Full Terms & Conditions of access and use can be found at
World Leisure Journal
ISSN: (Print) (Online) Journal homepage: https://www.tandfonline.com/loi/rwle20
An examination of pickleball participation, social
connections, and psychological well-being among
seniors during the COVID-19 pandemic
Jonathan M. Casper, Jason N. Bocarro & Allura F. Lothary
To cite this article: Jonathan M. Casper, Jason N. Bocarro & Allura F. Lothary (2021):
An examination of pickleball participation, social connections, and psychological well-
being among seniors during the COVID-19 pandemic, World Leisure Journal, DOI:
To link to this article: https://doi.org/10.1080/16078055.2021.1957708
Published online: 17 Aug 2021.
Submit your article to this journal
View related articles
View Crossmark data
An examination of pickleball participation, social
connections, and psychological well-being among seniors
during the COVID-19 pandemic
Jonathan M. Casper
, Jason N. Bocarro
and Allura F. Lothary
Department of Parks, Recreation and Tourism Management, North Carolina State University, Raleigh, NC,
Department of Kinesiology and Community Health, College of Applied Health Sciences, University of
Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, Champaign, IL, USA
This study examined how the COVID-19 pandemic has changed the
physical activity, social connections, and psychological well-being
of seniors who participate in the sport of pickleball. A total of 36
pickleball players who were over the age of 65 completed an
online survey that assessed pickleball participation, social
connections, physical/mental health, loneliness, and life
satisfaction measures in February/March 2020 (pre-COVID) and
again in November 2020 (during COVID). Findings indicated that
a majority of the participants are still playing pickleball outdoors,
but less frequently. They reported lower social connections
through pickleball and in their daily life. While perceived physical
health scores were stable, participants reported signiﬁcantly
lower mental health, higher loneliness, and lower life satisfaction
during the pandemic. Those playing less pickleball were
signiﬁcantly more likely to report lower life satisfaction during the
pandemic. The ﬁndings from this study have implications for
both leisure practitioners and public health professionals as they
strategize ways to continue to oﬀer recreation experiences safely.
Received 25 January 2021
Accepted 2 July 2021
Senior sport; COVID-19;
physical activity; mental
The world’s older population, in virtually every country, is experiencing signiﬁcant
growth. Data from the World Population Prospects (2019) predicts that by 2050, one
in four people in Europe and North America could be older than 65. Although older
adults are living longer, policymakers have become increasingly concerned about older
adults’quality of life. For example, Walsh et al. (2019) described the gap between
quality and quantity of life resulting from society being unprepared to deal with the
ramiﬁcations of an aging population. Studies have shown that leisure is an important
contributor to improving the quality of life of older adults, particularly in regard to
social, mental, and physical health (e.g. Berlin et al., 2018; Choi et al., 2018; Kim et al.,
2020). Physical leisure activities have been increasingly recognized as providing both
psychological and physical health beneﬁts. For example, Henderson et al. (2012) found
that participants regularly involved in Senior Games were both more physically and
© 2021 World Leisure Organization
CONTACT Jonathan M. Casper firstname.lastname@example.org Department of Parks, Recreation and Tourism Management,
North Carolina State University, Box 8004, Biltmore Hall, Raleigh, NC 27695, USA
WORLD LEISURE JOURNAL
socially active. Furthermore, studies have found that sport, when appropriately designed,
can help older adults successfully navigate various signiﬁcant life transitions and enhance
overall well-being (e.g. Walsh et al., 2019).
The COVID-19 pandemic has restricted most of the leisure outlets that provide criti-
cal social, psychological, and health beneﬁts for older adults. Although health strategies
to avoid the spread of COVID-19 (e.g. quarantining and physical distancing) are impor-
tant, these strategies may have a negative impact on other aspects of senior health (e.g.
depression, social isolation, reduction of physical activity) and overall quality of life
(Blazer, 2020; Sepulveda-Loyala et al., 2020).
Although physical activity is seen as a protective factor and essential for the well-being
of older adults (e.g. Lavie et al., 2019), the shelter in place mandates initiated in March
2020 signiﬁcantly impacted community leisure opportunities, as many community
leisure activities were suspended and community recreation facilities closed (Son et al.,
2021). This provided both a challenge and opportunity for community leisure providers
to adapt their services to ensure that older adults still received many of the same social
and health beneﬁts.
The current study examined older adults who were 65 years and over (termed seniors)
who play a popular sport, pickleball. During the initial study phase pre-COVID-19, the
participants were assessed on pickleball participation/physical activity, social connections,
and psychological well-being. A follow-up study was conducted in November 2020, during
COVID-19 restrictions, assessing similar measures. The purpose of this study was to then
examine how the restriction due to COVID-19 may have aﬀected such measures.
The theoretical framework for this study was inspired by the Health through Sport model
(Eime et al., 2013a;2013b). The framework was developed based on the notion that
health and well-being incorporate physical, social, and mental domains. The Health
through Sport model “depicts the relationship between determinants driving sport par-
ticipation and the reported psychological and social health beneﬁts of participation”
(Eime et al., 2013b, p. 4). The model incorporates elements of the Socio-Ecological
Model (Sallis & Owen, 2002), sport participation, and health outcomes. Figure 1
depicts the model adapted speciﬁcally for this study that primarily focused on how inter-
personal and intrapersonal elements relate to health outcomes –physical, social, psycho-
logical –as well as interactions and interrelationships between the outcomes.
