Pickleball: a sport for all ages

Walk down to your local public tennis court on a summer day and you’ll likely see a hive of activity like a flurry of adults hitting a brightly colored ball with a 16-inch paddle. welcome to the world
of pickleball.

Invented in 1965 on Bainbridge Island, the recent growth of the sport of pickleball is amazing. An estimated five million people play the game nationwide, a number that has jumped over the course of the
pandemic. For many, taking up a new sport was a way to escape COVID isolation and stay active in a welcoming and inclusive environment. A hybrid of tennis and table tennis with its own rules, pickleball,
in fact, has been declared the official sport of Washington State.

To help harness and encourage this burgeoning interest, Seattle Parks and Recreation’s Lifelong Recreation program has recruited pickleball “ambassadors,” volunteers who help organize the game and make the sport safe, fun and educational at multiple locations around town. Ambassadors create access to free recreation for seniors and others. Throughout the city, there are 78 lined outdoor courts for pickleball. Many of SPR’s 24 community centers offer indoor courts. Lifelong Recreation for Seniors is fully funded by the Seattle Park District.

On the courts in the southwest corner of Miller Playfield in Seattle’s Capitol Hill neighborhood, the four pickleball-lined courts are reserved for play at no charge for two hours on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays, and in good weather, draw between 30 and 50 players.

“One of the reasons pickleball is so popular is that it’s fun and so easy to learn,” says one of the ambassadors. “It’s also a great way to exercise.”

“I’ve seen the impact on older people with my own eyes,” says John Hasslinger, a lifelong leisure specialist. “I regularly hear stories of people feeling lonely and isolated, but since they’ve been playing pickleball, they have a hundred friends they see all the time.”

While the sport has been most popular with seniors, pickleball has recently attracted players of all ages. At Miller, the players are generally between 20 and 80 years old. Popularity also drives demand for more courts and improvements to existing courts. SPR is developing a plan to expand access to outdoor pickleball in Seattle, a process funded by the Park District.

Learn more about the Seattle Park District in the Park District 2021 Annual Report.

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