What if there was a sport that ANYONE could play regardless of experience or athletic background?
What if this sport required enough movement to positively impact our physical well-being
What if this sport required enough thinking, strategy, and anticipation to improve brain function?
What if this sport involved four players engaging in positive social interaction and feelings of connectedness?
Wouldn’t that be revolutionary? As the fastest-growing sport in the nation, pickleball is already improving millions of people's lives the future is promising.
Now, claiming that any one sport is the best sport for everyone may seem like a tall task, but I’m up for the challenge. The exploding popularity of pickleball is due to the many benefits it offers players. Let's dive into what those are and how they might explain why more than 4.8 million people have taken to the sport.
Go to any local pickleball courts and watch the non-verbals of the players. What you’ll likely notice are smiles, laughter, friendly banter, encouraging words, and social side conversations. Some players treat pickleball like a day at the beach. They show up with speakers, chairs, and a cooler and they stay for hours hanging out with their friends. How could this type of environment and interaction not improve players’ overall moods? As humans, we are deeply social creatures that thrive on our ability to connect in meaningful ways with others and pickleball provides an easy, affordable, and accessible way to do this.
Many players describe themselves as pickleball addicts and this may be a result of brain chemicals serotonin and oxytocin released through exchanging eye contact, smiles, and high-fives (or paddle taps). These interactions are inherent to the game and can increase our feelings of confidence and self-esteem. When working together with our partners to win points, we feel connected and supported which lends itself to an overall improved mood.
IMPROVED COGNITIVE FUNCTION
Moving our bodies in the form of exercise is a great way to increase blood circulation to the brain and boost endorphins which reduce stress and anxiety. Participating in mentally stimulating activities also enhances cognitive functions, and this is particularly true in pickleball with is an open-skill activity. Players must focus and respond to an unpredictable environment, adapting to changing stimuli (the ball) and the other player's movements. Pickleball requires players to anticipate, react, strategize, and make quick decisions, which can lead to improved memory and perception.
IMPROVED PHYSICAL HEALTH
We all know the wide range of health benefits that result from active movement. Pickleball may not seem that physically demanding at first, but it doesn’t take long to reach 10,000 steps and burn several hundred calories while playing. Pickleball also increases your heart rate and improves cardiovascular health thus reducing the risk of strokes and heart attacks. And while it’s low-impact, it can also improve bone health and prevent osteoporosis. It can improve balance and stability as well as increase muscle strength.
Pickleball requires stopping and starting, shuffling, bending your legs, and moving in all three planes of motion making it a very dynamic activity. It can be fast-paced and therefore improve your agility and hand-eye coordination, especially during those hand battles in the kitchen. This improves hand speed, reaction time, and muscular endurance. The best part about it is that you are so busy having fun that you don’t even realize all of the physical benefits.
MAKE NEW FRIENDSHIPS
Come for the pickleball and stay for the friends! So many lifelong friendships are made out on the court playing a game with a plastic whiffle ball. Friendships that have started on the pickleball court in my experience have bled into other fun experiences like travel, paintball, dinner dates, and ping pong tournaments to name a few. It should not come as a surprise that pickleball surged during covid when we were all desperate to be with our friends and acquaintances. It is designed to be social, interactive, and collaborative. What is particularly exciting about pickleball is that it attracts all walks of life. Therefore, you’re likely to encounter people with different backgrounds and interests that you wouldn’t necessarily have had an opportunity to interact with if it weren’t for pickleball. Pickleball allows to you engage with people of all ages, ethnicities, genders, social statuses, occupations, etc which makes it a unique intercultural experience.
In 2018, a Danish study published by Peter Schnorh and colleagues showed that playing tennis may extend your life by nearly 10 years. They compared it so several other sports and found it only went down with badminton at 6.2 years, then soccer at 4.7 years, and cycling at 3.7 years. Running regularly only extended your life by 3.2 years. So activities like running and cycling that we think to be so healthy didn’t even come close to the longevity of tennis which was surprising. They attributed much of it to the social aspect of the sport. Pickleball is arguably as social if not more than tennis and therefore has the potential to increase life expectancy for those who adopt the sport!
Pickleball has a low barrier to entry because there are very few prerequisites to play the game. No matter your age, gender, physical abilities, income, or experience, you can grab a paddle and ball, find others to play with, and immediately start enjoying all the physical, mental, and social benefits this sport has to offer.