I moved to the area in 2005 and it was my first full year as a practicing clinician. During that year, I had several patients tell me about how excited they were about this sport I’d never heard of: pickleball. Let me rephrase that; they weren’t excited about the sport, they were positively giddy.

I’ll admit that it took me awhile to actually look up some videos of pickleball games on the internet. In my defense, YouTube didn’t really get popular until 2008-9. After doing some visual research, I had a few observations: it kind of looked like tennis, most of the players were over 50, and it looked like a lot of fun!

As a physical therapist, it was also interesting to examine the biomechanics of the sport. One thing that quickly jumped out at me was that, as opposed to hitting the ball as hard as possible, the advantage seemed to be won by shot placement. It then followed that this advantage seemed to be won by the team with better mobility and balance than the other. Players who weren’t quick and flexible enough to get to the ball, lost the point.

To learn a little more about pickleball, I spoke with Dave Gallinat. Dave is the northern Michigan ambassador for the American Pickleball Association. Dave had this to say about the growing interest in the sport: “What’s interesting is the dramatic growth that has taken place just in the last 1-2 years and the number of younger people who are beginning to play the game. The USA Pickleball association is saying they have seen a 63% increase in membership in this 1-2-year time period, and our own growth in the Little Traverse Bay Area mirrors this growth.”

After watching a few matches and speaking with some dedicated pickleballers, I have a few tips for those wanting to take their game to the next level:

  1. Improve your flexibility– from the ankles and hips to the upper back and shoulders, the more range of motion you have at your joints, the better you’ll be able to reach and return the ball. A light warm-up with some dynamic stretching is a good start. If you really want to improve your flexibility, you should work on a daily stretching routine which targets your less-mobile areas.
  2. Improve your balance– I’ll admit that in a few of the videos I watched recently, I cringed at the sight of someone lunging for a ball and very-nearly falling on their face. If you’re over 60 and playing a sport that requires frequent weight-shifts and changes in direction, your balance had better be in tip-top shape. To test this, see if you can stand on 1 foot for 30 seconds. If you can’t, your risk of falling during a match may be elevated.
  3. Improve your power– Physicists define power as the amount of work completed over a period of time. In other words, power is the ability to quickly and explosively propel your body towards the ball. Developing great power requires you to improve muscular strength, reaction time, and speed.

In sum, I’m a huge fan of pickleball. I’m extremely pleased to see people getting involved in a sport that incorporates strength, flexibility, balance, and mobility.  I hope it’s well-known that individuals over the age of 60 see improvements in longevity and reductions in morbidity when they stay active. Participating in a community-based sport like pickleball is a great way to stay vibrant well into your golden years.

If you’re interested in trying pickleball for the first time, don’t hesitate to contact Dave Gallinat at 810-964-8440. He would be happy to match you with one of the area’s pickleball ambassadors for a safe introduction to the sport.