According to recent data from the Association of Pickleball Professionals (APP), pickleball is more popular than ever, with the number of players nearing 5 million in the United States alone. As more people of all ages and skills join in on the sport, senior citizens are among some of the most avid participants. Players aged 55 and older were the largest age bracket of pickleball players in 2021, making up close to 20% of total participants. And they’re still going strong.
What is Pickleball?
America’s fastest-growing sport is a unique combination of tennis, ping pong, and badminton. It can be played either indoors or outdoors. The court is 20 x 44 feet, with the net set at 34 inches high in the middle. Some people play on regular tennis courts that have been modified for pickleball matches. Played as either a singles or doubles game, the team (or person) who reaches 11 points (ahead by at least 2 points) wins. Only the serving team can earn points. For more detailed rules, check out USA Pickleball’s rules summary.
The game was invented by three dads, Joel Pritchard, Bill Bell, and Barney McCallum, on Bainbridge Island, Washington looking for something to do with the kids during the summer of 1965. Their family-friendly concept has grown ever since, with close to 8,500 places to play pickleball in the U.S., with more popping up regularly nationwide.
Why is Pickleball so Popular?
If you are not a player, you may wonder what all the pickleball hype is about. With celebrity fans and players like Bill Gates, Ellen DeGeneres, Super Bowl champ Nick Foles, tennis player Andre Agassi, and fitness professional Jillian Michaels, it’s no wonder the pickleball trend is getting so much attention.
And they love pickleball for a reason…many reasons, and everyday seniors are joining the ranks of Americans falling in love with the sport. These are the top reasons why they’re grabbing their paddles and playing pickleball.
It’s Easy to Learn to Play
It’s not complicated to learn the rules of pickleball. Unlike other sports that can be confusing at first, pickleball is relatively simple, making getting started a snap. Remember, the three dads who invented the game had their kids in mind when coming up with the concept.
Low-Impact Cardio Activity
According to a study published by Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise, “pickleball is higher in intensity, expends more calories, and is more enjoyable than walking at a self-selected speed.”
With a smaller court than used for tennis, there’s less running around to reach the ball in pickleball. That said, there is still a good amount of cardiovascular activity, which is more appealing for older players who may not be able to run as quickly or put as much pressure on their joints with quick sprints.
It Helps with Balance, Reflexes, and Range of Motion
As we age, engaging in activities to keep our reflexes sharp and our bodies aligned is essential. Games of strategy like pickleball challenge the reflexes as the ball goes back and forth over the net, with hand-eye coordination at the forefront. Being on your feet and ready to move helps with strength and balance, two things we need to protect as we age, especially for those who live independently.
The movements required to play pickleball can improve range of motion, keeping muscles and joints in good shape, which is especially important for seniors with arthritic or related symptoms.
Great for Socialization
Some seniors may have different social networks than they used to when they were younger. And often, their circle gets smaller. Loneliness can be mentally and emotionally draining and cause isolation and boredom. Pickleball is a great way to meet new people with at least one similar interest. Just getting out there and socializing is an instant mood booster. Socializing has been shown to reduce the risk of dementia and may contribute to a longer life.
More Free Time to Spend Doing Something Leisurely
Seniors who are retired likely have more time on their hands to try something new. It’s never too late to learn to play pickleball. Relaxing is undoubtedly part of a well-deserved retirement, but being active can be just as enjoyable. Even playing once a week is beneficial for a well-rounded routine.
It is encouraging to look forward to something fun, spending time with others, and striving to improve athletically.
What’s Next for Pickleball?
While pickleball’s popularity is soaring, it is not yet an Olympic sport. But it may not be long before we see Olympic-level competition, maybe as soon as 2028. For those who enjoy watching the professionals, the PPA tour is a great way to see some of the best players at their peak.
Do you see pickleball in your future? Why not start now?