More Local Pickleball Courts Give Seniors Options for Safe, Fun Exercise

By Autumn Gray

Albuquerque is soon to be home to more than 100 pickleball courts to accommodate the fastest growing sport in the country, which continues to attract older adults.

The City’s Parks and Recreation Department now has 30 dedicated pickleball courts and more than 48 courts lined for both tennis and pickleball. Between the City and private development, about 30 more should be in play by the end of 2025. That may seem like a lot, but data suggests demand can support them.

According to the 2023 Sports & Fitness Industry Association’s (SFIA) Topline Participation Report, pickleball – a cross between ping pong, badminton, and tennis – continued to be America’s fastest-growing sport for the third year in a row. Pickleball participation almost doubled in 2022, increasing by 85.7 percent year-over-year and by 159 percent over three years.

 

As the country celebrates National Pickleball Month in April, the sport boasts up to a total of 8.9 million players in the United States – many of them in their retirement years. A whopping 52 percent of core players are over the age of 55, and 33 percent are older than 65, according to a 2022 Fact Sheet from the USA Pickleball Association, the sport’s official governing body. While the Association of Pickleball Professionals states that slightly more than 20 percent of casual pickleball players are over 55, the organization also claims that the average age of players is dropping, now standing at 35.

Pickleball Projects

To ensure all ages and areas across Albuquerque have access to free pickleball facilities, the Parks and Recreation Department has been busy upgrading and adding to existing courts since last year. Manzano Mesa Park, which has 18 dedicated pickleball courts, is adding 15 more as well as lighting, shade, and a restroom. The $3.5 million project is expected to be completed this spring, according to a City news release.

Ventana Ranch Park, at 10000 Universe Blvd. NW, is expected to see a $1.5 million expansion with eight new dedicated pickleball courts, adding to the existing four dual striped tennis courts (which provides eight pickleball courts), according to a news release.

The City’s newest dedicated pickleball courts, located at Pat Hurley Park, are the first in the southwest quadrant of the City. Just opened in February, the $84,000 renovations involved resurfacing two tennis courts for continued tennis play and converting the other two tennis courts into four dedicated pickleball courts.

The City has also conducted a few smaller renovations recently: The Sierra Vista Tennis Center now offers two dedicated pickleball courts and four “dual-use” courts that were converted last year by striping two tennis courts for pickleball. The Johnny Tapia Community Center at Wells Park was also expanded last year, to include multi-use courts striped to accommodate six pickleball courts.

“We will continue to invest in projects that improve our quality of life, build our sports economy, and create access across our city to fun, safe recreational facilities,” Mayor Tim Keller said in a release. “Residents of all ages will soon have expanded opportunity to participate in this popular sport that promotes a healthy lifestyle.”

Playing it Safe

Indeed, pickleball has been heralded as a fun way to stay active and socialize, so it makes sense that the sport has taken the senior fitness community by storm. However, it also brings with it numerous health benefits. Optum New Mexico family physician Gilberto Heredia provided an overview:

  • Pickleball is low impact, meaning it does not put stress on the joints. In this way, it is similar to activities such as brisk walking, cycling, swimming, water aerobics, and dancing.
  • Pickleball is social, and social connectedness influences our minds, bodies, and behaviors—all of which influence health and life expectancy. Research shows that social connectedness can lead to longer life, better health, and improved well-being.
  • Pickleball helps with balance and is a multicomponent activity. Multicomponent physical activity can include a combination of moderate or vigorous-intensity aerobic activity, muscle strengthening, and balance training. Balancing exercises helps prevent falling which reduces the risk of injury.

 

Like other physical activities, pickleball has the potential to improve brain health, help facilitate weight management, mitigate the risk of diseases, strengthen bones and muscles, help manage weight, and enhance overall everyday functionality, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

 

“While embracing the fun and fitness benefits of pickleball, it’s important for seniors to prioritize safety on the court,” Heredia cautioned. “As with any new activity, it is recommended to check in with your doctor, especially if you have been inactive for a while.”

 

The CDC recommends to start slowly, wear proper shoes, and use eye protection and appropriate equipment. Be aware, too, of any obstacles in the area where you are playing.

 

Most pickleball courts available in Albuquerque are outside, so Heredia advised to try to avoid wet pickleball courts, stay hydrated, and wear sunscreen.

 

However, more indoor options are slated for next year. Local entrepreneurs Colton Davis and Jessica Moose plan to open Vault Pickleball in 25,000 square feet of leased space at 2100 Louisiana Blvd. NE, in Uptown. The LGBTQ- and woman-owned business is anticipated to include eight indoor pickleball courts, as well as a bar and kitchen.

 

“Vault Pickleball will be a space where diversity is celebrated,” the creators state on their website, adding that they “look forward to bringing their inclusive, ethical business vision to life.”

 

Moose and Davies have already responded to the explosion of interest in the sport by founding a pickleball Meetup group. To learn more and see meetup times, visit https://www.meetup.com/albuquerque-pickleball-meetup/.

In addition, the ABQ Pickleball Club provides tournaments, training, playing opportunities, and conducts pickleball open houses. Membership and court use is free. Visit the website at https://abqpickleball.com/ or email [email protected] for more information.

In addition to the dedicated pickleball complexes at Manzano Mesa and the six Villela Pickleball Courts (six courts), the City has a shared complex at Sierra Vista Courts (two permanent pickleball courts, and four tennis courts with pickleball lines).

City courts are typically available on a first-come, first-served basis, and play is limited to 90 minutes when others are waiting. For a full list of Albuquerque court locations and hours, visit https://www.cabq.gov/parksandrecreation/recreation/pickleball.

Photos

Credit: City of Albuquerque Parks and Recreation Department

Cutline: Dedicated pickleball courts recently opened at Pat Hurley Park in southwest Albuquerque.

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