Pickleball, Anyone? A new sport aimed at older adults makes it debut at Eastside parks

Pickleball players in El Sereno | Javier Rojas


EL SERENO — First thing, there are no pickles involved in pickleball. Instead, players use a table tennis-like paddle to hit what looks like a Wiffle ball across a net on a badminton or tennis court. While the name (more on that later) might be confusing, this emerging sport that is a cross between tennis, badminton and ping-pong has made its debut at city rec centers as part of efforts to boost physical activity among adults, especially older adults.

“Pickleball is a relatively new sport, which is becoming really popular within the older population,” said Gabriela Castro, Policy Analyst & Project Manager at The RAND Corp., which has been conducting a research study of the pilot pickleball program at the El Sereno Recreation Center and another facility in Boyle Heights. The classes end this weekend.

RAND will be collecting data about participants —  including gender, age, race/ethnicity and how often they attend classes —  to determine the potential future demand for these classes.  The research will also determine whether adults in these neighborhoods are interested in getting free fitness coaching and whether a trainer in the park increases park use and physical activity.

“We selected parks surrounded with low income communities, certain demographic characteristics and parks that have tennis courts available that can be used for pickleball,” said Castro, explaining why Boyle Heights and El Sereno were selected for the pickleball pilot program.

Pickleball, which has been described as a slower, easy-going version of tennis, was created in the 1960s in Washington state and has spread across the country. The sport’s name, according to some, was inspired by the term “pickle boat,” which refers to the slowest or last fishing boat to return to dock. The sport has enjoyed growing popularity in recent years, with hundreds of players participating in national and regional tournaments.

Eduardo Sanchez, 26, is the pickleball instructor at El Sereno Park. He says he has seen the number of participants grow since the program started back in September. He says pickleball is popular amongst older adults because of its similarity to tennis and slower pace.

“I picked up pickleball just over a month ago and it’s been great being to able to see many new participants join,” Sanchez said. “It basically being ‘slow tennis’ and the rules are the same. It’s no surprise older adults are getting out here and being active.”

RAND has previously conducted several similar studies related to physical activity at parks and will explore their findings with this pilot study to see if this class may be of interest in these communities for the future.

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