The worst thing about pickleball — reputedly the fastest growing sport in North America — is its name. It sounds childish. Rightly so. A trio of men initially devised the game to amuse their children, on a summer’s afternoon in 1965 on Bainbridge Island WA, a short ferry ride from Seattle. They named it after a dog, Pickles, who interrupted the play by running off with the ball.
Pickleball is like badminton because it uses the same size court, it resembles tennis because players hit a ball back and forth across a net, and it’s similar to ping-pong in the paddle action. It follows simple rules and is easy to learn. Anyone who’s played a racquet sport can pick it up in about an hour. Don’t assume, however, this game’s for wusses. Pickleball — played outdoors and indoors, in singles and doubles — can progress into a vigorous, competitive game for experienced players.
The USA Pickleball Association (USAPA), formed in 1984, promotes the game’s growth and development, nationally and internationally. The USAPA provides official rules, instruction, ratings (1-5), and tournaments. Pickleball Canada followed in 2009, though the game had already been played for many years thanks to ‘snowbirds’ returning home with much enthusiasm for a sport they’d learned in the sunny south.
Although intended for all ages and skill levels, pickleball does attract primarily an older demographic: 75% of players are 55 and above. Here’s why:
- Pickleball can be strenuous or casual depending on the level of play. Generally, however, it gives a good aerobic workout with less stress and strain on joints and muscles than, say, tennis.
- The endorphins released with any exercise aid in elevating self-esteem and combating depression – challenges that can occur with aging.
- Because the game is quick and unpredictable, players must be alert, responsive, with sharp reflexes. Such engagement helps maintain cognitive function and memory.
- Pickleball offers ample opportunity for socializing so can reduce loneliness, another potential pitfall in getting older.
- Power and brawn don’t always win. Strategy reigns supreme, and there are plenty of strategic maneuvers to master in this game.
Players tend to be evangelistic about pickleball, always eager to recruit new acolytes. Indeed the USAPA has volunteer ambassadors promoting the sport in their regions. At the risk of (additional) proselytizing, I will confirm pickleball hooks us because we can learn it later in life (only superior athletes will take up tennis at age 55), set personal performance goals (is a 4.0 rating in my future?), make new acquaintances, and, quite simply, have great fun!
In the comments below, please share your thoughts about or participation in the pickleball craze. •