The Health through Sport model suggests that the mechanisms of the links between
sport participation and psychological and social health diﬀer at various stages of life
(Eime et al., 2013b). For example, improved social interaction/ integration and social
skills and improved self-esteem were the most common health aspects reported in the
systematic review for children and adolescents (Eime et al., 2013a), whereas the most
common health aspects reported by adults were psychological health aspects of well-
being (Eime et al., 2013b).
Our study examined the following three health outcomes: physical activity, based on
sport participation (though pickleball) and everyday life; social, based on connections in
2J. M. CASPER ET AL.
sport and everyday life; and psychological well-being, based on perceived physical and
mental health, loneliness, and life-satisfaction. While this study focuses on senior
health, these outcomes also match the outcomes identiﬁed by the CDC (2020a) as key
determinants for successful aging through physical activity participation. Within the
leisure context, the three health outcomes are the main components related to leisure
and healthy aging (Gibson & Singleton, 2012). The remaining literature will describe
the three outcomes, their relation to senior heath, and potential impacts due to
Physical activity and sport participation
Studies have shown that physical activity provides numerous psychological, social, and
physiological beneﬁts. Older adults who are lonely and socially isolated are usually phys-
ically inactive (e.g. Robins et al., 2018) and there is compelling evidence showing that
physical and social activities can be eﬀective in addressing such issues (Penedo &
While there are a variety of ways to meet these physical activity recommendations and
confront social isolation, sport participation that promotes physical and psychosocial
well-being may be optimal (Baker et al., 2010). There are several beneﬁts of sport partici-
pation and healthy development in later life. In a 20-year longitudinal study examining
older adults, those who played sports (requiring a social element), compared to those par-
ticipating in exercise, were more likely to continue physical activity in later years (Aggio
et al., 2017). Previous studies on sport-based programmes have shown that they enhance
psychological well-being and improve physical functioning including reduced stress,
Physical Activity &
Physical, Mental, Loneliness
Figure 1. Health through sport conceptual model (adapted from Eime et al., 2013b).
WORLD LEISURE JOURNAL 3
improved mood, and cognitive functioning, and enhanced social capital (Rowe et al.,
2013). With older adults, activities such as sport participation seem to help maintain
well-being and may improve their cognitive function (National Institute on Aging, 2019).
The issue of continuing to provide safe physical activity opportunities among vulner-
able populations is imperative. For example, Cunningham’s(2021) analysis of county
level data on COVID-19 and mortality rates suggests that physical activity is associated
with lower COVID cases and deaths. Furthermore, recent evidence suggests that enga-
ging in physical activity during the pandemic alleviated many depression symptoms
faced by older adults during various COVID-19 lockdowns (e.g. Callow et al., 2020; Car-
riedo et al., 2020). Thus, policy makers and governments should consider the potential
detrimental impacts of lockdowns, such as negative psychological ramiﬁcations, social
exclusion, and physical inactivity. Therefore, our study examines how COVID-19 restric-
tions have aﬀected physical activity and sport participation. We sought to understand
how the amount and intensity of physical activity has changed during COVID-19, and
if participation in pickleball has been aﬀected.
Older adults are at risk of social isolation due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and regular
activities, including interactions with friends and engagement in leisure activities, such as
sport, have been signiﬁcantly impacted (Williams et al., 2021). Overall, leisure activity has
been found to decrease with age (Mannell & Snelgrove, 2012). Evidence suggests that
physically active leisure participation is characterized by decline with increasing age, a
transition from physical activities to activities that demand less eﬀort, and a shift from
outdoor to indoor activities. Of concern, with redacted leisure activity, is that social
relationships are fostered through leisure, providing opportunities for social engagement
(Mannell & Snelgrove, 2012).
Scholars suggest that leisure can facilitate friendships and social networks, and sport,
in particular, may aﬀord unique social opportunities compared to other recreational
activities (Kim et al., 2021). The beneﬁts of playing sport versus other physical activities
lie in the development of creating and maintaining social connection, or creating social
capital (Toepoel, 2013). A substantial body of research has suggested that social capital is
a resource for well-being in older adults, including life satisfaction and quality of life
(Kim et al., 2021). Within social capital are two key elements, cognitive (e.g. feelings)
and structural (e.g. what people do), both linked to psychological well-being (Toepoel,
2013). This study focused on structural capital based on the number of social connections
made though pickleball participation. Leisure activities, such as the sport of pickleball,
oﬀer opportunities for continued physical activity and play indoors, but of equal impor-
tance, oﬀer opportunities for players to maintain or even gain social connections.
Psychological –physical health
Previous research has shown an association between leisure activity engagement and
physical health in older adulthood (Cardenas et al., 2009). Maintaining engagement in
a variety of physical activities has been associated with higher self-perceptions of physical
health (Everard et al., 2000). Staying engaged in physical activities has been shown to
have a myriad of health beneﬁts across a variety of domains, including cognitive
4J. M. CASPER ET AL.
health (Stillman et al., 2016). Despite the beneﬁts and guidelines, many older adults do
not meet recommended standards for physical activity engagement. A systematic
review of physical activity engagement in older adults found that motivation and self-
eﬃcacy were consistently strong predictors of high physical activity engagement
(Notthoﬀet al., 2017). Building upon these ﬁndings, having a regular, routine physical
activity that one enjoys may be particularly important for this population.
