Where to begin?
There are now more than 10,000 pickleball courts dotted across the country, with nearly five million people picking up the paddle this past year. Accessible to all ages and skill levels, this fun activity can be enjoyed with friends, family, or even strangers that want to play for a few points.
The game is especially popular with seniors as it can be adapted to fit different physical abilities and fitness levels.
How do you get started? What do you need for your first game of pickleball?
Before we get to learning how to play pickleball, here is a step-by-step guide to help you get all the gear and equipment needed to play the sport:
What Are the Benefits of Pickleball for Older Adults?
While the average age of pickleball players has declined in recent years, nearly 20% of participants are still 55 years old and up.
Why is it so popular with older players? Pickleball offers several benefits for seniors such as:
Regular aerobic activity can reduce the risk of:
- Heart disease
- High blood pressure
- Type 2 diabetes
It also helps to strengthen (or maintain) a healthy immune system, meaning seniors will be less susceptible to viruses like influenza. With lowered cholesterol, strengthened heart function, and increased energy levels, pickleball is the perfect exercise for seniors.
In addition to warding off disease, pickleball can also provide a number of physical benefits if played regularly, including increased balance, coordination, strength, and flexibility. As you age, these are valuable tools that help you stay active and independent.
Seniors at risk of falls or dealing with signs of osteoporosis may be especially interested in pickleball, as quick movements and extended weight-bearing activity can help with both.
Often, seniors are at risk of social isolation due to reduced mobility or lifestyle changes. Pickleball is a great way to stay connected while also getting some exercise. It’s an accessible activity, and many courts have regular meetups for players of all ages and abilities.
The Southern California Council on Aging, for instance, runs an annual Pickleball Slam event which is focused on connecting players while raising money to support vulnerable seniors.
What Pickleball Gear and Equipment Do You Need?
Unlike some other popular senior sports like golf, pickleball gear for beginners can be very inexpensive. You’ll only need a few key items to get started:
The most important piece of pickleball equipment is, of course, the paddle. Paddles generally range from $30 to over $100 depending on the quality and design. For beginners, you’ll want to look for lightweight paddles with a comfortable grip and balance.
For those who don’t have a dedicated pickleball court nearby or want to practice at home, a portable net system is a great option. They come at various price levels and can be set up on any flat surface, making them perfect for indoor or outdoor play.
No pickleball gear bag would be complete without the balls! While you technically only need one, experienced players will recommend a few extra just in case. Pickleball balls usually come in a package of four and are typically made from plastic materials to give them the desired bounce.
A good pair of pickleball shoes is essential for protecting your feet, ankles, and knees. Cushioned soles, supportive arch structure, and durable materials are all important features to look for.
How to Choose Your Gear
If you type “pickleball gear” into Amazon or another marketplace, you might end up overwhelmed with options. Hundreds of different paddles, balls, and other accessories might appear similar at first glance.
The good news is, we’re here to help. Here are some tips to help you make the right decision when it comes to picking out your pickleball gear:
Choosing a Pickleball Paddle
The paddle is the most important piece of equipment you’ll need. It’s what helps you direct your shots and control the ball. Keep these factors in mind:
- Size: Paddles come in a variety of sizes and shapes. Wide-body paddles are easier to hit with, but they can also be heavier. Smaller paddles offer more maneuverability and control.
- Weight: Heavier paddles typically provide more power, while lighter ones allow for quicker hand movement and accuracy.
- Grip: Pickleball paddles come with different types of grips such as perforated or tacky. Choose one that fits your hand comfortably so you don’t lose control when playing shots.
- Materials: Is it made of polymer? Wood? Graphite? Each of these offers unique characteristics, though polymer paddles are usually the perfect option for beginners.
Choosing Pickleball Balls
The balls you play with will also make a huge difference. Make sure to consider where you’ll play most often – indoor or outdoor – to determine which type of ball you’ll need. Outdoor balls are usually slightly heavier and more durable, while indoor balls tend to be lighter and faster.
An easy way to tell is by the hole count. Indoor balls will usually only have 26 holes, while outdoor balls have 40.
How Do Pickleball Paddles Work?
Pickleball paddles are designed to help you control the ball. The paddle is made of a core that is designed to absorb the impact of the ball, and also provide a good “pop” when you make a shot.
That core is covered in a layer of material, usually some sort of polymer or composite. This layer helps to create spin or power, depending on its construction.
Types of Pickleball Paddles
A professional player may be looking for a high-performance paddle, while a recreational player may want something to just get started with.
For seniors, it’s important to find a paddle that is lightweight and provides good control. Polymer paddles are usually best for this as they offer a great balance between power and control. They also don’t require much effort to use, which can be beneficial for seniors with joint pain or other physical limitations.
No matter what type of pickleball paddle you choose, the most important thing is that it fits your needs and gives you the best chance of playing well.
How to Grip a Pickleball Paddle
For pickleball, there are three major grip styles that you can use.
- Eastern: This is the easiest and most comfortable grip for most beginners. Start by holding the paddle out in front of you with the flat sides pointing horizontally. Place your hand along the side of the grip and shake hands with the paddle. Your thumb should wrap around the handle.
- Western: For more experienced players that want to favor their forehand, the Western grip is the way to go. Start with the Eastern grip, and then rotate the paddle 90 degrees in your hand, so that it points upwards.
- Continental: This grip helps players with their backhand, as it gives them more control and accuracy. Start with the Eastern grip, then slide your hand so that the “V” created by your thumb and index finger is slightly on the forehand side of your paddle. This is also sometimes called the Hammer Grip.
Does Wearing Court Shoes Matter?
Yes! Wearing the proper footwear is essential for playing pickleball, and it will depend on whether you are playing indoors or outdoors.
Indoor Court Shoes
Most indoor courts require non-marking soled shoes. Not only will these help you move better on the court, but they’ll also protect the floor from any damage your feet might cause as you run and jump to return those tough dinks.
All Court Shoes
These shoes work for both indoor and outdoor courts, so they’re a great option if you play in both environments. The soles are designed to provide grip on any surface while also protecting the court from scratches or scuffs.
Is a heavier or lighter pickleball paddle better?
It depends on your skill level and preference. Heavier paddles offer more power, while lighter ones allow for quicker hand movement and accuracy. For senior players, a lighter paddle may be more suitable as it will provide better control and less fatigue.
Do expensive pickleball paddles make a difference?
Yes, higher-end paddles typically offer more control and accuracy than their cheaper counterparts.
However, if you’re just starting it’s best to go with a mid-range paddle as it will give you a good feel for the game without breaking the bank.
How long does a pickleball ball last?
Most manufacturers will suggest replacing the ball after 3-5 sessions, but for non-professional players, it can last much longer. Make sure to check the condition of the ball before starting a game by rallying it back and forth a few times.
A great choice for seniors, pickleball is an accessible and fun activity that offers plenty of physical and mental health benefits. To get started, you’ll need the right gear, including a paddle, balls, shoes, and other accessories. With a few simple steps, you can be ready to play in no time.
Find a court near you and start playing pickleball today!
Note: Find official rules for pickleball at USA Pickleball
About the author:
Brandon Mackie is the co-founder of Pickleheads™, a platform that helps players find courts, organize sessions, and connect with local players. Once a competitive tennis player, Brandon can be found these days on pickleball courts near Phoenix, Arizona.
cover image source: Brendan Sapp from unsplash.com