We both turn 70 this year, which has to qualify us (in our pickleball-playing roles) for official Geezer-Jock status. (See this for one history of Geezer-Jock-ed-ness that actually indicates perhaps 50 years was the original entry point for being so labeled.)
We have been putting off this self-acceptance off for a long time. For instance, when we turned 60, we held a huge birthday party and themed it “Turning 60, Feeling 40”) Now, however, logical thinking (that lying superstructure of the ego) would inform us that by the same token now at best we are “Turning 70, Feeling 50” and even if that were true, which it isn’t, 50 would still qualify us as old as athletes go – see the first paragraph if you are as old as us and already forgot that part.
And then there is how we feel and look. AJ still insists he lusts after Irene (at least in his mind) and that she looks terrific, but when he looks in the mirror all he will admit to seeing is some aging stranger with incredibly big ears and too large a nose, not too mention the stranger’s suddenly very hairy eyebrows. Irene stays silent on the greater issue of self-perception but admits cheerlessly that her knees are not what they once were, and that they weren’t all that great then.
What does this have to do with pickleball?
For us, the issue addresses what we do between ages 70 and 80, practically speaking. No matter how we cut it and how many single examples each club can provide that show they have “two (three, one, six) great players over 80!”, most players have already lost several steps by the time they are 70 and are having to make decisions about how competitively they want to play, how often, and how long per session, etc. While still committed to the growth of clubs and players and the sport as a whole, how committed will we remain to doing the work necessary to keep up as players in a sport that (as it should be) needs to be “owned” by the younger people if it is to continue to grow?
How does this manifest itself? When playing with one’s age-peers, mostly it just results in some good-natured trash talking. “John, you could have got that last year!”, or “Al, your grand kids can hit the ball harder than that” – both true enough statements but meant only to tease. When considering how much time we will play and in what venues, however, various other considerations arise. Are we going to continue to play tournaments? Never the absolute best players in the bracket, we have been 4.5s for years. Last year AJ played in 8 tournaments and forgot to medal in any of them except in mixed when he played with Irene. (Irene did a bit better overall.)
Maybe a bad example. Tournaments are tough to stay up for and even the mechanics of the tournaments – the overall size of brackets, length of time you commit to playing even one day if you keep winning, and how many times, really, do you want to warm up, cool down, stiffen up, get called and have two minutes to warm up again, before you realize that this is a sure path to yet another hamstring tear, achilles rip, rotator cup replacement, Afib incident, knee arthroscope, or whatever else, any one of which will take longer than ever to get over? It needs to be considered.
Second, how much do we care whether we are the best in a bracket any more? Will we eat better? Will we sleep better? The shelf-life of a win at this age is almost no time at all, and then you are trying to meet your now increased expectations in the next event.
Third, how much exercise does pickleball really give you, anyway? The answer to that IOHO lies entirely in how competitive a group you are playing with. If you are, say, a 3.5 player and are playing against other equally skilled 3.5s chances are you can get a pretty decent workout but even there, compared to what you used to get playing tennis or racquetball or squash, the total cardio workout is pretty weak. So if you care about your overall health you are still gonna want to hit the gym, jog, do yoga, walk extra with the Boxer, all of the above or whatever. So you don’t think as much about pickleball as a way to get enough exercise by itself, although we don’t dispute it helps.
Fourth, how fun IS pickleball, anyway at this age? AHA! HERE is where the equation begins to even up. Pickleball is perhaps the most fun racquet sport around. You are playing across from folks who have become good friends, you are laughing and teasing, you are playing with an equal-skilled peer group and your juices are flowing a bit, and, for just an hour or two, it’s pretty much like being young again, maybe better because we have less responsibilities to get in the way of the enjoyment. This fourth point by itself makes us both want to continue as players into this next decade.
So, how do we then move forward as players? This is where the conversation becomes pretty interesting. AJ admits Irene is the better natural athlete. Irene admits AJ is more willing to do the work than we talked about. As we prepare for our snowbird-migration to Palm Creek for the winter, AJ is already talking about a program that has several facets, including, yes, the additional gym work, the jogging and the extra dog-walking, not to mention Yoga and more P-Ball drilling. Irene is talking about restricting her play, resting her knees, and enjoying better quality wine in the evenings. But both of us have clearly decided that, as long as we are able, we will play, acknowledging, as we do, that no matter what the result of the play, playing pickleball is tons more fun than not playing. And fun is good, right? Right!
And this kind of fun can be rare as you get older, sorry to say. A friend of ours recently sent us one of those ridiculous don’t-break-the-chain supposedly-humorous emails and for some reason AJ read it, which usually neither of us does, and was struck by the very last sentence. “Don’t Complain about Old Age”, it read. “Many People Never Get the Opportunity!” Can’t argue with that!
So, having written the above, we can now amend the statement a bit. “Don’t Complain about Becoming a Pickleball Geezer-Jock. MOST Folks Never Get the Opportunity!” And so we will play ’til we drop. And you? Check out https://pickleball.biz if you haven’t recently, and drop us a note about what you like, don’t, or would like to see.