What’s All the Racket? Comparing Physical Health Outcomes Between Pickleball and Tennis in Older Adults

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30 Comments on “What’s All the Racket? Comparing Physical Health Outcomes Between Pickleball and Tennis in Older Adults

  1. JESSICA THUM (3 days ago): Nice job on the research and the poster – love the pictures and the addition of the QR code! I am curious when looking at males and females and the difference between tennis and pickleball, if one gender had more significant findings than the other (grip strength, shoulder ROM, gait speed, single leg balance, etc.)? To clarify, female pickleball vs female tennis, male pickleball vs male tennis.

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    • Hi Jess! Good question. Actually, when splitting the groups based solely on gender, the significance of the findings decreases. Both genders have significant differences in shoulder ROM, but other differences lessen. The reason that we combined our data like we did is due to no between-group differences based on gender when running our chi-square analysis. If this would have come back as significant, then we would have ended up splitting our data like in your question. However, gender distribution was similar, and many of the athletes compete in co-ed events, so we deemed it best to analyze the combined data.

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  2. ABBY MYERS (4 days ago): I love this research topic. When working with Dr. Jordre this summer to complete SAFE tests on the VA games I was so impressed with the athleticism. The results that you found are very interesting. I am also wondering why grip strength is so much higher in pickleball athletes when compared to tennis athletes? I am also wondering if you guys believe you would have the same results if you had an equal number of male/female athletes being tested?

    AUSTIN BUCCHOLZ reply (2 days ago): Hi Abby! The grip strength discrepancy is an interesting one that we have discussed. As grip strength is multifactorial, it is hard to pinpoint one specific reason that pickleball players performed better. Training regimen would play a huge role here, especially in regards to strength training. Another hypothesis that was discussed was that tennis players tend to have played their sport for a long time and that repetitive use over years of tennis playing could impact the strength of tenodesis effect at the wrist when gripping the racket. As to your question regarding number of male/female participants, this would definitely affect the results, but I believe the same trend would be seen. Additionally, even though we did have more female than male participants in this study, our participation accurately represents our target population as the NSGA typically has more female than male participants event-wide.

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  3. ERIN LUKEN (4 days ago): Nice work on your poster! I find it fascinating that the pickle ball players had greater grip strength, shoulder ROM, and gait speed considering the weight of a tennis racket and larger court size. How do you think similarly aged badminton players would compare to tennis and pickle ball players? Personally, I think tennis is more difficult when compared to badminton, so it would be interesting to see the comparison of SAFE scores between those two sports. Additionally, how do you think those objective measures (shoulder ROM, grip strength, gait speed) would compare between tennis and pickle ball players of a younger age (<40yo)?

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    • Hi Erin, great questions! Being that badminton is a similar score, I think there would be quite a few similarities between results! At that point, it is hard to infer where any differences might exist. As for the comparison of younger athletes, I think that some of those significant differences might diminished, especially in regards to grip strength. One of our hypotheses as to why grip strength was better in pickleball athletes involved chronic use of grip in tennis players leading to decreased effectiveness of tenodesis effect at the wrist. However, athlete training outside of sport plays a role in their performance, so it is hard to say with certainty.

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  4. ALYSA GREGG (5 days ago): Your research is so fascinating! I have always been one to believe that “Pickleball is a sport for the older, less conditioned population” solely based on the people I know who participate in the activity. I’m glad your research cleared this up for me!

    Do you think if you took subjective interviews for each participant, that there would have been a large discrepancy between the two populations’ previous levels of activity and co-morbidities in their younger years? Ie athletes, vs recreational fitness participants; active/physically demanding jobs; arthritis; diabetes etc.?
    Just wondering your thoughts on this as Tennis is often viewed as a sport for younger “athletes” rather than just being picked up as a hobby.
    Thank you!!

