like tennis, the increasingly popular sport of pickleball may be right up your alley.

Pickleball: A Fast-Rising Sport Older Adults Can't Get Enough Of

What Is Pickleball?

In pickleball, players use a pickleball paddle (sometimes referred to as a pickleball racket) to hit a perforated plastic ball across a net. The game combines elements of tennis, badminton and ping-pong, and can be played as singles or doubles matches. Watch this video (YouTube, 2:48 minutes long) to see the game in action.

Pickleball was created in 1965 when former state representative Joel Pritchard and his friends devised a new game to keep their families entertained. Failing to find the shuttlecock to play badminton, they improvised with a wiffle ball, lowered the net and fashioned the very first pickleball paddles from plywood.

Over the years the game has steadily gained traction and more recently, there has been a national explosion of interest in the sport. Between 2010 and 2016, membership of The USA Pickleball Association grew 64%. Today, there are over 2.5 million pickleball participants across the U.S.

“Its growth astounds me,” says CJ Jermstad, the ambassador chair for the USA Pickleball Association (USAPA). Jermstad lives in Grand Haven, Michigan where she plays recreationally and competitively all over the U.S. She got her first taste of the sport five years ago when she was 56-years old. It was her 70-year old father who taught her how to play the game: “I was jealous at how much fun he seemed to be having! We still play a few times a week,” she says.

Basic Pickleball Rules

Pickleball: A Fast-Rising Sport Older Adults Can't Get Enough Of

To start, a player makes an underhand serve of the ball diagonally across the court. The ball must land within the confines of the receiving court. Once the ball is served, the receiving team must let the ball bounce before returning, and the serving team must let it bounce once more before returning.

After the ball has bounced once in each team’s court, both teams can volley the ball by hitting the ball before it bounces or playing it off a bounce (also known as a ground stroke). Points can only be scored by the serving team and points are scored when the receiving team has a fault (any action that stops play due to a rule violation). Games are typically played to 11 points and the winning team must win by 2 points more than the opposing team.

4 Reasons to Pick Up a Pickleball Paddle

1. Pickleball is a great way to improve your fitness.

Pickleball helps you develop and maintain a good level of fitness. Specifically, Jermstad says, “pickleball helps with your coordination, balance, and agility.” And if you’re looking to manage your weight, the quick-paced game is an easy way to burn calories, too. Thirty minutes of casual play can burn 250 calories in a 150 lb person.

2. Pickleball is a low-impact exercise that’s easy on the joints.

An official pickleball court is around 3-4 times smaller than a traditional tennis court, which means longer rallies with less area to cover. This also means less frantic darting back and forth, which is much easier on the knees, elbows and back. While pickleball may be a low-impact exercise, it can escalate quickly into a competitive game that makes you sweat.

3. Pickleball fosters social connections.

Pickleball combines the health benefits of exercise and social connections. Games can be played as single and double matches, and can be played indoors or outdoors. Jermstad enjoys the social aspect of the game the most: “Everyone is friendly even if they play at different levels. Pickleball helps improve my daily social life and boosts my mood.”

4. Pickleball can manage Parkinson’s symptoms.

According to the Parkinson Foundation Western Pennsylvania, pickleball is considered to be an outstanding therapy for patients suffering from Parkinson’s disease. Pickleball combines hand and eye coordination with simple movements that help patients manage their symptoms better. Exercise has long been associated as a vital part of Parkinson’s management.

How to Start Playing

There are over 15,000 indoor and outdoor courts in the U.S. with at least one location in all 50 states. Jermstad recommends visiting USAPA.org and looking at places to play where you can find locations to play pickleball by state and city.

With over 1,400 ambassadors and more than 15,000 members who continually update the places to play directory, there’s sure to be a rousing game of pickleball near you.

About the Writer

Abby Driver

Abby Driver is a freelance journalist and qualified fitness instructor. Based in Cornwall, UK, she writes for a range of publications on health and wellbeing.

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