As a dad, I’m always looking for intentional activities like pickleball that will bring our entire family together while also teaching our kids character, helping them connect with others, and providing exercise. I want to redeem the time with my family (Eph. 5:16; Col. 4:5) and I’m not alone in my pursuit.
In the summer of 1965 on Bainbridge Island (near Seattle), a few dads and their bored kids took various pieces of sporting equipment and started improvising—their purpose was to create a game that the whole family could play together. And they were successful, because the sport they came up with is now played by over 30 million Americans. It is known as pickleball.
Here are a few practical reasons why pickleball would be a terrific game for you to play with your spouse and kids.
1. Pickleball is fun for all ages.
I want my kids to enjoy playing sports, but I don’t want to spend multiple nights a week with our family split up at various locations around town for hours of practices and games on different teams. My kids will participate in some team sports leagues, but I do love being able to easily take the entire family down to our local pickleball court where everyone (including my 2-year-old) can grab a paddle and jump out onto the court together.
It evens the playing field
At this point in our family’s life, our level of pickleball play is not very competitive. And yet, everyone is able to have fun and get the ball over the net. Unlike some sports, pickleball doesn’t require significant strength or speed. The smaller court size, combined with the slower, wiffle-style ball, really helps make it accessible for all ages.
Become partners for life
Throughout our marriage, my wife and I have wanted to find an activity that we enjoy doing together that we could continue to play long after our kids are grown. In addition to hiking and traveling, we have found pickleball to be a great couples activity—one that many people play into their 80’s! Since your spouse is your partner for life (1 Cor. 7:39), consider becoming pickleball partners or find some other activity that you can enjoy together for many years to come.
2. Pickleball is a social sport.
In pickleball, you are close enough to talk with your partner during game play- unlike some sports where it is more challenging because you are fairly separated on the field (try having a conversation with a fellow outfielder during a baseball game!).
Slow the pace
In contrast to many team sports where you are moving quickly down the court/field with a game clock that’s ticking (basketball, football, soccer), pickleball is one of the more relaxed social sports where the slower pace provides more opportunity for casual conversation.
More than once, the nature of the game has allowed us to pause mid-game and address interpersonal conflict among our kids or a lack of teamwork or to teach them about encouraging others. This type of active Bible instruction (Deuteronomy 6:7) is made simpler because of the slower overall speed of the game.
Connections > Competition
I enjoy watching my kids from the sidelines as they compete in team sports, but I also love being able to be out on the pickleball court with them making memories and connecting as a family. I’m a very competitive person, so these times on the court with my kids are an important time to model good sportsmanship. Not only is pickleball great for spending quality time together as a family, it’s also a great way to connect with other people in the community. We’ve met some wonderful people in our area and made new friendships through our regular visits to our local pickleball court.
3. Pickleball is easy to learn.
Some kids will avoid certain sports because of the challenging learning curve or all the complicated rules. In my experience, pickleball is one of the easiest sports to pick up and play.1
Find a friend
Using a lightweight paddle (a little larger than one used for ping pong) you hit a wiffle-like ball across a 36-inch-high net on a small court (about 1/4 the size of a tennis court). You can read the basic pickleball rules over at usapickleball.org, but one of the best ways to learn is simply to find someone who already plays and just have them guide you through the rules and technique out on a court. In my experience, the pickleball community is a great group of people who are more than willing to help beginners.
Try new things
It’s important to encourage your kids to try new things and grow in perseverance throughout the learning process. However, this can be particularly challenging (and potentially embarrassing) for them when they have to learn on a field or court full of players. Pickleball allows you to teach your kids in an environment that has much less pressure than some team sports.
4. Pickleball has great health benefits.
In addition to the health benefits that come from social interaction with others, pickleball is a great way for you and your kids to stay active. As a Christian dad, I recognize that bodily exercise has some profit (1 Tim. 4:8) and my body is “a temple of the Holy Spirit” (1 Cor. 6:19-20). As a result, I have made a commitment to steward the body that God has given me for His glory and one of the ways I do that is by playing pickleball!
Get a whole-body workout
Playing pickleball improves balance, eye-hand coordination, and flexibility. The smaller court and low-impact nature of the game is easy on the bones and joints (for those of us dads who don’t feel so young anymore) while still providing a good whole-body workout. Although the game can have a relaxed pace, there are moments of split-second decision making that can help sharpen the mind (especially when you and your opponent are both at the net!).
Exercise with your family
It’s also very easy to work up a sweat with short bursts of energy. My kids are almost always worn out after we finish playing (probably because I have them constantly moving to run after the stray balls).2
If you’re a dad with lots of life pressures from work and family, an aerobic activity like pickleball is a great way to release endorphins, helping to relieve stress. As dads, one of the ways we ensure that we are fit to serve our families (and glorify God) is by taking good care of our bodies and our health. Pickleball is a great way to do that.
5. Pickleball has a very low cost.
When you are searching for an activity that is fun for all ages, a social sport, easy to learn, with great health benefits, you might expect to break the bank. However, pickleball can be remarkably inexpensive. For the average price you’d pay to take your family out for fast food, you can pick up some paddles and balls and be ready to hit the courts.
If you plan to play a lot, it wouldn’t be a bad idea to invest in some decent court shoes that provide support for your lateral movements (though that’s probably not necessary for the kids).
Invest in your family
Pickleball continues to be one of the fastest growing sports in America. There are over 10,000 pickleball courts and many more being built every month!3 While there are leagues and tournaments available in many cities, chances are, you can find beginner (and competitive) pick-up play at a nearby court without paying any fees. You can make a significant investment in your family’s health and well-being without spending a lot of money!
Audit your family’s activities.
Whether or not your family takes up pickleball, let me encourage you to take some time with your spouse to jot down and evaluate the pros and cons of the various activities your family is currently involved in or is considering starting.4
- Does this activity bring your family together or pull it apart?
- Does it provide opportunities to connect with others as a family?
- Does it include positive or negative influences for your kids?
- Is this an engaging and enjoyable activity for the entire family?
- Does it contribute towards the character and physical development of you and your children?
- Is this activity something that you and your wife could potentially continue after your kids are grown and gone?
- Is it something your kids could continue after they are grown?
- Does it put pressure on your family finances?
- Does it dominate your family schedule?
- Does it pull you away from your involvement with your church family?
There will be endless opportunities for your family that you and your spouse will have to evaluate in the years ahead. In addition to careful analysis, always take time to pray for God’s perspective and wisdom about your family’s schedule (Proverbs 2:6; James 1:5).
As a beginner, the most challenging pickleball rules for me to learn and remember (aside from some of the scoring) was staying out of the area by the net called “the kitchen” when hitting a volley (in the air) or waiting for the ball to hit the ground once on my side after serving. ↩
When my kids are not tired at the end of play, we usually finish with running drills where they race to touch different lines on the court in a sequence…and for now, they love it. ↩
At some point, it is good to include your children in the process of prayerfully considering what activities should be on the family calendar since this will help prepare them for their future as adults and parents. ↩