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    • Hi Alysa! Before this research, I would have thought of pickleball the same way you did. I think subjective interviews would offer valuable information and insight. It is hard to say exactly what kind of trend we may see. One thing to consider is that our results show that pickleball athletes performed significantly better in 3 tests. The other results were not statistically significant. Therefore if we look at the big picture, we could say that older pickleball and tennis athletes are more similar in terms of physical fitness than was expected, since many of us thought that tennis athletes would perform better. So it is possible that when looking at subjective information such as previous or current level of physical activity, we may see similarities between the two groups. It would be worth investigating to see if pickleball athletes and tennis athletes report similar training programs/ time/ activities/etc. I would predict that if we compared subjective information for these two groups with another completely different group, such as swimmers or runners, we would see a large difference. I also think it would be interesting to see if former tennis athletes tend to start playing pickleball as they get older due to similarities.

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    • Hi Alysa! You pose very interesting questions. I think that if we had enough time to do a full subjective interview with each participant, we may have found some differences between exercise level when they were younger. Previous levels of activity may influence how the athletes perform on the SAFE since previous comorbidities can have a lasting impact into the older adult years.

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  5. KIANA HOFF (5 days ago): Great poster guys! I see that grip strength was the highest in those who played pickleball when compared to those that played tennis. Why do you think the grip strength is so much greater for the pickleball athletes than the tennis athletes?

    MEGAN WILSON reply (3 days ago): Hi Kiana, this is a great question! The greater grip strength in pickleball athletes is an interesting finding because tennis uses a heavier racket and a heavier ball, which would make us think that those athletes would have a stronger grip. We are unable to attribute this to any one variable and we know that grip strength is an indicator of many aspects of overall health. We do not have a lot of information about the athletes training routines and and exercise habits, which is a factor that plays into grip strength. For example, an athlete that regularly participates in strength training would likely have a higher grip strength compared to an athlete who does not strength train. This would be something to look into further and see what training differences exist between these two populations. Another thing to consider would be the possibility of fatigue or injury in tennis athletes due to the heavier racket and ball. It is possible that if a tennis athlete went through the testing right after a match they would have some fatigue and would score lower.

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  6. WHITNEY SMITH (5 days ago): Very nice poster! I think your topic is very interesting! Since tennis and pickleball are so similar, what do you think are possible causes of pickleball players having better grip, shoulder ROM, and fast gait speed?

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    • Hey Whitney, that is a great question! These findings are interesting because they likely go against what many of us would assume based on what we know about tennis and pickleball. I wish I could give you a simple answer, but we do not know exactly why these values were better in pickleball athletes, and at this point we can only speculate. It is important to consider the variables that were not accounted for that could have contributed to these findings. For example, it would be interesting to look at variables such as the athletes training, physical activity, medical history, previous sports, years playing the sport, etc. It would be worthwhile to look for trends in these variables between the two groups. For example, are senior pickleball athletes more physically active in general when compared to senior tennis athletes? Do senior pickleball athletes participate in more strength training than senior tennis athletes? These would be questions to consider for future research. For now we can say that senior pickleball and senior tennis athletes are more similar in terms of physical health characteristics than we had once thought, and we know that both sports offer health benefits for senior athletes!

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  7. TORI (5 days ago): Hello! It is pretty interesting that pickle-ball will produce the same effects as tennis when you think of how intense tennis is. You guys listed that one of the limitations is the athletes intensity and duration of training, do you think that this will sway your results if you only include individuals who train at a high intensity to compare high intensity tennis vs pickleball players? As well as do you think if you change the inclusion to having played the sport for longer than a year such as a couple of years will sway the data for longer term results?

    ASHLEY MELDRUM (3 days ago): Hi Tori, the questions you pose are great! Since we did not specifically ask about the intensity of the athlete’s training we were not able to compare high intensity training athletes in both pickle ball and tennis. Logic would have it that people that train at a higher intensity should have higher numbers throughout the SAFE than athletes that train at a lower intensity. Frequency of training would also need to be accounted for in this situation. As for your second questions about how long athletes have played the sport, there was not a minimum time that the athletes needed to play the sport in order for them to participate in the research. Athletes had to have qualified at their respective state’s senior games to be able to participate at the National competition which would mean that the athletes probably have been playing for about a year depending on when the state’s games were. With that said, since the SAFE is not specific to any sport there may not be any influence of how long the athlete has played their sport on their SAFE results. Both questions you posed would be interesting to investigate in future research.

