Having a Ball: Pickleball and Other New Sports Attract Active Adults

By Beard, Elizabeth | Parks & Recreation, May 2013 | Go to article overview

Having a Ball: Pickleball and Other New Sports Attract Active Adults


Beard, Elizabeth, Parks & Recreation


In the Sunbelt, making a new active-adult community stand out from the multitude can be a challenge. With shuffleboard courts shuffling off to the wayside in the 1980s and 1990s, developers are seeking out new sports that appeal to retiring baby boomers, whose idea of relaxation is far different from that of earlier generations. Enter pickleball.

"We have seen pretty explosive growth in this sport," says Ruth Rosenquist, spokesperson for the USA Pickleball Association, based in Surprise, Arizona. "The number of courts in America has doubled since 2010. The more people are being exposed to the sport and finding out how fun it is, we're just seeing huge growth in parks and rec approaching us about converting courts."

Pickleball is usually played as doubles on a badminton-size court (one-third the size of a traditional tennis court). Players hit a light, plastic wiffleball-type ball with wooden or composite paddles, bringing about comparisons to badminton or ping pong, as well as tennis. But unlike tennis, the game is less about running and more about strategy in knowing where to hit the ball. The lightweight net and inexpensive equipment mean that the game can be quickly and easily set up on any flat surface.

"It's a smaller space--if you play doubles, you've got four players in a pretty intimate area," Rosenquist explains. "It's a very social game. People love it because you just laugh and it's so much fun. That plays into it as well as the aspect of you're not covering as much surface area. It's more about being strategic with your moves and the way you react to the ball. It's more about the strategy than the running.... I've played with a lot of 70- and even 80-year-olds who beat me all the time because they've learned to be very strategic."

"It's the fastest-trending senior sport," agrees Jeff Ziegler, community manager at The Highlands at Dove Mountain, an active-adult community of 2,200 in Marana, Arizona, near Tucson. Ziegler, who has a background in parks and recreation, has been observing trends in active-adult activities since the 1980s. His community is in the process of building two permanent pickleball courts after a temporary court in the parking lot soon spawned a club with 50 players and more joining each month.

"The popularity in the activity is that it can be considered a step-down program for some former tennis players who can't travel the large tennis court," Ziegler says. "They can find pickleball with that hand-eye coordination as a paddle game very worthwhile --not only very entertaining but social as well. I can see quite a bit of socialization being generated out of pickleball as an activity."

The USA Pickleball Association estimates that there are now more than 5,600 pickleball courts (almost evenly divided between indoor and outdoor courts) at more than 1,700 locations across the country. Rosenquist believes that up to 30 new courts are added every month. And the number of players has jumped to nearly 100,000 from just 60,000 in 2010. Prominent examples of the sport's growing appeal are new active-adult developments based around pickleball, some including as many as 12 courts and spectator bleachers. …

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