In 2018, Ryan Onishi started a small pickleball group at Orange County Buddhist Church (OCBC) with the hopes of finding a physical activity for their senior group to enjoy. The group began with about 10 to 15 people, playing one day a week, and with taped pickleball court lines on the floor of the gym. Little did Ryan know that the pickleball craze at OCBC would soon grow to become one of the most popular activities at the church. 

ocbc pickleball group
Orange County Buddhist Church’s (OCBC) Pickleball Group

OCBC’s pickleball group has now attracted 150 members, leading to them playing two days a week, getting pickleball court lines painted in their gym, and even putting together an annual pickleball tournament. Not only has OCBC’s group grown in ways they couldn’t imagine, but across Our Community, we have seen more senior pickleball groups appear in places like Venice, Pasadena, and West Covina. So this begs the question, why is pickleball so popular among older adults? 

The Rise of Pickleball

hands holding pickleball paddle and ball

Keiro spoke with Susan Nardi, a certified professional tennis and pickleball coach, to gain insight on the rise of pickleball among older adults. Susan has had years of experience in racquet and paddle sports, is the owner of Rhino Crash Sports Group, Vice President of LA Tennis, and coaches various age ranges of athletes at after school programs, LA Pickle Club, all sides of adaptive tennis, and more. Susan was first exposed to pickleball in high school during the 1980s, and she hoped that the future of club sports would go beyond tennis. With the recent rise to popularity during the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020, many older adults began playing pickleball. 

Susan shared, “A lot of research has come out recently that says pickleball is the number one entry sport, mainly because you’re having people that have been inactive for so long become active.” When searching for options for physical activity, especially after being inactive for some time, older adults may feel hesitant to begin something new.

Ryan also encouragingly said, “[Pickleball] is easy to learn. Unlike tennis or golf, you don’t have to take lessons for a long time. You can start playing pretty quickly and have fun. And so I think that’s why so many people have gravitated towards it.”

Benefits for Mental and Physical Health

When watching the community members over the years play pickleball at OCBC, Ryan shared that he has noticed everyone has significantly developed their skills, flexibility, enthusiasm, and stamina. “My dad is a good example. When he first started playing, he played two games and he would be like, ‘Okay, I’m done.’ But now that he comes out regularly, he’ll play four games and maybe get talked into a fifth game.”

four people touching pickleball paddles together
two people playing pickleball

Susan shared that playing pickleball is a great sport because your glutes, quads, and hamstrings are constantly engaged which can build muscles. She said, “I think pickleball is probably one of the better sports for seniors. They’re really getting some exercise and steps and everything.” Along with the physical benefits, playing pickleball challenges your brain just as hard. When on the court, your brain is judging the speed and distance of the ball and thinking about moving right or left, which ultimately helps to keep your brain sharp and develop good mental skills.

With the combination of benefits for your mental and physical health, studies have shown that people who play racquet sports, such as pickleball, are more likely to have an increased lifespan. “These sports offer a unique blend of cardiovascular exercise, mental stimulation, and social engagement, which collectively contribute to enhanced longevity.” (ONYX, 2023)

Let’s Socialize!

One of the main reasons why pickleball has grown in popularity is because of its social nature. Not only are we seeing people across generations connecting through a common interest, but many people who have retired or been inactive are finding a new community with pickleball and creating friendships with people they may not have had the chance to meet otherwise.

Susan emphasized, “Especially for seniors, it’s an opportunity to meet like-minded people and for them to play together. One of the things that I’ve discovered is the social connection of pickleball and how powerful that is, and how they have all built a sense of community.”

Ryan has seen many members come to play and hang out with their friends. Due to the large size of OCBC’s group and the limited number of courts, many people enjoy conversations with others in between games and during stretches as they wait for their turns to play. Players also bond over the strong sense of comradery and continuously give words of encouragement throughout the game, especially among the varying levels of experience. 

When talking about the future of the pickleball group, Ryan is hoping to expand their social circle beyond OCBC by connecting with other pickleball groups in the Japanese American community. He finds this as a great opportunity to connect with older adults through their shared interests. 

pasadena pickleball group
Pasadena Buddhist Temple’s (PBT) Pickleball Group
esgvjcc pickleball group
Pickleball Group at East San Gabriel Valley Japanese Community Center
vjcc pickleball group
Venice Japanese Community Center (VJCC) Pickleball Club
Photo Courtesy: Steve Fujimoto

Getting Addicted to Pickleball

When asked for advice on people who may be interested in playing, Susan said a few simple words, “Get ready to have a good time, and be prepared to get addicted!” Both Ryan and Susan shared the same sentiment that considering all the benefits of pickleball, particularly the fun and social aspects, it is very easy to get attached to playing. 

“Once you get somebody to play, I think it’s not too hard to become addicted or to want to play more. That’s probably the hardest thing is getting people to slow down, especially our seniors.” Ryan shared. He is glad that the pickleball group has given people the opportunity to get out of the house, get some physical activity, and most importantly, connect with their community.


ONYX (2023). How Racquet Players Enjoy Longer Lives. Retrieved from