A pickleball star offers tips for improving your game. The 22-year-old pro athlete says the sport isn't just for old people.

  • Pickleball is a great all-ages sport that can be athletic and competitive, too.

  • To up your pickleball performance, practice footwork and hitting drills before you play.

  • Train like a pickleball pro by working your core and balance with planks and single-leg squats.

Pickleball isn't just for your grandparents — the decades-old ball game has become the fastest growing sport in America, and it can help you sharpen your social network, build some serious athletic skills, and make exercise fun, according to a 22-year old star of the sport.

Parris Todd is a former elite junior tennis player who leveraged her skills to turn pro at pickleball (which can a lucrative career, powered by massive investment in the sport, new courts, and gear).

Despite its reputation as a retirement home activity, pickleball is a dynamic game of skill, athleticism, and strategy, and it can supplement your workouts by adding a strong sense of community as well as helping develop your balance, agility, and core strength, Todd said.

"The biggest misconception is that pickleball is for old people. It's had that stigma for a while. It's been cool to see younger pros to come in and show how athletic the sport is," she told Business Insider.

Todd shared what she loves about pickleball, and her top tips and exercises to help you train like a pro — and beat your friends and family on the court.

You can play pickleball at all ages and fitness levels 

Todd, who entered the pro tennis circuit at age 14, said she first got into pickleball in late 2021 while spending time with, you guessed it, her grandparents. Longtime fans of the sport, they encouraged her to try it out on some newly-remodeled pickle ball courts at the local tennis center in Newport Beach. Todd said she assumed it would be comparable to tennis, but quickly learned two things: it was a lot more fun, and harder than she expected.

"As a tennis player, you think of pickleball as a cop out. But when I was playing for fun and started losing to 60-year-old ladies, I thought I had to really give this a shot," she said. "It's very addictive when you start playing."

One of the biggest revelations for Todd, besides being humbled by elderly athletes, was how social and accessible the sport was, especially compared to tennis which can take years of training to do well.

"The great thing about the sport is anyone at any age can play. At public courts you see grandparents playing with grandchildren," Todd said. "You can go out there, pick up a paddle, and start having fun. The social aspect makes it different from anything else I've ever done."

Despite being easy to pick up, pickleball is athletic, dynamic, and strategic, offering plenty of challenge to athletes who want to advance in the sport, while staying accessible to more casual fans, Todd said.

Pickleball athlete Parris Todd on the court smiling as she lunges after a ball.
For peak pickleball performance, warm up before a game by drilling different shots.Courtesy of Parris Todd

Do a proper warm-up for better pickleball performance

If you're playing pickleball to win, even just against friends and family, one of the biggest mistakes you can make is jumping right into the game, according to Todd.

"A warm-up and cool down is really important," she said. "I see amateurs just go out and start playing. No one wants to take the time to drill."

Before hitting the court, she does some jogging, footwork exercises like "karaoke" or grapevine steps, lunges, and dynamic stretching.

Then, she gets ready for peak performance with drills. Aim to warm-up different shots and strokes, from volleys and dinks, to lobs and drives.

"You want to practice hitting every shot that you would in a match," she said.

Afterward, Todd said some of her favorite cool-down exercises include movements to reduce soreness, such as hamstring stretches and pigeon pose to relax tense hips.

Core exercises like planks can also boost your pickleball game

You can also work out to get better at pickleball with specific exercises to do in the gym or at home. Todd said strengthening your core and back can keep your posture rock-solid for better performance.

Her go-to exercises include planks, balancing on a bosu ball, and cable machine rows.

Pickleball athlete Parris Todd looking intense and focused while on the court.
Adding core and balance exercises to your workouts can give you a boost on the pickleball court.Courtesy of Parris Todd

Get better balance and agility for pickleball with single-leg workouts

Pickleball isn't just about strength, however, and requires excellent footwork, and some endurance, to do well.

"We're always on our toes as pickleball players," she said.

Todd said she gets plenty of cardio exercise through competing. As a result, she focuses her mid-season training on balance and agility with single-side movements for the lower body including deadlifts, squats, and balances, Todd said.

All of these can be a great way to develop better balance, agility, and explosive power at any fitness level, personal trainers previously told Insider. To work up the strength and mobility to do single-leg squats (also known as pistol squats), practice with support like a TRX band, box, or stability ball and gradually progress.

Read the original article on Business Insider