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  8. AUSTIN BROWN (5 days ago): Hello everyone, great job with your research!
    The state of Florida seems to be a significantly more popular place for both tennis and pickleball. When compared to your sample of convenience, if you were to recreate this study in Florida, would you expect your results to deviate?

    AUSTIN BUCHHOLZ (2 days ago): Hi Austin! Sweet name. This is an interesting question. Our research relies on data gathered from National Senior Games competitions taking place in Cleveland, Minneapolis, Birmingham, and Albuquerque. These competitions attract participants nationwide, many of which are from Florida. If you were to look at National Senior Games athletes specifically from Florida, I believe of the same results would be present. Now, if you are referring to Florida residents who might play pickleball and tennis for more leisure enjoyment than competitively, I’m sure their performance on the SAFE would be worse than their competitive counterparts. However, I think the underlying trends would still be present, albeit at a lower level of skill.

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  9. Great job with your poster! The layout is very organized and easy to ready. I see that the population that you were studying was from 2013 – 2019. Do you think now that pickle ball is gaining more traction with older adults as well as in retirement communities. I have recently in the past even 2 years even heard about more pickle ball courts being created in retirement communities and smaller communities even. Do you think now that it is become a more well known sport this would change the results of your study? Would this result in a bigger difference from tennis to pile ball in your older adults at the senior games? A second question that you may not know but how has the attendance and participants for pickle ball changed from 2013 to now?

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    • Hi Brooke.
      There is a chance that the increasing popularity of pickleball could change the results. This change could be contributed to the fact we would have a greater number of athletes playing pickleball to pull from, but since our sample was a sample of convenience we would need to rely on people to actually participate to have an increased sample size of pickleball players to see a potential change in the results.

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  10. Hi group! Overall, I really enjoyed your poster. It is such an interesting topic to read about and be able to gain a further understanding on a sport that I believe is still growing and increasing in popularity for many age groups. One question I was curious about is what differences do you think would be demonstrated in younger populations that partake in tennis and pickleball, for example, the 30-50 year age range? An additional question I had was if subjects in the study were required to have played their sport, tennis or pickleball, for a certain duration of time (years) or participated in the SAFE games for an extent of time prior to being a part of this research?

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    • Hi, Lexi – great questions! There is a huge gap in literature regarding health comparisons between pickleball and tennis players, especially for younger age groups. The SAFE uses outcome measures that are validated for use in older adults, but I would think the SAFE would still be a valuable assessment for any athlete. I would personally think that findings would likely be similar in a 30-50 year age range, provided participants in both sports are playing competitively, such as they are in the National Senior Games. The challenge may be that some outcome measures may be less challenging for younger athletes. Additionally, we did not account for type and intensity of training within our study, which is something that would be valuable to look into for future research. Thank you very much for asking!

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  11. Hi! I think this was such a neat poster. My Grandma talks about how much she likes to play pickleball so it is cool to see this research being done. Why do you think that grip strength, shoulder ROM, and fast speed were the significant values, do you believe this relates to the difference between pickleball and tennis?

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    • Hi Jolin! I think this is a great question, and I’m glad to hear pickleball has been enjoyable for your grandma! It’s hard for us to pin point the difference in results from being differences in sport. One important consideration to keep in mind is that we did not account for training type or intensity when analyzing our data, so differences in frequency and intensity of strength training, aerobic training, sport-specific training between the two groups could influence our results. I think tracking these variables would be valuable for future research. I personally expected fast speed and grip strength to be greater in tennis players due to the speed of play, but our results show that that is not the case in senior athletes. The good news is our results show that participating in either sport is beneficial for physical health outcomes in older adults! Thank you very much!

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  12. Hey Group, I think this topic is so interesting. I remember being very surprised when you presented last year because in my experience of participating in the two sports, I would have guessed that older tennis players would have been more outstanding. My question for you is if you think your age representation for each sport influenced your findings being that the tennis players were represented more in the 70-80+ age group.

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    • Hi Kaylee! That is a possibility and something we have discussed. However, after running chi-square analysis on our groups at baseline, we found no significant differences between groups based on age and gender. So, even though the age distribution tends to be higher for the tennis group, it is not a significant difference, and therefore unlikely (but not out of the realm of possibility) to have an influence on our results.

