The SFIA 2022 Single Sport Participation Report on Pickleball found that the largest age bracket of pickleball players was 55 and over. However, we are now seeing many reports of younger age categories taking up the game, including several colleges announcing pickleball societies and teams.
This senior age range still dominates when it comes to daily nationwide articles about the sport. So, in an attempt to find out exactly why it should be so popular with the more senior members of our society, CNBC Make It interviewed three very different players over the age of 70.
Tennis played a big part in the life of Mailen Kootsey, 84, especially in his 20s. While working at Loma Linda University in California, he was a familiar sight on its tennis courts as he played regular games with his friends.
“Try This Pickleball Stuff!”
“One day about five to six years ago, a friend of mine had started pickleball on one of the tennis courts – you can put four pickleball courts on one tennis court,” he says.
“He said, ‘Watch! Come over and try this pickleball stuff,’ so I did, and that was it. I never went back to tennis!”
His tennis pursuits not only kept Kootsey fit but also with his physical well-being. Indeed, he sees pickleball as a more socially inclusive experience than tennis, commenting, “I met more people, fun people, and it was a sell from there on.”
“A Toss-Up Between Exercise And Social Interaction”
Residing in Redlands, California, Kootsey’s pickleball collective collaborated with the city to establish a cluster of eight dedicated pickleball courts.
“While they did that, they built a little area with a roof over it with some tables and chairs so people can, in between games, sit and talk,” he says.
“Having more courts has brought many more people in. In fact, people not living in this area have heard about the group of people that plays there, so we have people coming in from surrounding cities,” he adds.
When talking about what he feels is the best thing about pickleball, Kootsey says, “It’s a toss-up between the exercise and social interaction. They’re both something that I appreciate.”
Beth Henry’s venture into pickleball wasn’t as seamless, however.
“More Of A Challenge”
“I’m not an athletic type of person,” 73-year-old Henry told CNBC. “A lot of people who play pickleball are ping pong, racquetball, or tennis players. But I never played any organized sport before. So, for me, pickleball was a lot more of a challenge because I’m not an athlete. I had to work a lot harder at it.”
Henry’s interest in pickleball was piqued by the active involvement of her friends and acquaintances in Rancho Cucamonga, California. Wondering what all the fuss was about, she sought out and joined a local pickleball group at a sports complex in her area.
As she points out, embracing the game has meant Henry has now made her physical fitness a priority: “It’s inspired me to hire a personal trainer and to be a lot more active,” she says.
“One of the things that I do is I make sure I get 10,000 steps a day in, and all of that not only is good for me but it also helps for playing a better game.”
Henry’s pickleballing circles have now grown to the point they reach way beyond the group she hooked up with a couple of years back.
“My husband and I have made so many new friends. So, not only is pickleball a fun game, it’s been a very big social part of my life,” she says.
With her newfound companions, Henry established a subgroup of about 15 women within her pickleball club, popularly known as “Chickleball.”
This group gets together twice a month to enjoy casual pickleball games and communal meals. Henry belongs to another group that has been on excursions together, including a memorable pickleball cruise.
Although she is delighted with the friendships she has made through the sport, Henry now faces an enviable “predicament”: “I have so many new friends that I can’t take on any new friends anymore.”
Ryo Shinagawa, 72, has played tennis for decades now. His introduction to pickleball happened in 2016 and stemmed from his reading of a local newspaper feature on a beginner’s pickleball clinic at a nearby senior center in Corona, California.
“Totally Loved It”
“I said, ‘You know what? Let’s go over there and check it out.’”
“I just showed up. The gentleman put a paddle in my hand, and I played until noon. Totally loved it! And I drove to a sporting goods store and purchased a paddle. Been playing pickleball ever since.”
Shinagawa plays pickleball three to four times every week, with each session lasting two to three hours each day. The mental delight he derives from post-game endorphins leaves him feeling “fantastic,” although he acknowledges occasional physical fatigue. Despite that, his affection for the sport remains unwavering.
USA Pickleball Ambassador
As a USA Pickleball ambassador and certified instructor, Shinagawa extols the social dimension of pickleball.
“My kids are all grown; they live in the next county over, and I do see them,” he mentions. “But I tell everyone I have made more friends and good acquaintances through pickleball within the last six to seven years than my lifetime.”
He says his involvement has forged at least half a dozen intimate friendships and further connections with over 150 acquaintances – a testament to the sport’s communal allure:
“Pickleball is what brings us together, and then we start to find the common personal experiences in our lives that keep us together.”
“It just brings out good people. They may first come out just for the game, but then all of a sudden, they start to realize it’s more than just playing a game.”
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