Within the context of the COVID-19 global pandemic, preliminary research has
found that the number of seniors attending and participating in group physical activities
has declined (Goethals et al., 2020). Additionally, Castañeda-Babarro et al. (2020)
observed that physical activity highly decreased during conﬁnement in all populations,
especially vigorous activities and walking time. As there is strong evidence that engaging
in physical activity is beneﬁcial for managing chronic conditions and reducing the risk of
disease, physical activity engagement in the time of COVID-19 is particularly important
for older adults (Cunningham & O’Sullivan, 2020).
Well-being is a broad term encompassing many diﬀerent facets such as social, emotional,
and psychological well-being (Diener & Suh, 1998). Being able to maintain a positive
state of well-being has been shown to be a protective factor against declines in both phys-
ical and cognitive health in older adulthood (Ryﬀ,2014). In general, contrary to age-
related stereotypes, older adults maintain a positive state of well-being throughout the
third age (often conceptualized as age 65–85; Baltes & Smith, 2003).
Research on the age-related changes in mental health, for example, tends to show
more stability or increases into older adulthood (Cohen-Mansﬁeld et al., 2013). This con-
trasts with expectations for physical health, with relatively steady declines. However,
while older adults, in general, have relatively positive mental health, the CDC reports
that approximately 20% of adults aged 55 and older express at least one mental health
concern (CDC, 2008). Another facet of well-being is life satisfaction. In general, previous
research has shown that when asked about their life as a whole, older adults will express a
general sense of satisfaction, and this satisfaction does not generally decline with age
(Diener & Suh, 1998). Previous research has shown that changes in life satisfaction are
predicted by declines in physical health, social support, and activity engagement (Heo
et al., 2013).
Social isolation and loneliness, on the other hand, are well-known problems for older
adults. While socioemotional selectivity theory (Carstensen et al., 1999) postulates that
the goals of older adults change from more knowledge-seeking to emotion-based,
social isolation is a signiﬁcant issue among older adults, aﬀecting up to one in three
seniors (Solway et al., 2019). Loneliness has been shown to predict increases in
depression (Hawkley & Cacioppo, 2010). Having a close social network has been
shown to reduce feelings of loneliness and improve overall well-being (English & Car-
stensen, 2014). However, social isolation and loneliness have been shown to be associated
with a myriad of negative outcomes for older adults, such as higher rates of depression
and mortality (Luo et al., 2012).
While, overall, well-being is largely maintained in older adulthood, physical activity
engagement has been shown to be an important protective factor against declines in
the various facets of well-being (Kwag et al., 2011). Physical activity can serve as a way
WORLD LEISURE JOURNAL 5
for older adults to cope with stress, maintain physical and mental alertness, and maintain
a busy and active lifestyle (Stathi et al., 2002). A prospective study found an association
between increases in physical activity and increases in well-being across 32 years, such
that when physical activity levels increased, well-being also increased at a similar rate
(Blomstrand et al., 2009). Both cross-sectional and longitudinal research has shown
that engaging in a physical activity regimen is associated with better physical health
and social, emotional, and psychological well-being (Penedo & Dahn, 2005).
Older adults and their family members, along with the rest of the globe, have been practi-
cing physical social distancing in order to mitigate the spread of COVID-19. Preliminary
research has already started to show the negative eﬀects of sheltering-in-place on older
adults’well-being, showing increased rates of depression and loneliness (Krendl &
Perry, 2021). The increased stress and self-isolation due to the global COVID-19 pan-
demic may also further exacerbate the risk of mental health problems (Mukhtar,
2020). As leisure activities have been seen as contributing to successful aging (e.g.
Nimrod, 2007) and health beneﬁts (e.g. Cardenas et al., 2009), this study enabled us to
understand how the shutdown of leisure spaces and activities due to COVID-19
In February 2020, before COVID restrictions, the authors conducted a study looking
at the real and perceived health beneﬁts of seniors (65 years and older) playing pickleball.
Pickleball is inherently social as it requires other to play doubles or singles, similar to
tennis but played on a smaller court. The rules are simple, and the game is easy for begin-
ners to learn, but can develop into a quick, fast-paced, competitive game for experienced
players USA Pickleball Association (2020). Pickleball, a trending lifetime sport, was
chosen because it provides a platform for meeting physical activity guidelines (Smith
et al., 2016), creates new social connections (Chen, 2017), and provides unique
hedonic experiences connected to psychosocial well-being (Heo et al., 2018). Pickleball
is pertinent to research on aging because 40% of all frequent players are over 65 years
of age (USA Pickleball Association, 2020).
As part of the initial study, the pickleball participants were assessed based on daily
physical activity and activity speciﬁc to pickleball using an activity tracker. The partici-
pants also responded to an online socio-psychological survey that assessed their overall
social connections and social connections through pickleball as well as physical/mental
health, loneliness, and life satisfaction measures. For the purpose of this study, the
socio-psychological survey was re-administered to the same participants eight months
later to assess the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic.
