Pickleball is a competitive sport and that means that reaction time is always going to be an important attribute in a successful athlete. The pickleball athlete must successfully move a small racquet, called a paddle, to intercept and return a ball hit by an opposing player in as little as a second after the ball was hit in the first place. While pickleball is not the absolute most
Regardless of what sport you’re playing, quick reaction times are crucial to performance at a high level. The bad news is that raw reaction speed goes down as people get older. That is simply a fact of living to age past 25.
That’s the bad news. The good news is that reaction time is also controlled partly by training. Diligent practice and taking care of your body can make up to an extent for the effects of aging. Maintaining at age 50 what you took for granted at age 25 can be difficult, but for the athlete willing to put in the effort, you can improve your hand-eye coordination and your overall speed on and off the court. And these things will benefit you in other ways as well.
Don’t Drink Alcohol Before Playing
This seems like it should be obvious. However, pickleball is often played in venues that serve alcohol to participants. Some pickleball venues are even located in microbrewery taprooms.
Alcohol slows both reflexes and reaction time. A blood alcohol count of .08, the legal limit in all U.S. states, slows your reaction time by just over 1/10 of a second. So, the easiest way to improve reaction time in a sport that can take place in a venue that serves alcohol is not to drink. Alcohol is also full of empty calories. Adults can make choices that work best for their bodies and their lives.
Learn Other Sports
Pickleball has a particular way of moving the body that anyone can get used to, which is part of why it’s so appealing to many people. Anyone can play pickleball at any age. Pickleball includes rules for wheelchair pickleball, to include people with disabilities that make mobility difficult on feet.
But pickleball is only one sport. And being only one sport, pickleballers can get into a rut that can make it difficult to make gains. To improve reaction time, another sport, one that moves the body in a different way and uses different parts of the body, can be a godsend. Roller skating, tennis, and swimming can be great full-body workouts that move completely differently to pickleball.
Get Your Eyes Checked
It’s a simple fact of life that athletes in their 40s and older must contend with the slow degeneration of their vision. It does nobody any help to pretend that aging doesn’t happen. The lens of the eye becomes less flexible with aging, which becomes far more noticeable between ages 45 and 50. With modern electronics, screens closer to the face than ever before and fewer people taking appropriate time off from staring at their screens, the effect can be faster loss of eye flexibility than ever before.
With all of these factors adding up, players over age 45 should get their eyes checked every year, giving themselves the chance to catch things like macular degeneration and presbyopia sooner. The first health-related step to improving your reaction time for pickleball, or anything else, is to see clearly from infinity to your hand.
Human beings are the only animals on Earth that can throw an object with both force and precision. Even though throwing is a skill that most people don’t think very much about, two of the most popular sports in North America involve adults throwing objects with extreme precision to hit targets between 90 and 400 feet away.
In a sport like pickleball, reaction time can be trained by something as simple as playing catch with yourself or with a friend. To learn to play catch with yourself, throw a ball against a wall and get into position to catch it, and repeat with greater distance, greater speed. For additional challenge, try to hit specific points on the wall and reposition to catch the ball on the rebound. Catching balls is a key skill to build hand-eye coordination.
Sporting activities are known to not just boost reflexes. An adult participating in sports can increase their cognitive speed and delay and reduce the onset of dementia symptoms in old age. Mindfulness exercises like meditation can increase the mind’s ability to quickly shift focus and keep reaction speed up. Cognitive training of reactions and speed can be continued into old age.
Beyond more esoteric means of training the brain, simple mental exercises can be just as important. Playing card games, doing math problems, crossword puzzles, tabletop roleplaying games, can all push the brain to learn new neural pathways and maintain old ones against the effects of age. While it’s said that an old dog can’t learn new tricks, that’s not actually true. Not of dogs, and not of people. The important thing is having the will to learn a new thing instead of simply coasting on what’s already familiar. For those who have picked up pickleball since its popularity began expanding in the 2000s
General fitness training, offered by both large gyms and small ones, open to the public and membership-based, can mean a world of difference in terms of maintaining and even improving fitness later in life. Fitness training doesn’t have to be expensive, either. YouTube is full of workouts and tutorials that can help anybody, at any age, get and stay more fit. Movement is a huge part of improving reaction time. If your body is used to movement, you will get into motion quicker and stay in motion.
Trail running is an underrated way to stay fit and improve reaction time. Running on uneven terrain with uncertain obstructions will force you to stay focused. Concentration will improve from this form of running, as well as agility as branches and rocks need constant readjustment to balance. Ladder training, while it takes place on stable ground, can have much of the same effect as the person training will need to remember patterns and move their feet quickly and precisely to avoid being caught in the rungs of the ladder.
Lastly, in the fitness portion there are pickleball-specific drills. Returning machine services is not always the most fun part of the game, but it is an essential skill to learn. Playing pickleball with a machine until your fingers are sore will force you to get better by the most fundamental step of practicing and re-practicing the basic movements of the sport.
While training reaction speed, especially for an older athlete, can be a daunting prospect from the beginning, it’s not impossible. With dedication, hard work, and even a little fun, athletes of any age can move faster, react quicker, and beat their opponents on the pickleball court.