Pickled over Pickleball

Photo of four seniors playing doubles pickleball



(SENIOR WIRE) An unexpected impact of the pandemic has found seniors, often associated with traditional activities such as shuffleboard and bingo, taking up a more physical sport that has nothing to do with its name: pickleball.

Fastest Growing Sport

Pickle Ball is an easy-on-the-body variation of tennis, badminton, and ping pong. And it’s also sometimes termed the fastest growing sport in the country. 

“It’s become wildly popular with seniors during the pandemic, as it allows for socially distanced physical activity,” said the New York Post.

Pickleball grew in 2020 to 4.2 million players in the United States, an incredible growth rate of 21.3 percent from the year before, according to this year’s Sports & Fitness Industry Association’s (SFIA) Topline Participation Report. The Salt Lake Tribune says the sport is booming and “growing tremendously.”

It’s not a card game. And has nothing to do with pickles. Actually, it has as at times been named the “fastest growing sport in the country” since it was invented in 1965. It can be played at all ages but has proven particularly popular with anyone over 55.

One reason is its simplicity. All that’s needed is a paddle for each player, a ball (plastic, similar to a Wiffle ball), a net, and a court. The latter can be inside or outside.

You do need that playing court, of course. YMCAs across the country have been increasingly receptive to providing them. Courts can be found at parks, schools, and community and senior centers.

An Easy Start

It is easy for beginners. Anyone can pick up a paddle and quickly be playing reasonably well. An added advantage for seniors is that it’s good exercise, burning up about the same number of calories as playing tennis. But the courts are smaller and easier to navigate. And that’s even more the case with doubles pickleball.

The sport has gotten so popular that manufacturers now offer a machine for practicing, similar to a tennis version that allows users to set ball speeds, how often a ball is served, and other choices.

As players become more experienced, there are pickleball tournaments, and some states have pickleball in their Senior Olympics. There are also pickleball camps where players can learn or improve their game. Tournaments offer prizes up to $150,000.

With pickleball increasing in popularity, some cruises offer the activity as well. At this time, Holland America has 14 ships that showed pickleball as an activity. Princess and Regent Seven Seas are also adding pickleball. The sport even has its own month of the year, April.

Pickle Ball Beginnings

Where it started is simple. But how it got its name is more questionable. The first games were played at Bainbridge-Island near Seattle, Wash. Three local golfers irritated by families saying there was nothing to do (a familiar complaint) took ping pong paddles to a badminton court with a net and began playing a game they devised. Soon, others took it up.

Various stories are circulating about how the sport got its name. 

The first and most likely one came from one of the founders’ wives, who was a competitive rower in college. The sport reminded her of a pickle boat. It’s a derogatory term used for weaker, mismatched crew boat teams: pickle boats.

The second story theorizes the sport was named after a local dog named pickles, who loved to play catch. MSN

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