This study was guided by the following research questions:
RQ1: How has COVID-19 aﬀected senior participation in pickleball and daily physical
RQ2: How has COVID-19 aﬀected social connections both related to pickleball and overall?
RQ3: How has COVID-19 changed perceptions of physical health, mental health, loneliness,
and life satisfaction? Are the diﬀerences in these psychological constructs signiﬁcantly cor-
related to lowered pickleball playing frequency or pickleball-speciﬁc social connections?
6J. M. CASPER ET AL.
Participants and procedure
This study was approved by the researchers’Institutional Review Board. Participants
were recruited with the assistance of a senior parks and recreation manager of a South-
eastern US city. The manager contacted participants based on a database of pickleball
players who played at city recreational centres. An email was sent to the pickleball
players asking if they would be willing to take part in the study, and if they met study
requirements (65 years or older and played pickleball at least once per week). The
initial phase of this study, conducted in late February/early March 2020, included phys-
ical activity and sleep measurement with Fitbits over two weeks and an online survey.
Due to a limited number of Fitbits and COVID-19 restrictions, the study was halted
with a total of 38 participants completing the initial study. For the follow-up phase, a
new online survey was sent on 2 November 2020 to the 38 participants, 36 of whom com-
pleted the survey.
The initial phase included demographic information: age, gender, race, education level,
and marital status. The follow-up phase linked the initial study based on participants’
email addresses. The following survey items/constructs were assessed: physical activity
(during COVID-19), social connections, physical/mental health, loneliness, and life
The follow-up phase assessed physical activity changes due to COVID-19. The items
asked respondents how much of a change have you had in your daily movement beha-
viours due to the COVID-19 pandemic? (outdoor physical activity/sport; indoor physical
activity/sport; walking; chores; watch TV, use computer, use social media) –(a lot less,
somewhat less, about the same, somewhat more, a lot more) (Moore et al., 2020). Partici-
pants were also asked over the past seven days how many days they engaged in moderate-
to-vigorous physical activity (activity that required a moderate/large amount of eﬀort and
caused accelerated or increased heart rate) for a total of at least 60 minutes per day?
Speciﬁc to pickleball participation, participants were asked if they still play (yes/no)? If
yes, how much has the COVID-19 pandemic aﬀected your pickleball playing frequency?
(5 point scale; a lot less, somewhat less, about the same, somewhat more, a lot more).
Social connections were measured speciﬁc to pickleball and overall in the initial phase;
the follow-up phase asked participants to think about their social connections pre-pan-
demic and then respond to: (1) how much has the COVID-19 pandemic aﬀected your
social connections speciﬁc to pickleball?; and (2) how much has the COVID-19 pan-
demic aﬀected your social connections overall in your life? Both items were assessed
on a 5-point scale (a lot less, somewhat less, about the same, somewhat more, a lot more).
WORLD LEISURE JOURNAL 7
Physical and mental health
The Short Form-12 (SF-12) Health Survey was used to capture health-related quality of
life for both physical and mental health (Ware et al., 1996). The SF-12 is one of the most
widely used health surveys, capturing four dimensions of physical health including
general health, physical functioning, role of limitations due to physical health problems,
and body pain. Additionally, four dimensions of mental health are captured including
vitality, social functioning, role of limitations due to mental health problems, and
mental health. Sum scores were created for both dimensions and weighted based on
norms from the U.S. population (using a mean of 50 and standard deviation of 10).
This scale was identical for both the initial and follow-up surveys.
Loneliness was measured using the 4-item UCLA Loneliness Scale (ULS-4; Hays &
DiMatteo, 1987). Participants rated how lonely they felt in the past week based on
four dimensions, on a scale from (1) never (2) rarely (3) sometimes and (4) always.
These dimensions included feeling left out, lacking companionship, being isolated
from others, and feeling not in tune with others. A single mean score was calculated
to capture loneliness, with higher scores indicating more feelings of loneliness. This
brief measure has been shown to be similarly consistent to longer versions of the
UCLA Loneliness Scale and aligned with measures used in the Health and Retirement
Study (Hughes et al., 2004). This scale was identical for both the initial and follow-up
The 5-item Satisfaction with Life Scale was used to measure life satisfaction (Diener et al.,
1985). Participants rated how much they agreed with statements related to general life
satisfaction (e.g. “I am satisﬁed with my life”) from (1) strongly disagree (2) disagree
(3) somewhat disagree (4) neither agree nor disagree (5) somewhat agree (6) agree to
(7) strongly agree. A mean score was calculated across the 5-items. This scale was iden-
tical for both the initial and follow-up surveys.
Data were analysed with IBM SPSS Statistics 26. The ﬁrst step was a descriptive analysis
and an examination of the data for normality (i.e. skewness and kurtosis) applying criti-
cal values of less than ±2.0 for skewness and less than ±3.0 for kurtosis (George &
Mallery, 2011). Scales were examined for internal reliability and later items were averaged
to create constructs. Analysis of RQ1 and RQ2 was descriptive (frequencies, means, SD),
while RQ3 analysis utilized paired-samples t-tests to examine mean diﬀerences (p< .05)
in pre and post construct scores. The diﬀerence scores of the psychological constructs, as
well as pickleball playing and social connections, were examined using a Pearson corre-
lation with signiﬁcance level set of p< .05.
