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Pickleball: A Sport for All Ages

Go down to your local public tennis court on a summer day and you’ll likely see a hive of activity as a flurry of adults whick-whack a bright-colored whiffle 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 astonishing. An estimated five million people play the game nationwide, a number that surged during the
pandemic. For many, taking up a new sport was a way to escape the isolation of COVID 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 state sport of Washington.

To help harness and encourage this burgeoning interest, Seattle Parks and Recreation’s Lifelong Recreation Program recruited pickleball “Ambassadors,” volunteers who help organize play and make the sport safe, fun and educational at several locations throughout the city. The Ambassadors are creating access to free recreation for seniors and others. Throughout the city there are 78 outdoor courts lined for pickleball. Many of SPR’s 24 community centers offer indoor courts. Lifelong Recreation for older adults is fully funded by the Seattle Park District.

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

“One reason 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 get exercise.”

“I’ve seen firsthand the impact on older adults,” says Lifelong Recreation Specialist John Hasslinger. “I regularly hear stories about people feeling alone and isolated but since playing pickleball they have a hundred friends they see all the time.”

While it’s true that the sport has been most popular with the senior set, recently pickleball is attracting players of all ages. At Miller, players typically range in age from 20 to 80. The popularity is also causing demand for more courts and improvements to existing courts. SPR is developing a plan to expand access to outdoor pickleball in Seattle, a process that is funded by the Park District.

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