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Don’t Blame The Pickleball

Mixed doubles pickleball team

By Casey Kay, Head Pickleball Professional, Tennis Professional, Piedmont Driving Club

With the growth of pickleball, media outlets have reported a rising number of injuries related to the sport. Naturally, with more people participating and learning to play, the number of injuries increases. The most common injuries are sprains, strains, and fractures. Many are left wondering: is pickleball more dangerous than other racquet sports? The answer may surprise you.

With pickleball being a new sport and the fastest growing sport in America, we are seeing all kinds of players and people participating. Players of all ages and varying athletic backgrounds have chosen pickleball as their new hobby! This is one of the things that makes pickleball so special; it brings everyone together.

Unfortunately, that is a contributor to why there are so many pickleball injuries compared to other sports. However, medical researchers who track such data report that the number of pickleball injuries are about equal to the number of reported tennis injuries. The ease of learning and playing pickleball has attracted the following types of players that other racquet sports and activities in general have left behind.

1. Older Demographic
The demographic started out as an older group of players. Also, former tennis players who want a smaller court to cover are picking up the game. This older demographic is more prone to injury and longer recovery periods. As the sport continues to bring in younger players, this will lower the percentage of pickleball players getting injured.

2. Less Athletic
The sport is easier to learn and be successful; therefore, you get players who don’t naturally have court awareness. This includes where they are positioned on the court, where the ball is on the court, and awareness of what capabilities their own bodies have. This leaves many players lunging, trying to get to the ball, which results in injuries to the Achilles tendon, calf, knee, and hamstring, in addition to wrist fractures. Players often hit the ball late or behind their body which can cause injuries to the elbow, wrist, and shoulder. Improper shoes for lateral movement also can lead to ankle and foot injuries and cause stability issues. As players begin to understand the sport and improve their athletic abilities, this also will lead to a decline in injuries.

3. Less Experienced
Experienced athletes who have been playing dynamic sports their entire life know what their body is capable of and what shots they shouldn’t run for, especially as they become older players. More experienced players give up on some shots that they “could” get to guarantee they won’t get injured. Less experienced players may get caught up in the competition and run into the fence, or trip and fall diving for balls they really should have just let go. Knowing your own limits will decrease the risk of injury. Having a good coach will help you know when to slow down and when to be more competitive.

4. Drinking Sport
Pickleball is known as the ultimate social sport. With events like “dinks and drinks” and other social gatherings, drinking often is involved, which leads to an influx of injuries. Please dink and drink responsibly.

Playing safely and decreasing injuries
To decrease your chance of injury, you should take a lesson or clinic from a qualified professional who can explain the potential injuries of the game, teach you in a controlled setting, and help you learn how to play safely.

A good pro should teach you the following concepts with safety of players in mind — not just winning! As you progress, you can move on to focus more on competing and winning.

  • A proper warm up and cool down
  • Court awareness (knowing where you are and your own limitations)
  • Ball trajectory and bounce (to prevent last second lunging and falling)
  • Proper grip and technique (specifically contact point for elbow and shoulder)
  • Proper footwork (forward, lateral, and pivots to prevent backpedaling)
  • Another component is having proper equipment — specifically shoes!

Pickleball is an amazing sport that will continue to grow and bring people together. To play safely, take a lesson, use the proper footwear, and be aware of what you are capable of on the court.

Pickleball Tips For Seniors
By Jim Carella, Tennis Professional, Director of Pickleball, TPC Sugarloaf 

Female pickleball player on outdoor courtPickleball has exploded over the past few years with millions of new players, both young and old. As seniors, how do we stay competitive with all the new, younger players entering the game?
So, two things happen as we age: foot speed and hand speed (reflexes) both diminish. That’s a hard thing for me to say and admit now that I’m in my late 60’s, but it’s true. Don’t worry; I have a few tips that I know will help!

  • Learn how to play from the transition zone so you don’t have to rush through it. Not making it all the way to the non-volley zone (kitchen line) on your first shot is not the end of the world!
  • Developing a third shot drop is essential to help slow down the game and have your opponents hitting up on their volley making it much more difficult to speed up.
  • Develop soft hands to reset the ball during a fire fight or hands battle, again taking pace away from your opponents. Soft hands also are essential when hitting shots from the transition zone.
  • Only start a fire fight when you have the upper hand and are controlling the point. Don’t get trapped into hitting it hard just because your opponents did.
  • Hitting a deep slice return allows you more time to move up to the non-volley zone. A slice return also will stay lower on your opponent’s side, making them hit up on the ball which is more difficult to drive the third shot.
  • Game management. Keep the pace of play in your favor. Don’t be afraid to take a little more time in-between points.
  • Be a problem solver on the court. Know when to change things if they are not going well but stay with a strategy that is working!
  • Finally, play as mistake-free as possible; consistency and placement will overcome power.

I hope these tips are helpful and can neutralize as well as frustrate a younger player. Pickleball always is evolving. Just think: Two or three years ago, who would have imagined millions of new players — many of whom are young — playing this fun game?

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