8J. M. CASPER ET AL.
The demographic characteristics of the sample are shown in Table 1. All health outcome
items were found to have acceptable skewness and kurtosis values and scales were found
to have acceptable internal reliability (Cronbach alpha scores >.70).
Research Question 1 –physical activity
RQ1 sought to assess how COVID-19 has aﬀected senior participation in pickleball and
overall physical activity. The ﬁrst measure investigated categories of activity changes
during the COVID-19 pandemic (see Table 2). The ﬁndings show that 53% of respon-
dents indicated less physical activity outdoors, while 91% indicated less physical activity
indoors. Some participants’indoor physical activity may have transferred to outdoor
activity, as 31% are more active outdoors, compared to only 9% more active indoors. Par-
ticipants showed a slight increase in walking and chores. Time spent inactive (watching
TV, using computer, using social media) increased for 49% of the participants.
With regard to moderate-to-vigorous activity, the respondents indicated that most
were still very active. A total of 27 participants (80%) engaged in moderate-to-vigorous
activity at least 3 days per week, while only 7 (20%) participants engaged in 2 or fewer
days. As for pickleball participation, 5 out of 36 (14%) have stopped playing pickleball,
while all others are still playing, but outside. For those still playing, 15 (48.4%) are
playing less, 10 (32.3%) are playing about the same, and 6 (19.3%) stated they are
Research Question 2 –social connections
RQ2 sought to examine how COVID-19 has aﬀected social connections both related to
pickleball and overall. The results show that the COVID-19 restrictions have lowered
their pickleball speciﬁc social connections with 77.78% (n= 28) socializing less and
Table 1. Demographic characteristics of the sample.
Male 20 55.6
Female 16 44.4
65–69 15 41.7
70–74 15 41.7
75–81 6 16.6
White 34 94.4
African American 1 2.8
Asian 1 2.8
Some college or Associate degree in college (2-year) 6 16.6
Bachelor’s degree in college (4-year) 15 41.7
Graduate or professional degree 15 41.7
Married 27 75.0
Widowed 2 5.6
Divorced/Separated 7 19.5
WORLD LEISURE JOURNAL 9
only 5.56% (n= 2) more. As for socialization overall, the data was more worrisome, with
88.89% (n= 32) socializing less and no participants reported socializing more.
Research Question 3 –psychological well-being
RQ3 assessed how the participants’perceptions of physical health, mental health, lone-
liness, and life satisfaction have changed during the COVID-19 pandemic. Table 3
shows the mean scores of the scales based on assessment pre-COVID and in the
follow-up-survey. While there were no signiﬁcant diﬀerences in perceived physical
health, there were signiﬁcant diﬀerences (p< .05) in all other constructs. The results
show that participants reported signiﬁcantly lower mental health, higher loneliness,
and lower life satisfaction. Table 4 shows the Pearson correlations matrix examining
how much COVID-19 has changed pickleball playing frequency and pickleball-speciﬁc
social connections related to diﬀerences in perceptions of physical health, mental
health, loneliness, and life satisfaction. The results indicate that those who played pickle-
ball less frequently during the COVID-19 pandemic reported a greater diﬀerence score in
life satisfaction (i.e. those who are playing less had lowered life satisfaction scores). There
were no signiﬁcant correlations between social connections and the well-being con-
structs. An examination between the well-being constructs found signiﬁcant correlations
between mental health, loneliness, and life satisfaction.
This study examined how the COVID-19 pandemic has changed physical activity levels,
social connections, and mental health of seniors who were active pickleball players. The
results provide evidence that the COVID-19 restrictions have limited where and how
seniors get physical activity, but many are still active despite limited participation
Table 2. Activity changes due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Activity A lot less
Outdoor physical activity/sport 22.22% 30.56% 16.67% 16.67% 13.89% 36
Indoor physical activity/sport 82.86% 8.57% 0.00% 2.86% 5.71% 35
Walking 8.57% 14.29% 45.71% 22.86% 8.57% 35
Chores 3.03% 9.09% 69.70% 15.15% 3.03% 33
Watch TV, use computer, use social
0.00% 8.57% 42.86% 34.29% 14.29% 35
Table 3. Comparisons of psychological measures from initial and follow-up.
Variable Mean NSD Std. Error Mean tSig.
Physical health Initial 48.99 36 3.64 0.61 0.78 0.44
Follow-up 48.07 36 6.65 1.11
Mental health Initial 56.00 36 4.05 0.68 2.43 0.02
Follow-up 52.75 36 7.10 1.18
Loneliness Initial 1.69 35 0.58 0.10 −2.91 0.01
Follow-up 2.07 35 0.60 0.10
Life satisfaction Initial 5.72 35 0.87 0.15 2.83 0.01
Follow-up 5.09 35 1.04 0.18
Note: Scale ranges. Physical Health & Mental Health. 0–100; Loneliness, 1–4; Life Satisfaction, 1–7.
