Column: Staying healthy while playing pickleball

'Paddle Up'

Confession time! I use to play pickleball up to eight games a day, six days a week and then taught the sport. I am 77 going on 78.

That is not a healthy diet in this game. It led to ankle, shoulder and carpal tunnel surgery, none of which was a lot of fun to go through. I am just an average player like so many who take up the sport. I did an hour of exercise and stretching every day before playing.

Why? The basic game is so easy to learn in one hour. A lot of retired folks who have had very little background in sports join in the fun. No kidding here, the sport is almost immediately addictive. All that laughter and the ping of the ball is a hallmark of the sport.

I am not addressing you 20- or somethings out there. I am addressing the 50 and older who are retiring at the rate of 10,000 per day and are on the lookout for new healthy activities and, yes, everybody in between.

Take some advice — from one who knows and one who sees the results of overdoing it in this sport — from Dr. Daniel Burchfield, a local orthopedic surgeon with a background in US Olympics as a sports doctor. When you take up pickleball, take it easy. Keep it to four games a day and perhaps two to three times a week. If you have to reach too far for a ball, forget it and just say “nice shot.” It is not worth an injury at this time of your life! The recreational game is not so much about power but about strategy, finesse and control. Play smarter not harder. And get involved with a variety of other sports like softball, swimming, hiking, kayaking etc.

Now for you tennis and racquetball players and other naturally adapted sports warriors. This is not easy advice to shake your head at and say amen to. I know that. You got to find out how good you can become while you can right? The game is easy to learn hard to get good at but with determination and grit you will climb that ladder as fast as you can and go as far as you can. Right? It is great fun to get a drawer full of medals and all those pats on the back.

All I can tell you is what my son told me when I showed him a drawer full of medals and other awards I had gathered from a lifetime of sports and activities. He said, “Dad, what am I going to do with all that? Just save me your Eagle Scout medal, OK?” Wake up call.

So, on your way up the ladder, be smart about your body. You cannot run the 100-yard dash like you used to, or reach the ball as you once did — so what makes you (and me) think you can run all over the court like a teenager?

Here are some healthy safety ideas, stretches, and exercise. First, safety. Always wear court shoes when playing, not running shoes. Keep the paddle up all the time after every shot. Wear protective eye wear. Never run backward on the court.

Second, key parts of the body to stretch BEFORE you go out are legs, lower back and playing arm.

Third, exercise ankles, knees, lower back, abdomen, and playing arm. If playing with young people let them chase the balls.

By the way, you will be amazed at the number of shots that go flying out of bounds on such a small court.

So, if a ball is coming at you in a hard fast upward volley and at your chest or, even better, neck high — let it fly. It will most likely go out of bounds. Save time, save energy, play smarter pickleball and stay healthy my friend.

Bob Atherton is a Tier 2 Pickleball coach and Northern Arizona District Ambassador for the United States Pickleball Association. He is the ministry leader and teacher of Pickleball at Willow Hills Baptist Church. You can reach Bob at bobca39@gmail.com or 928-499-2498.