Why Pickleball Is a Great Sport for Seniors

Two friends playing pickleball.|Pickleball coach and player Sara Johnson

If you’re a senior interested in pickleball, you’re not alone. Of the 4.2 million players in the United States, the overwhelming majority are over 55.  

“All I can say is pickleball should come with a warning label that it’s very addictive,” says 62-year-old Sara Aiken, who not only plays at least three times a week but coaches the sport in her hometown of Annapolis, MD.  

We spoke with several senior pickleball players to learn what makes the game a great fit for older athletes and get their top tips for newcomers. 

Pickleball Is Easy to Learn 

You don’t need to be a world-class athlete to play, says Jim Johnson of Arnold, MD. Jim started playing when he was 72. Now 75, he plays at least three times a week in addition to working out regularly at the YMCA. “You can start when you’re old and think about getting better at the game,” says Johnson. “And knowing you can improve makes the game fun.”  

John Mayfield, an 82-year-old from Altadena, CA, played pick-up basketball until he was almost 60 when the court’s demands became too hard on his body. Since then, he has tried several other sports, including badminton, but likes pickleball because “it doesn’t require much running. There’s a fair amount of movement forward, back, and sideways, but only one or two steps.” For players like Mayfield, pickleball provides a way to stay active without physical strain or an unreachable learning curve.  

Through her teaching, Aiken also sees how easy it is for seniors to pick up the sport. “Many players have never played a racket sport. Or If they have, it hasn’t been since the last millennium,” she says, but the lack of experience isn’t a barrier.  

Pickleball Creates Social Connections  

The social aspect is a bonus and benefit for many seniors. They can move their bodies and potentially make new friends. The parameters of the game often require interaction.  

Because the court is so small, you’re likely near each other when you first start playing doubles with a partner. “Because of this closeness, you can chat quite a bit with your partner or the opponent,” says Aiken. She also notices that during an introductory lesson in class, people have to interact immediately with one another.   

Johnson (pictured right) and Mayfield both agree that pickleball is an excellent way to meet new people. “When you’re sitting on the bench next to other people, you naturally start chatting, ” Mayfield says.  

Aiken thinks there is a place for everyone at pickleball. Even if you don’t want to play, there is a way to get involved with tournaments and behind-the-scenes that helps build connections.  

How to Get Started with Pickleball 

For those interested in playing pickleball, our resident pickle ballers offer some tips to help you get started.  

1. Take a Lesson 

Many pickleball facilities offer free lessons, which help give an overview of the game and techniques. “I think an introductory lesson is helpful. I only took one lesson, and then I started playing. The other players were tolerant, and I got better and better,” says Mayfield.

2. Invest In Good Shoes

Although pickleball requires less athleticism than other sports, this doesn’t mean you should sacrifice the right footwear. “The first thing I tell people is that they need a decent pair of gym shoes or sneakers. Many people go into their closet; they’ll grab a pair of shoes that haven’t been worn for many years,” Aiken says. Find shoes that have good sole support.

3. Take Your Time

Many first-time players are eager to jump into competition and sometimes become more aggressive than their bodies allow. Aiken thinks taking a measured approach is best. “You’re not there to win. You’re there to learn the sport, so don’t go diving for a ball,” says Aiken. She becomes especially concerned with seniors with stability issues since they are not accustomed to certain movements.

4. Start Small

For those individuals who are more sedentary, taking small steps will help them transition into the game. “Pickleball requires you to be somewhat in good physical condition, but you can work up to it,” says Mayfield. To get court-ready, Johnson recommends walking around the neighborhood and working your way up to pickleball-level fitness.

5. Have Fun

Pickleball is a great way to get moving and have fun. For Aiken, pickleball changed the direction of her life. “What I enjoy about pickleball is being able to teach and share it with others, “she says.  “There is no greater joy than seeing some of the people I’ve taught become pro players.”

What could home equity do for you?

Find Out
CTA Image