Pickleball: Building New Communities at the Foglia YMCA
Pickleball is all the rage — and it’s easy to see why! The sport, which is a combination of tennis, ping pong, and badminton, is fun to play, simple to learn, and suitable for all ages and skill levels. In fact, it’s so popular that pickleball was recently named the fastest growing sport by the Sports & Fitness Industry Association.
And (not to sound like a pickleball hipster) the Foglia YMCA has been pickleball-ing since well before the sport became mainstream. In early 2016, Eric Palmblad, the Foglia Y’s Senior Sports Director, was approached by the Ela Township 55+ club. A small handful of local seniors had expressed interest in learning and playing the sport. At the time, there weren’t any courts or programs in the Lake Zurich area. So, Palmblad did what the Y does best — listened to and met the needs of our community members.
Palmblad held an introductory class, where he explained the rules, court setup, and, most importantly, how to play the game. Although only a few people had initially asked to learn pickleball, nearly 30 people showed up to the event.
It took off from there. The Foglia Y started running pickleball games two days a week, for two hours each day. But as popularity increased — with people waiting 30 or more minutes just to play one game — it was clear that one court was not enough.
So one pickleball court became three courts, which then became six courts that now span two of the Foglia Y’s basketball courts, five mornings a week. Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays tend to be the busiest, with 40 to 50 people showing up each day, the majority of whom are seniors. As the program continues to grow, the Foglia YMCA is looking forward to hosting leagues, tournaments, and lessons for all ages and skill sets.
“There are multiple medical and social studies on the benefits of pickleball, ranging from lowering blood pressure and cholesterol to improving cardio fitness, reflexes, and balance for older adults, in addition to the social connections and new friends!” said John Gainer, a member of the Foglia YMCA Advisory Board and an avid pickleball player.
Pickleball at the Y is tackling one of the main barriers to exercising — the lack of social interaction. Through pickleball, the Foglia Y has created a positive environment that makes it easy for participants to stay moving or begin a new journey towards being physically active.
The Foglia Y’s pickleball program has helped community members form friendships and build networks. Players who met during pickleball sessions have organized cookouts, men’s and women’s lunches, a bowling group, a book club, game nights, and more!
“We’ve developed food trains to help those having surgery or chemo,” said a Foglia Y pickleball player. “It’s a blessing that pickleball [at the Foglia Y] brought us all together.”
Another player agreed: “The pickleball group is kind of a built-in social and support network. Some of [my fellow players] are my closest friends today.”
At the Y, pickleball is more than just a game. It’s an accessible way to get moving and stay moving. It’s a fun and lively activity that’s easy to get addicted to. And it’s an avenue for discovering and shaping new communities, while connecting people to their purpose, potential, and each other.
Pickleball is only one of the many ways that the Foglia Y — and the YMCA of Metropolitan Chicago — helps our community members learn, grow, and thrive. We have something for everyone, whether you’re looking to start a new workout routine, get the whole family involved in fun activities, or find a supportive, health-conscious environment. Check out our other programs and activities at the Foglia Y and across our Association!