What makes pickleball the perfect game for seniors?

Pickleball is the latest craze among the active older set. Have you heard of pickleball?

It’s a court sport played with paddles (like ping pong) in the space of about half a tennis court using a plastic ball (about softball sized) that looks and acts very much like the whiffle ball you used to teach your kid how to hit with a plastic bat off a tee. Scoring is much like volleyball — you have to serve to score — and the return of serve must bounce before it is played. But don’t step in “the kitchen” (a 7 foot deep non-volley zone) or you lose the point.

Sound like a kids game? Definitely. But as it turns out, it’s especially popular with those in the over-55 set. It’s easy to learn, easy to play, not hard on the joints and amazingly fun. It sharpens skill and finesse, coordination and reflexes, angle and aim, strategy and placement and downplays size, power and strength. That means men and women can play it together and so can the whole family.

Many pickleball players are tennis players who have picked up the game and even switched to it. While the underhand serve and the lighter ball mean way less strain on the shoulder joint, the strokes (forehand, backhand, volley, overhead) and court movement are very much like tennis. Just add the ping pong you played as a kid and maybe the racquetball you used to play at the gym and you’ve got all the ingredients for good pickleballing.

So what makes it so popular? First, it’s fun. Walk by any court and, along with the unique thwonk that ball and paddle make, you’ll hear laughing and joking rather than swearing and trash-talking. Since we’re all pretty new at this and there’s nothing much at stake, we have an easier time taking ourselves and the games lightly.

Yes, leagues have formed and tournaments have been created. There are even pickleball professionals who will give you lessons. But honestly, practice is overrated. And I love that. Hitting with the ball machine does little to improve your game because perfect-form ground stroke returns are rarely hit for winners. Drop shots, “dinks” and angled put-aways are way more effective. Park your ball machine and just get out and play.

If you’re still on the fence about giving pickleball a try, consider the health benefits: It’s just what the doctor ordered.

  1. It’s just what your body needs. Quickness, agility, balance and motor coordination tend to decline with age. Pickleball can help.
  2. It’s just what your mind needs. Fresh air, friendly competition and laughter have been in short supply. Pickleball can help.
  3. It’s just what your community and social life needs. Mixing it up with different partners for short stints of a fast-moving game make it fun and friendly. Our community just organized a street vs street competition we called The Street Brawl. See? Pickleball can help.

If you’re just getting started, pay attention to your body as you adjust to playing pickleball so you don’t get carried away. The body you bring probably has some mileage on it. In your teens and 20’s your body was pretty forgiving. In your 30’s and 40’s you may have scraped by with only minor injuries from your weekend warrior exploits. But now that we are Past-our-Prime Pickleballers, every creak and crunch has a story. Sideline conversation is dominated by the latest aches, pains, strains and sprains.

And the determination to muddle through them. Because what is better to do with a well-used body than to see how long we can sustain a 4-way rally with a kids’ wiffle ball? Yep. We’ll be pushing 90 and still enjoying the happy thwonk of ball and paddle if we can just keep the injuries at bay.

Next up: Don’t Let Pickleball Injuries Spoil the Fun.

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