Pickleball has been all over the news for the last few years. It even made it to the front page of the Washington Post. It’s been called the fastest-growing sport in America and people of all ages, shapes, and sizes have been jumping in to play. I’ve been playing pickleball for 10 years but it wasn’t until Matt died that I appreciated the therapeutic effects of pickleball.
There are plenty of stories praising the benefits of the sport, the cardiovascular benefits, how it improves coordination, the pure fun factor, its low impact on the body, and how it’s a perfect game for multi-generational play. But there’s not enough talk about how pickleball is good therapy for mental anguish.
It was beyond devastating when Matt died. In the first four or five months, my only focus was on breathing and putting one foot in front of the other to get through another day. I had no desire to go out or be a part of anything, I didn’t want to see or talk to anyone. One day I agreed to go down to the pickleball courts to play but I wasn’t ready to talk to people. I just wanted to get on the courts and hit the ball, not socialize.
Our Pickleball community is a wonderful, large, compassionate, and welcoming group of people that we’ve been lucky to be a part of. They gave me the space to play without having to get involved in conversations while also letting me know they were there for me.
I went to the courts, got some hugs and kind words, and then I got on the courts and just banged the ball around for 3 hours. The beauty of pickleball is when you’re playing, you’re really focused, all my attention was on the game, giving me a reprieve from thinking about anything other than pickleball strategy. It felt good to be outside, breathing fresh air, being physically active, and not thinking. So, I came back again a few days later and did it again, and again.
I feel like pickleball saved me.
It was the only thing I did for the first year or so after Matt died. It was such a relief to have a few hours in the day when I wasn’t thinking about Matt, the impossibility of what happened, and my grief. Slowly I started including social interactions with my games. When I’m on the court the only thinking I’m doing is figuring out where to hit the next strategic shot. Both the game and the caring community were therapeutic in helping me deal with my grief.
I’m not the only one who feels this way. I’ve heard people talk about how pickleball has saved them too. For people dealing with a scary medical diagnosis for themselves or a loved one, or going through relationship issues, or concerns about their kids or grandkids, whatever life anxieties someone may have, pickleball gives them space to just enjoy the moment and leave their concerns behind for a few hours.
Army veteran and dedicated pickleball player, Kory Kelly, spoke openly on the Pickleball Kitchen podcast about his PTSD. He shared that he was lost for a while and talked about how pickleball brought him back. There are groups reaching out to first responders – firefighters, EMTs – and getting them into pickleball as a way to deal with their stress. Pickleball has even been introduced in prison and has improved the lives of the prisoners who are involved with it and given them a reason to stay focused, teaching them to play with other prisoners they previously considered enemies.
It’s hard to understand how this funky little sport can be so healing and bring relief to people suffering through all kinds of life issues. But once you start playing, you begin to understand. It’s the game, and it’s also the community. It’s beautiful and it can change lives.
If you’re not already out there playing, maybe this will give you the push you need to start playing pickleball today. Come join the amazing community of wonderful people who will support you in your life’s journey.
If you already play pickleball, I’ll leave you with this funny country song, “People Say I Got a Dinkin Problem“.
Enjoy and see you on the courts
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