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Friday, March 2, 2018

Connecting Through Pickleball

Connecting with others is rewarding...

The process of bringing a new tournament on-stream takes one into a lot of different worlds. One of those worlds is sales, a world in which I have never been comfortable. But a tournament needs sponsors to help defray some of its costs. Therefore, a sales pitch for the tournament and - even pickleball in general - must be developed to gain sponsor buy-in. As a data-based decision-maker, I dove headlong into researching the benefits of pickleball. I needed to show sponsors how growing the game in their community could prove to be a good investment for them.

But this post is not about selling pickleball to you. Instead, it will be an attempt to tie together some of my research with recent news in order to show how pickleball...yes, pickleball, the sport with the silly name...can help solve some of society's ills. I do not want to overstate its impact, but pickleball's nature is a great fit.

The Problem

Let's start, though, by identifying the problem by looking at some recent news. Last week, The White House held a listening session with the victims of school shootings. One man's remarks were particularly relevant to my post.
...we must create a culture of connectedness. A culture in which our classmates become our friends...Every single one of these school shootings has been from young men who are disconnected.
So what is connectedness and why is it important? Mental Health America gives us an answer:
Humans are social animals: We crave feeling supported, valued and connected. 
Research points to the benefits of social connection:
- Increased happiness. In one compelling study, a key difference between very happy people and less-happy people was good relationships.
- Better health. Loneliness was associated with a higher risk of high blood pressure in a recent study of older people.
- A longer life. People with strong social and community ties were two to three times less likely to die during a 9-year study.
Sports - A Part of the Solution

People make connections when they have common interests. Connections can happen at school, within families, at church, and many other locations/activities...including sports. There is no better example of high-level connections in sports than the recently concluded Olympics. In the Closing Ceremonies, the IOC President said:
You have shown our sport brings people together in our very fragile world. You have shown how sport builds bridges.
In a smaller sense, we connect with fellow fans. As a native of Western PA, I am a born Steeler fan. I immediately feel a connection with someone wearing a Steeler hat or shirt. But fan connections are transient. 

A more enduring connection is made by participating in a sport with others. I dropped in on a girls' volleyball tournament last weekend to see how crowds were managed at our tournament venue. The place was packed with family from grandparents to siblings of the players. Connection-building with teammates and family was palpable as I walked through the building.

What About Pickleball

Team sports are a great means to build intra-generational connections. Teammates form strong bonds, some of which will last a lifetime. Youth sports serve the purpose well...especially if the family has strong relationships off the courts. Family is needed for the inter-generational connections that tie the young to cultural mores.

But the problem identified above is that many people - of all generations - have lost their connections with others. This is where pickleball can help.

As a reader of this blog, you know how social pickleball is. The very nature of pickleball play is friendly with its use of a wiffleball and a non-volley zone to preclude close smashes. It has developed a culture of welcoming new players with open arms and friendly meetings at the end of games.

But more than anything, pickleball's popularity almost forces connections. Short games allow players to wait. While they wait, they socialize. They learn about others' families, their careers, their lives. They become friends. And the best part is that they are of all ages and generations.

The unique aspect that pickleball brings to the table of connectedness is that it can be played by all ages while keeping the game competitive. Athleticism of youth will always be an advantage but pickleball is mostly a game of patience and strategy. Those are the great equalizers...and equality allows a baby boomer to play with a teen. Then, while they wait for the next game, the older generation can pass a bit of their wisdom of life on to the young.

A recent article about pickleball says it well:
...we see the value of pickleball play as an opportunity to get people more active, less lonely and more engaged at all ages...
The benefits for overall emotional well-being are also huge in this community. 
For many, the world is a lonely place. For others - those who have discovered pickleball - the world is full of friendly faces. We need to expand the pickleball world. We need to make connections.

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