10 J. M. CASPER ET AL.
opportunities. The participants reported a dramatic decrease in social connections both
associated with pickleball and in their overall daily life. While their perceptions of phys-
ical health have been stable throughout the pandemic, their perceptions of well-being
were found to have signiﬁcantly changed since the pandemic began through decreased
mental health, increased loneliness, and lowered life satisfaction. The role of playing
pickleball does not seem to relate to three of the four well-being indicators, but a signiﬁ-
cant association between life satisfaction and continued pickleball playing frequency was
found. This discussion will focus on major ﬁndings from each of the research questions.
The ﬁrst major ﬁnding is that the seniors in this study are continuing to play and still
meeting CDC PA guidelines (CDC, 2018) guidelines of 60 min of moderate or vigorous
activity 3 or more days a week. While not unexpected, the pandemic has dramatically
lowered physical activity opportunities. Consistent with Goethals et al. (2020), the data
from this study focusing on changes since COVID-19 indicate that outdoor physical activity
has decreased by nearly half, but the closureof indoor facilities prohibited any opportunity to
engage in indoor activity. The seniors in this study seem to have shown some ﬂexibility, in
that when certain physicalactivity opportunities were limited, they sought out other oppor-
tunities. The participants’lowered physical activity seems to have been replaced by active
outside recreation, such as hiking or walking. And while nearly half of the sample reported
more physical inactivity, a majority are still able to meet the CDC (2018)guidelinesof3or
more days a week where they are moderately or vigorously active for at least 60 min.
The pandemic has not stopped the seniors in this study from continuing sport. A
majority of the participants are still playing pickleball, albeit outdoors and in smaller
groups. During the ﬁrst data collection, all participants were playing inside at city recrea-
tion centres. While there are public pickleball courts, there are not as many outdoor
facilities, leading to less court availability and the sport being weather dependent.
Additional city restrictions recommended singles-only play and gathering in groups of
10-or more was prohibited, leading to less facility availability and reduced participation.
A second major ﬁnding was that COVID-19 restrictions signiﬁcantly aﬀected peoples’
psychological well-being. Our data supports prior evidence that COVID-19 restrictions
impact psychological well-being (Blazer, 2020; Sepulveda-Loyala et al., 2020) as partici-
pants reported signiﬁcantly lower mental health, higher loneliness, and lower life satis-
faction. What is somewhat promising for the participants in our study is that they had
an overall positive psychological state, and the detrimental eﬀects of restrictions, while
signiﬁcant, did not create serious concern about their overall psychological state. This
supports research by Baltes and Smith (2003) who found that older adults maintain a
positive state of well-being, and changes in mental health tend to show more stability.
Table 4. Means, standard deviations, and Pearson Correlation Matrix on how much COVID-19 has
aﬀected pickleball playing/social connections, and psychological construct diﬀerences Scores (n= 36).
Variable/construct Mean SD 1 2 3 4 5
1. Pickleball playing frequency 2.33 1.22
2. Pickleball social connections 1.78 0.93 .55**
3. Physical health diﬀerence 0.93 7.17 −0.11 −0.10
4. Mental health diﬀerence 3.25 8.12 −0.22 0.08 −0.31
5. Loneliness diﬀerence −0.38 0.77 0.19 0.05 −0.19 −0.58**
6. Life satisfaction diﬀerence 0.63 1.31 −0.32* −0.15 −0.23 0.56* −0.36*
Note: * p< .05; ** p< .01.
WORLD LEISURE JOURNAL 11
The third major ﬁnding was that the participants playing less pickleball report signiﬁ-
cantly lower life-satisfaction. Past research suggests that physical activity engagement is
an important protective factor against declines in the various facets of well-being (Kwag
et al., 2011). It is also theorized that changes in life satisfaction are predicted by declines
in physical health, social support, and activity engagement (Heo et al., 2013). From a
sport participation perspective, our study supports that not being able to play pickleball
was signiﬁcantly correlated to lower life satisfaction. This ﬁnding is relevant in that par-
ticipation in sport has been found to be linked with self-identity (Cohen-Mansﬁeld et al.,
2013), so those who internalized pickleball as an important part of their life may feel less
positive, and overall life satisfaction was impacted due to the restrictions that prevented
them from pickleball participation.
Finally, our data supports the ﬁndings of Williams et al. (2021) and Goethals et al.
(2020) that COVID-19 restrictions have impacted leisure-time social engagement. Our
data indicates that social connections speciﬁc to pickleball have declined since the pan-
demic began. The pandemic restrictions prohibited open play and large group gather-
ings, so a reduction in socializing associated with pickleball is not a surprise. Of major
concern for seniors with reduced socialization are loneliness and feelings of isolation
(National Institute of Aging, 2019). Our data did not ﬁnd a signiﬁcant correlation
between reduced pickleball connections and health outcomes, which is contrary to
theory (Kim et al., 2017,2021). This may be due to many playing less but still playing,
so some social connections have remained intact. Additionally, the pre-COVID survey
found that the participants had many social connections established through pickleball,
and these existing, while lessened, relationships may have helped buﬀer against signiﬁ-
cant diﬀerences in feelings of loneliness or other facets of well-being (English & Carsten-
This study was able to capitalize on existing data regarding seniors who completed a
survey on pickleball participation and psychological well-being less than one month
before the COVID-19 pandemic shut down indoor recreation centres where they
played. This study served as a natural experiment at an opportune time in which the par-
ticipants were able to be re-surveyed during COVID-19 restrictions, so we were able to
collect panel data with a high response rate. While we were able to re-survey nearly all
participants, this study had a limited sample size that limited the analysis (e.g. no seg-
mentation analysis). Furthermore, additional sample limitations include a lack of
racial diversity. This is important, as studies showed that Black older adults were the
most vulnerable and were most profoundly impacted during the COVID-19 pandemic
(e.g. Chatters et al., 2020). Additionally, as there was no control group for comparisons,
we were not able to isolate how participation and social connections made through pick-
leball relate to psychological well-being.
