Boost Reaction Time To Play Better Pickleball

If you played Pickleball one minute, you realize fast hands are an asset. What can an over 40 pickleball enthusiast do if your pace is closer to the tortoise than the hare?

The quest to stay fit over 50 has shown me that the things I took for granted in my twenty’s are things I need to work hard to maintain with age. There is both good and bad news for older players who know that they need to boost reaction time to play better pickleball. Let’s start with the downside first.

The bad news, like many other physical skills, scientists believe that reaction time begins to slow as early as 24!

I grew up in a family of card players, and one of our favorite games was Crunch. It fast-paced, multi-person, multi-deck quasi-solitaire game. The primary objective was to score points by getting rid of your pack of cards first. As teens, my sister and I had reactions faster than our poodle Sootie could lick an unattended dish. Once in a while Dad, only 20 years my senior, could eke out a win but it wasn’t as often. Funny the same thing happened when my nephew grew up. By 15 he was the undisputed champ!

Just what can a 50-year-old pickleball player do?!

Now the good news. Older athletes are often more willing to diligently practice and take care of their bodies, in large part because it’s required to stay competitive. With a little time and devotion, you can improve your hand-eye coordination and get faster at the same time.

Top 5 ways to boost reaction time and get your hands moving as fast as an auctioneer’s mouth.

Eye Test

When was the last time you had your eyes checked?

If you are over 50, you’ve probably learned aging changes your vision. The eyes become less flexible with age resulting in a loss of focusing power.  In addition to the physical changes, the time spent on electronic devices certainly has not helped our vision get better.

Nearsightedness and astigmatism since 4th grade complicated by a significant eye injury in my mid-2o’s have required me to have yearly eye exams. Back in my golfing days, I would suddenly feel like I was losing sight of the ball during my putting stroke, which often led to a lot of missed putts. Most of the time the trip to the doctor revealed a change in vision, occasionally something had gone awry in my stroke.

Besides our chances of getting Macular Degeneration increases as we age. Macular degeneration impacts more than 10 million people yearly, more than glaucoma and cataract combined. Frequent visits to the optometrist can lead to early detection of any age-related eye disease.

Play catch

Place different colored dots on the balls and see if you can identify the color when you catch the ball.

Once you have that down, add balance to the mix. Stand on a Bosu Ball, wobble board on any unstable surface and bounce the ball off the wall. If you are playing catch with a friend, ask them to throw the ball outside of your peripheral vision.

Near and Far

In pickleball, we watch the ball travel from the baseline to the paddle. Training your eyes to focus at different distances will boost reaction time, and faster hands equal better pickleball.

Take two objects similar in size and detail, such as magazine covers. Place one 18 inches away from you and the other around 10 feet. Set a 10-second timer on your phone or use this youtube video Focus on the closest object picking out as much detail as possible, when you hear the beep change focus to the farthest object. Again try to pick out as much detail as possible. Do this for 2 minutes a couple of times each day.

Learn to Juggle

I’ve saved the best, at least the most entertaining one for last.

Watch a good juggler on youtube, and you’ll notice the balls move from your peripheral to focused vision, similar to pickleball. Juggling increases your hand-eye coordination by requiring your body to anticipate the right position to catch the ball. Not sure how long it will take me to learn to juggle but I’m burning extra calories just laughing at myself.

Be aware of your focus

To make something second nature, you need to practice at a conscious level first. A change to your focus is no different than trying to change your stroke; you need to practice.

I begin by watching the ball come off the paddle during the serve. I refocus when the ball bounces and try to see the holes as the ball rises to my paddle. My focus changes again as I watch the ball go to my opponents’ paddle.  If this doesn’t work, you might consider paddle tracking. I attended a Sarah Ansboury clinic last year when she suggested this as an alternative way to keep a close eye on the ball.

Staying fit over 50 and competitive in sport requires a holistic approach to fitness, mind, body, balance, flexibility and yes coordination. You need to make time in your workouts to practice all factors important to your sport, including the ones we took for granted for so many years.

What have you done to get faster? Post in the comments below.

cj "cathy jo" johnson

CJ Johnson’s Fitness Transformation Blog
Train Smart · Live Bold · Age Well

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