The Allure of Pickleball

I first discovered pickleball in 2019 when it was just about to take off. Back then there were approximately 2.8 million pickleball players in the US alone, with 75% of “core” players aged 55 and over. It is a great activity for Active Agers who either still play tennis or who can’t play anymore due to mobility issues, as well as for those who just want to get some exercise, socialize and have fun. 

Almost three years later it was estimated that more than 4.2 million Americans were playing pickleball, making it the fastest growing activity in the country. It’s no wonder that Vanity Fair published an article titled, “How Pickleball Won Over Everyone From Leonardo DiCaprio to Your Grandparents.

Besides DiCaprio, pickleball was being enjoyed by a wide variety of celebrities including Jamie Foxx, Owen Wilson, Larry David and Melinda Gates – the latter two who are prime examples of Active Agers, at the ages of 74 and 57 respectively. Pickleball courts were popping up at clubs and private homes across the country. Even the Kardashians got in on the craze.

Fast forward another two years and it is estimated that a whopping 35 million people are playing pickleball across the country. It continues to grow at an incredible pace and there are even talks about it becoming an Olympic sport at some point. And while the sport is now being played by people of all ages, its growth continues to be driven by older adults, many of whom have never held a racket in their hands before. And while it is resulting in an influx of injuries to those who play, the physical nature of it will help older adults stay healthier and happier longer.

So what is the allure of this activity to active aging adults? And what can we learn that can be applied to other activities that might be of interest to older adults? I think it comes down to five key reasons with those being that it is a fun, social and inclusive activity that is easy to learn and competitive.

First, I am a firm believer that people of all ages are usually looking for more fun in their lives. Let’s face it, with all of the stresses and strains that we are under, both personally and from a societal perspective, who doesn’t want to have more fun?  It’s difficult not to have fun playing pickleball as even the most uncoordinated person can generally get the ball over the net with some consistency. It is easy to play with people of all skill levels and there is fun to be had even if you get “bageled” in your match.

Second, it is a social game with an opportunity to meet new people wherever you play. Case in point is a trip that my wife and I made to Hilton Head last fall. We registered to play in open play at the local club and good thing we registered early as it was packed. There were a total of 96 people playing, almost all Active Agers, and (almost) everyone was delightful and interested in hearing more about us.

Third, it is an inclusive activity in which (almost) everyone can play. Compared to other activities, pickleball is cheap to play as you only need a paddle, a ball and some half-decent running or court shoes. Courts are popping up everywhere and everyone is welcomed to play, regardless of age and skill level. Sure we all want to play with people who are as good or better than us, but the games are relatively quick and it is all in good fun.

Fourth, it is easy to learn. The most difficult thing about pickleball is figuring out how the scoring works and where to stand depending on who is serving to whom.  Enough said.

Finally, one of the reasons why pickleball has become so popular is that it is competitive (even as a fun activity). Many activities that older adults partake in are not competitive and while that isn’t important for some Active Agers, many like to get their juices going and pickleball is a great way to get our competitive juices flowing. If you haven’t tried pickleball yet, give it a whirl. And if you have tried it, keep on playing!