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  13. Hey group, nice job on your research! I found it very interesting that these two sports are actually close in comparison. My question regards looking at fitness in the future. I wondered if your study did, or if future studies should look at how often athletes have switched from tennis to pickleball and if that had any relationship towards fitness level. I wonder if in the future we will see an overall decline in fitness/training levels. My thought process was just if they are at an ‘8/10 fitness level’ (from playing tennis) and then transition to pickleball, are they just maintaining that level opposed to starting out playing pickleball that has a lower MET rating if they would every achieve the same overall fitness level? Again, nice job on your research! It was very interesting, and I thought your poster was very well put together with all the information present.

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    • Hi Christina! Good question. A part of our inclusion and exclusion criteria was athletes had to report exclusively tennis or pickleball as the sport they were participating in. Obviously we can’t control what people self-report, but we did the best we could to limit our participants to those who only participated in one or the other. Additionally, due to the typical rate of deconditioning with change in activity, it is unlikely for anyone to maintain residual fitness from a previous sport after their transition period. Any fitness after transitioning to their new sport is due to the demands and training of their new sport.

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  14. Having volunteered at the SAFE fitness exams in the past, I know that most of the athletes competing in one sport also compete in additional sports as well. Were the participants only included in this study if they either played the sport of tennis or pickleball? If not, do you feel as though some of the benefits from other sports could have had a greater impact on the results seen in this study than either pickleball or tennis did?

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    • That is an excellent question Tori! For our study, we excluded any athlete that participated in multiple sports; we only included athletes that participated in only pickleball OR only tennis. If we did include pickleball and/or tennis players that also participated in other sports, I think that it could have indeed affected and reduced the validity of our results. Our inclusion and exclusion criteria are available for viewing near the bottom of the left-hand corner of the poster above. Thank you for your question!

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  15. I found this research topic very interesting and love the title! Do you think that the significant differences found in your research including the grip strength, shoulder ROM, and fast gait speed were correlated with how many years participants have been playing these sports? You had mentioned that pickleball has been around since 1965 but increasingly popular since 2019 and I was wondering if you knew how long the participants have been playing those sports? I also find it interesting that pickleball players had a higher fast gait speed with a smaller playing court, do you have any insight to why this might be?

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    • Hi Lainy! The amount of time playing a sport could definitely influence our results. I talked about it above in a different reply, but we speculated if decreased effectiveness of the tenodesis effect at the wrist over years of tennis playing with a heavier racket might have contributed to the difference in grip strength. We did not collect years of participation as part of the health history review, so we can neither rule this in or out. I cannot say with certainty as to why pickleball players had a higher fast gait speed. However, my educated guess would be that with the smaller court and a tendency to have longer periods of volleying, pickleball players undergo more changes of direction with quick acceleration periods, allowing them to have better trained type 1 muscle fibers and thus contributing to greater gait speed.

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  16. Good work on the poster! I had the privilege of working with senior athletes this summer and it is pretty awesome what they can do. Having some experience with the SAFE screen, do you think the tools used in that screening would play a role in the results when comparing pickleball and tennis? Do you think the tests used would correlate with a pickleball player over a tennis player?

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  17. Hi Logan, that’s awesome that you have some experience with the SAFE. These are interesting questions. Since the SAFE does not have any sport specific activities, I do not feel that it is biased towards one sport or another. Additionally since the sports are somewhat similar relative to other sports, I think the SAFE would correlate similarly to both. This is definitely a good thing to consider with the SAFE. As you know, the tests in the SAFE assess general physical health characteristics, so they should apply equally to all senior athletes. However, of the tests in the SAFE, there are some that we might expect pickleball athletes and tennis athletes to excel at based on what we know of the sports. For example, we would likely expect pickleball and tennis athletes to have better shoulder ROM than a runner. We might expect pickleball and tennis athletes to have better balance than a swimmer. Our research shows some differences between tennis and pickleball athletes on the SAFE, but overall they are fairly similar, so we can assume that the SAFE is not biased more to either one. However, our research did not look at how senior pickleball and tennis athletes compare to other athletes on the SAFE, but we could expect to see differences in certain components of the SAFE based on the sport.

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