This study found that COVID-19 and the related restrictions have impacted seniors’
physical activity, social connections, and psychological well-being. While our results
12 J. M. CASPER ET AL.
show that there is a spill over in maintaining physical activity and continued sport par-
ticipation, lowered overall participation seems to relate to lower life satisfaction. As Son
et al. (2021) point out, it is important for older adults to stay physically and mentally
healthy. As the threat of future pandemics increases (Sheahan & Frieman, 2020), it
may be important for leisure providers to strategically plan for the safe use of facilities
and amenities to ensure that the psychological and physical health beneﬁts are main-
tained for those who want to continue to participate. This may include leisure providers
following their countries’national public health guidelines (e.g. in the United States, the
recent CDC Physical Activity, Sport and Recreation guidelines; CDC, 2020b) and adapt
the guidelines of various national organizations, such as the recent guidelines proposed
by the National Recreation & Parks Association (2020) or the Aspen Institute’s COVID-
10 risk assessment tool (2020).
Leisure providers could also strategically think through helping participants keep con-
nected through other safe outdoor leisure experiences such as walking or virtual physical
activity opportunities such as a virtual walking challenge. Data collected during the pan-
demic (e.g. Ng et al., 2021) in retirement communities highlighted how these alternate
activities helped seniors maintain connections when their regular activities were shut
down. Finally, the pandemic provided a window of opportunity for leisure providers
across the world to advocate for outdoor spaces as it raised the importance of outdoor
public spaces and parks to people’s wellbeing and health. Working collaboratively with
local governments and key stakeholder groups (e.g. Levinger et al., 2021) will be critical
to ensure more people, including seniors have access to physical activity spaces.
No potential conﬂict of interest was reported by the author(s).
Aggio, D., Papocosta, O., Lennon, L., Whincup, P., Wannamethee, G., & Jeﬀeris, B. J. (2017).
Association between physical activity levels in mid-life with physical activity in old age: A
20-year tracking study in a prospective cohort. BMJ Open.https://doi.org/10.1136/bmjopen-
Aspen Institute. (2020). Return to play: Covid-19 risk assessment tool.https://www.
Baker, J., Fraser-Thomas, J., Dionigi, R., & Horton, S. (2010). Sport participation and positive
development in older persons. European Review of Aging and Physical Activity,7(1), 3–12.
Baltes, P. B., & Smith, J. (2003). New frontiers in the future of aging: From successful aging of the
young old to the dilemmas of the fourth age. Gerontology,49(2), 123–135. https://doi.org/10.
Berlin, K., Kruger, T., & Klenosky, D. B. (2018). A mixed-methods investigation of successful aging
among older women engaged in sports-based versus exercise-based leisure time physical activi-
ties. Journal of Women & Aging,30(1), 27–37. https://doi.org/10.1080/08952841.2016.1259439
Blazer, D. (2020). Social isolation and loneliness in older adults—A mental health/public health
challenge. JAMA Psychiatry,77(10), 990–991. https://doi.org/10.1001/jamapsychiatry.2020.
WORLD LEISURE JOURNAL 13
Blomstrand, A., Björkelund, C., Ariai, N., Lissner, L., & Bengtsson, C. (2009). Eﬀects of leisure-
time physical activity on well-being among women: A 32-year perspective. Scandinavian
Journal of Public Health,37(7), 706–712. https://doi.org/10.1177/1403494809341092
Callow, D. D., Arnold-Nedimala, N. A., Jordan, L. S., Pena, G. S., Won, J., Woodard, J. L., & Smith,
J. C. (2020). The mental health beneﬁts of physical activity in older adults survive the COVID-
19 pandemic. The American Journal of Geriatric Psychiatry,28(10), 1046–1057. https://doi.org/
Cardenas, D., Henderson, K. A., & Wilson, B. E. (2009). Physical activity and senior games par-
ticipation: Beneﬁts, constraints, and behaviors. Journal of Aging and Physical Activity,17(2),
Carriedo, A., Cecchini, J. A., Fernandez-Rio, J., & Méndez-Giménez, A. (2020). COVID-19,
psychological well-being and physical activity levels in older adults during the nationwide lock-
down in Spain. The American Journal of Geriatric Psychiatry,28(11), 1146–1155. https://doi.
