Takes some steps to become a pickleball pro

Mar 13, 2024

Opinion: Pickleball is the fastest growing sport in the United States. It grew 158.6 percent per year over the past three years. As of 2023, more than 36 million Americans played–including me. I am a member of the Westchester Pickleball Club! This month, I will share some things I have learned about the sport.  

What is it and what are some of the benefits? Pickleball has been described as a combination of badminton, tennis and ping pong. It is played with paddles on a badminton-sized court often in a doubles format. Pickleball can produce many health benefits. One study of pickleball players over 50 years old showed that 70 percent of playing time was spent in a moderate-vigorous heart rate zone. This can be great for cardiovascular health, as everyone should get 150 minutes of moderate-vigorous cardiovascular exercise per week. 

As part of the fun, players rotate and interact with each other, and this creates a unique social environment. As “picklers” get to know each other, friendships often develop. Getting to know other people seems built into the sport. This socialization is one reason pickleball has grown rapidly. Research shows enjoyment can make people more likely to continue an activity. One review of 13 studies showed pickleball players experienced increases in feelings of happiness, life satisfaction and wellbeing (Cerezuela, 2023). This is very important for people who struggle to maintain an exercise routine.

The Westchester club was started in December 2021 by Tom Brewster and Michael Koss. It has grown rapidly since then, and was even featured on the front page of last year’s March edition of the HTN. According to Koss, the chance to interact with others attracts many people.

 “We constantly hear people exchanging phone numbers or going out to lunch after playing in the morning. People are always telling me that wherever they are in the neighborhood, the movies, the supermarkets, they run into players, people that they wouldn’t have otherwise known if not for pickleball. It makes a large town feel small.”

How do you get better at pickleball? Improving at a sport increases feelings of accomplishment. This can increase motivation. Koss, a local USA Pickleball Ambassador and Professional Pickleball Registry certified coach, says training can help a player’s technical skill: “Taking some lessons or clinics can certainly help players get better and help people improve quickly.”

He believes being a good player involves more than just physical skill. Having a good attitude is also important.

 “When you’re playing at our facility, you want to be a great partner, and friendly with everyone. That is the vibe that we push. We are inclusive and uplifting to our players,” says Koss.

He also believes playing the sport can give people a psychological boost.

“Many players have never even played a sport before in their life, and all of a sudden, they are now athletes,” he says. “There’s something very fulfilling about playing a sport and realizing you can do things that you may never have thought possible.”

What advice do experienced players have for beginners? Kris Higgins joined Westchester Pickleball in April 2023 after a coworker convinced him to try it. He shared these tips for beginners: “It can be intimidating at first. After the first few games and weeks, things get better. Try to be consistent and show up to play. Community helps with that. Once you get past the awkward beginner stage, you will really start to like it.” 

Adella Curry joined the local club in November 2021. Her advice for beginners is: “Be patient with yourself. Learn the serve. Pick one thing to focus on and try to get better at that. Then learn the next thing. Don’t take yourself too seriously. Be easy on yourself.”

What steps can I take to avoid injury? Pickleball is a sport, and all sports (including skiing, golf, and tennis) carry injury risk. Proper shoes are important. Talk to your doctor and a pickleball coach for recommendations. Try not to overdo it when you start. A proper warm up of around 10 minutes and a cool down of about the same time should be followed. Consistent strength training may also reduce injury risk by strengthening muscles and tendons used in the sport.  

Get your doctor’s approval before starting any sport and always listen to your body. For more info on the local club, check out westchesterlapickleball.com. Happy pickling!

Jeff Blair (MS, CSCS) is a Certified Personal Trainer with more than 20 years of experience, a fitness book author and founder of the SoCalSport & Fitness Personal Training Studio. Contact Jeff at jeff@socalsport.com for article comments or suggestions.

Check out SocalSport on IG@socalsport to get more tips on pickleball and other fitness issues!

By Jeff Blair. Photo by Robert Higgins.

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