Pickleball: Where old tennis players go or The fountain of youth?
Updated: Oct 1, 2022
Pickleball is s fun, healthy addiction that you can play well past midlife.
The sport that is catching the wave in popularity is tons of fun for all levels. Turns out, pickleball is a also a great sober tool. I went from never hearing about it to playing in a tournament within 4 months. Not well, mind you, but that’s the beauty of pickleball. Anyone can play it. And a sober tool is anything that brings you joy or peace, and keeps you far away from drinking.
In the summer of 2021 two of our dear friends who we hadn’t seen since C-vid broke out came to see us for a weekend. They both work from home on Monday so I assumed they would stay until that morning and drive home to maximize our visit time.
“You guys can stay until Monday, right?” Amy shot Steve a knowing look and responded, “We can’t. We have a pickleball match Sunday night.”
After a few Whats? Hows? and YouTube videos, I had sped passed intrigued and went straight to my Amazon shopping cart to order paddles and balls. I found a group in our community, and signed up for a Beginner clinic that Thursday.
Make sure you are in the right group before you fake a phone call to get out of it.
The day of that first pickleball clinic, I sat in my car for a few minutes before I could get out and walk in. I had a talking to with myself, pulled up my big girl skort and went in. I didn’t know anyone, and I was actually nervous. I could leave, I thought, and just come back next week. No one would know that I had chickened out.
The session started at 10:00 and I got there a quarter hour early to change my shoes and size up the other rookies. What I saw gave me angina. There were 4 men on the court slamming, skidding and jawing around with sweat flying from every terry cloth headband. It was geriatric Wimbledon and I was terrified. Clearly I had read the wrong time slot. How could I get out of here with no one noticing my bright white brand new court shoes and my fresh-out-of-the-amazon-box pickleball paddle with matching tote in heather grey and lime green accents?
“Are you here for the clinic?” Crap. I was made. Now what? “I think so, but that looks a little out of my league,” I tilted my head toward the fast-moving play with a half grimace.
“Oh that’s the 8:30 group. They’re almost done.” That end of high school gym-class feeling of relief rushed over my whole body.
Getting out of my car that morning was in the top ten best decisions I have made.
I had been itching for something sporty and athletic to do again. Tennis is off the table because of knees and hips. Golf is just not my forte. And we live in a place with narrow roads that makes it difficult to bike. I do like the gym, but that lacks a social aspect and, well, fun. Pickleball to the rescue. It’s great exercise, a perfect way to make new friends, and a healthy addiction.
What is Pickleball?
Pickleball is a fun doubles sport that you can play at any skill level. It’s like badminton meets ping-pong with an element of tennis and a dash of wiffleball. The court is smaller than tennis’ area of play. I love tennis, but I can’t quite cover the court anymore without needing a full day of ice, rest and ibuprofen.
Pickleball paddles and ball on court
The ball is plastic and has holes in it, so when it hits you in the thumb, face and chest you can keep playing. Also there is a section of the court called the kitchen that you have to stay out of most of the time. Can it get any more ideal?
What’s so great about Pickleball?
1. You will actually love to exercise-a key sober tool
When it’s fun, it doesn’t seem like a “workout.” When you do 30 minutes at the gym on the treadmill, you really feel all of those minutes. If you are doing something you love, an hour and a half of exercise flies by. I get 5000 steps and burn 350 calories per hour when I play. At the end of a session, I am always planning my next one.
2. It Reduces Risk of Heart Disease
I just read this and threw it in here because heart disease is still the leading cause of death for women. A recent study in the International Journal of Research in Exercise Physiology found middle-aged and older adults who played one hour of pickleball three days per week for six weeks improved their blood pressure, cholesterol, and cardiorespiratory fitness levels. Shazam!
3. Social Tool
I don’t have many things in my tool box that I can do with other people. Because pickleball is a doubles sport, you get to know the people you are playing with. Now, I don’t mean there’s a Keurig and a coffee klatch out there on the court, but small time lapses do open the door for striking up conversations in between games. Plus you rotate a lot so if one person isn’t your jam, you will meet plenty more. You may even exchange numbers so you can play with the gals you really like more often. We actually had a Christmas party this year with just our little group. I am an extroverted introvert and I have made friends I envision having for the long haul.
4. It’s Age Defiant
“Pickleball is a great sport for active living across the lifetime,” says Jonathan Casper, Ph.D., an associate professor of sports management at North Carolina State University. “Because it’s similar to other racquet sports, you can learn the game pretty quickly, and you can play for as long as your body will let you.”
I have declared Pickleball to be the fountain of youth. I am on the younger side of the player median in my hood, and I am by far the least best. Currently in my club, the highest aged female is 85 and she plays 3 to 4 days per week. The tournament winners were all in there 60’s. And the regular players all look ten years younger than they are. I don’t believe this is a coincidence.
Pickleball improves reflexes and balance and may also improve your range of motion, which can help ease arthritis symptoms. You also have to think about strategy when you are playing and continually use hand-eye coordination. If you’re sedentary, you’re not doing any of that.
5. Supportive People
From that beginner clinic on, I have played as much as my schedule and joints would allow. Players are super encouraging to each other-especially the women! Government and all Real Housewives groups should operate like pickleball club.
The best part? While drinking I would never have been able to play this sport that has brought me so much joy and some amazing new friends. Now, pickleball is my second favorite sober tool and is part of my Why and Purpose, too.
It cracks me up daily that something with such a funny name makes me feel vibrant and alive. When you hit your sober stride, it’s incredible to see how much you enjoy life and want to do more, be more, and learn new things.
Activity is a key pillar in my Holistic Self Care Program that I created to keep myself and others out of the cycle: It’s called REAL Self Care: Renew. Empower. Achieve. Learn.
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