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I Don't Need Therapy - All I Need is Pickleball

PICKLEBALL IS MY THERAPY.
Pickleball is notorious for good t-shirt taglines, but this one gave me pause: “Pickleball is going to put me—and all other mental health professionals—out of business!” Although the shirts were made in jest, there are many reasons pickleball is mentally and emotionally therapeutic.

Social Interaction and Meaningful Relationships
Human beings are social creatures. Relationships help us make it through life in a meaningful, resilient way.

Pickleball is amazing in how wide and vast the social net casts. If you are planning on playing pickleball, just know that community involvement and social networking are inevitable. Meaningful connections, mentorships, and lasting friendships are created naturally in the pickleball community. I don’t know of any other sport where friends are made and contact information is exchanged so quickly! Odds are if you type in the word “pickle” on someone’s contact list, a long list of people will populate.

The community isn’t just local. Many travelers struggle with feeling lonely on the road. However, if you hop on Facebook and type in “pickleball” and the city you are traveling to, odds are there’s a pickleball community happy to welcome new players for the week.

Recently, my friend and I traveled to the Quad Cities area for the John Deere Classic. While we were waiting for our flight, we found the local pickleball club on Facebook. We sent a message before we took off, and by the time we landed, we had a response--an invitation to come and play during the week. Even though the humidity was off the charts, it made for an extremely enjoyable week. It’s the same across the entire country. The pickleball community is extremely inclusive!

I’ve heard many recovering from heart disease or other health conditions tell their story that pickleball literally saved their lives. Similarly, isolated souls, suffering from depression or social anxiety, have told me that pickleball has done the same for them. If you haven’t been on the courts for a while, expect a text from someone calling you back to the community!

Problem Solving
Some have hypothesized, and current research is being conducted, that doing a daily crossword puzzle or engaging in problem-solving games such as chess helps to reduce the risk for dementia and Alzheimer’s disease—as well as other mental health conditions.

Playing pickleball is like solving a riddle. It includes identifying a strategy, finding out who is trying to do what to whom, and what the strengths and weaknesses are of different opponents. Pickleball is a very healthy, active mental process.A lot of problem solving is done electronically nowadays. That isn’t entirely bad, but smashing a pickleball is way better for your brain than crushing candy on your iPad.

Physically Active—Mentally Healthy
Physical exercise has emotional and mental health benefits as well. In fact, 30 minutes of cardiovascular exercise has a similar effect on the brain as a daily prescription of Zoloft. A pickleball high is a real thing.

Pleasure leads to a rush of dopamine to the brain. The brain likes it—getting joy from social interaction, focus, and problem solving, to name a few. Once people get their first experience with playing, they are chasing their next dopamine rush. It isn’t uncommon to see a bunch of picklers on the courts during a rainstorm with a wheelbarrow full of towels and leaf blowers trying to dry the courts so they can play—again, problem solving!

Laughter, Creativity and Play
Plato said, “You can discover more about a person in an hour of play than in a year of conversation.” I see more laughter and lightheartedness with pickleball than any other sport. The mishits and blunders are hilarious; the amazing reaction shots are jaw-dropping, and the inside jokes never end.

vEven though there’s a definite structure and deliberate strategy in how to play pickleball, once the smashes and lobs start happening, it becomes a very creative and reactionary sport. It gets us out of our logical thinking and into the creative and artistic part of our brains. Using both hemispheres of our brains is balancing and therapeutic. Almost every point requires both sides of the brain!

Even though there’s a definite structure and deliberate strategy in how to play pickleball, once the smashes and lobs start happening, it becomes a very creative and reactionary sport. It gets us out of our logical thinking and into the creative and artistic part of our brains. Using both hemispheres of our brains is balancing and therapeutic. Almost every point requires both sides of the brain!

Laughter and play are also primarily social functions. We laugh and enjoy playing more fully when we are with others.

The Right Kind of Addiction
Once our brains experience dopamine, they crave more and more of it. Pickleball is addicting. It’s enjoyable. We crave it. The good thing about pickleball is that it’s a natural high. You can’t overdose from too many dinks.

As a marriage and family therapist, I offer a word of caution: Any activity or habit that adversely impacts an important area of your life is considered counterproductive—including pickleball. If your pickleball obsession is getting in the way of spending time with your kids or loved ones, you may want to take a break and make sure you are maintaining balance. Take a night off and plan a date with your spouse. Take your kids to the lake. If you are not keeping up with your school or occupation, get your work done before setting up a game. If your anger, or need to win, is affecting the joy in playing the game, seek out a new perspective, or find another way to experience life so it doesn’t affect relationships and sour everyone else’s experience.

I am grateful to be a part of the pickleball community. As I became a new parent and moved into a new neighborhood, my social circles seemed to be getting smaller and smaller. Playing pickleball has put me in contact with some of the greatest people I’ve ever met. It has been a beautiful experience to learn the game and feel the therapeutic benefits of being a part of the community. My father, a recently retired CPA, is a former tennis player and somewhat introverted. In just a few months of playing pickleball, he lost 25 pounds and has made many new friends. He even just played in his first tournament!

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