Carstensen, L. L., Isaacowitz, D. M., & Charles, S. T. (1999). Taking time seriously: A theory of
socioemotional selectivity. American Psychologist,54(3), 165–181. https://doi.org/10.1037/
Castañeda-Babarro, A., Arbillaga-Etxarri, A., Gutiérrez-Santamaría, B., & Coca, A. (2020). Physical
activity change during COVID-19 conﬁnement. International Journal of Environmental Research
and Public Health,17(18), 6878. https://doi.org/10.3390/ijerph17186878
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). (2008). Centers for Disease Control and
Prevention and National Association of Chronic Disease Directors. The state of mental health
and aging in america issue Brief 1: What do the data tell us? National Association of Chronic
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). (2018). Physical activity guidelines for
Americans (2nd ed.). https://health.gov/sites/default/ﬁles/2019-09/Physical_Activity_
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). (2020a). Coronavirus disease 2019: People who
are at higher risk for severe illness.https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/need-extra-
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). (2020b). Physical activity, sports, and recrea-
Chatters, L. M., Taylor, H. O., & Taylor, R. J. (2020). Older Black Americans during COVID-19:
Race and age double jeopardy. Health Education & Behavior,47(6), 855–860. https://doi.org/10.
Chen, I. (2017). Pickleball for all: The cross-generational power of play. National Public Radio.
Retrieved October 25, 2017, from http://www.npr.org/sections/health-shots/2017/10/19/
Choi, W., Liechty, T., Naar, J. J., West, S., Wong, J. D., & Son, J. (2018). “We’re a family and that
gives me joy”: Exploring interpersonal relationships in older women’s softball using socio-
emotional selectivity theory. Leisure Sciences. Advanced online publication. https://doi.org/
Cohen-Mansﬁeld, J., Shmotkin, D., Blumstein, Z., Shorek, A., Eyal, N., Hazan, H., The CALAS
Team at Tel Aviv University. (2013). The old, old-old, and the oldest old: Continuation or dis-
tinct categories? An examination of the relationship between age and changes in health, func-
tion, and well-being. The International Journal of Aging and Human Development,77(1), 37–57.
Cunningham, C., & O’Sullivan, R. (2020). Why physical activity matters for older adults in a time
of pandemic. European Review of Aging and Physical Activity,17(1), 16. https://doi.org/10.1186/
Cunningham, G. B. (2021). Physical activity and its relationship with COVID-19 cases and deaths:
Analysis of U.S. Counties. Journal of Sport and Health Science.https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jshs.
14 J. M. CASPER ET AL.
Diener, E., Emmons, R. A., Larsen, R. J., & Griﬃn, S. (1985). The Satisfaction with Life Scale.
Journal of Personality Assessment,49(1), 71–75. https://doi.org/10.1207/s15327752jpa4901_13
Diener, E., & Suh, E. (1998). Age and subjective well-being: An international analysis. In K. W.
Schaie & M. P. Lawton (Eds.), Annual review of gerontology and geriatrics, Vol. 17. Focus on
emotion and adult development (pp. 304–324). Springer.
Eime, R., Young, J., Harvey, J., & Payne, W. (2013a). Psychological and social beneﬁts of sport par-
ticipation: The development of health through sport conceptual model. Journal of Science and
Medicine in Sport,16, e79–e80. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jsams.2013.10.190
Eime, R. M., Young, J. A., Harvey, J. T., Charity, M.J., & Payne, W. R. (2013b). A systematic review of
the psychological and social beneﬁts of participation in sport for children and adolescents:
Informing development of a conceptual model of health through sport. International Journal of
Behavioral Nutrition and Physical Activity,10(1), 1–21. https://doi.org/10.1186/1479-5868-10-98
English, T., & Carstensen, L. L. (2014). Selective narrowing of social networks across adulthood is
associated with improved emotional experience in daily life. International Journal of Behavioral
Development,38(2), 195–202. https://doi.org/10.1177/0165025413515404
Everard, K. M., Lach, H. W., Fisher, E. B., & Baum, M. C. (2000). Relationship of activity and social
support to the functional health of older adults. The Journals of Gerontology: Series B,55(4),
George, D., & Mallery, P. (2011). SPSS for windows step by step: A simple guide and reference 18.0
update (11th ed.). Pearson/Allyn & Bacon.
Gibson, H. J., & Singleton, J. F. (2012). Leisure and aging: Theory and practice. Human Kinetics.
Goethals, L., Barth, N., Guyot, J., Hupin, D., Celarier, T., & Bongue, B. (2020). Impact of home
quarantine on physical activity among older adults living at home during the COVID-19 pan-
demic: Qualitative interview study. Journal of Medical Internet Research Aging,3(1), e19007.
Hawkley, L. C., & Cacioppo, J. T. (2010). Loneliness matters: A theoretical and empirical review of
consequences and mechanisms. Annals of Behavioral Medicine,40(2), 218–227. https://doi.org/
Hays, R., & DiMatteo, M. (1987). A short-form measure of loneliness. Journal of Personality
Assessment,51(1), 69–81. https://doi.org/10.1207/s15327752jpa5101_6
Henderson, K. H., Casper, J. M., Dern, L., & Wilson, B. (2012). Assessing the importance and out-
comes of Senior Games participation. Journal of Park and Recreation Administration,30(1), 19–
Heo, J., Ryu, J., Yang, H., Kim, A., & Rhee, Y. (2018). Importance of playing pickleball for older
adults’subjective well-being: A serious leisure perspective. The Journal of Positive Psychology,13
(13), 67–77. https://doi.org/10.1080/17439760.2017.1374438
Heo, J., Stebbins, R. A., Kim, J., & Lee, I. (2013). Serious leisure, life satisfaction, and health of older
adults. