Pickleball Is a Perfect Match for Older Main Line Area Residents

The pickleball craze is here to stay—especially for the 55-plus crowd.

The first time I played pickleball with my 64-year-old father, I figured my chances of losing were slim to none. Granted, he was a former tennis player. But I assumed my youthful speed and athleticism would prevail. I was wrong. Ten minutes later, the game ended without me scoring so much as a point—and it’s been that way ever since.

In the winter months, my father and I play three days a week with Joe Masterson and Jim Semple at Upper Chichester Community Center. Masterson’s siblings got him into pickleball almost three years ago. “I went to Dick’s Sporting Goods that day, bought a paddle and started playing,” says the Chadds Ford native. “I absolutely loved it.”

Like my dad, Masterson had been an avid tennis player. He got out of his routine during the pandemic and noticed a decline in his health. Pickleball has helped get him back on track. “It’s definitely boosted my stamina, and my mental outlook has changed,” he says. “I think it’s been a big benefit as far as health.”

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Pickleball is an ideal choice for older generations. Played on a surface smaller than a tennis court, it’s a competitive aerobic workout that’s gentler on the joints and less taxing on the body overall. The game isn’t difficult to learn, and you can advance quickly. Points are won by “dinking”—soft, strategically placed shots hit off a bounce close to the net. You’ll likely see an improvement in coordination, balance and endurance after just a few pickleball sessions.

A neighbor from Semple’s 55-plus community in Garnet Valley suggested he try pickleball. “I thought it was going to be an old person’s game and maybe not a lot of fun—but enough to keep me active,” he says. “Ten years and probably a dozen tournaments later, it’s been a very enjoyable game, and I always look forward to playing three days a week.”

Tessa Marie Images

Semple assumed the competition in the 65–70 age group would be a breeze. “I told a very good player I knew, ‘I think I should be better now because I’m playing older people,’” he recalls. “And their answer was, ‘You’ve got it all wrong.’”

At that age, you’re likely to come across players spending five days a week (or more) on the court. And as they say, practice makes perfect. “Older players are smarter,” says Renee Hollander, head pro at Bounce Pickleball Club in Malvern. “They have great skills. They can speed up balls, they can soften balls, and they can place balls.”

Hollander first picked up a paddle at the Shore. She loved it so much she went on to start the pickleball program at King of Prussia’s Life Time fitness facility. “I teach a 74-year-old man who’s an absolutely incredible player. He moves well, and he takes care of his body,” Hollander says. “The big issue now is injuries in the sport. It’s really important that people take care of themselves, learn how to stretch and learn how to take a break.”


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And beware the 80-year-old players who can put the ball wherever they want. “They may not be as mobile, but they have the shots,” says Denise Day, a member at Bounce. “It’s pretty fun to watch.”

Day credits pickleball with bringing fresh life to the YMCA of Greater Brandywine after the pandemic. “We used it as a way to recover,” says Day, the organization’s former CEO.

As a sort of a last hurrah before retirement, Day opened the YMCA Pickleball Center in Downingtown. Now, she’s helping YMCAs across the country implement pickleball programs. She knows that, when it comes to this hot new sport, the social aspect is crucial. Masterson would often be miserable leaving the tennis court after a loss.

Getting in the swing at Bounce Pickleball Club in Malvern.
Getting in the swing at Bounce Pickleball Club in Malvern. Tessa Marie Images.

Not so much with pickleball. “Meeting people, having fun during the games, teasing each other—I really enjoy that part of it,” he says.

When charting his improvement as a pickleball player, Semple stresses consistency. “You have to remember you’re getting older every year,” he says. “I’m trying to stay the same—and that’s an improvement when you’re a year older.”

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Related: This Stone Harbor Getaway Pairs Pickleball With Lilly Pulitzer

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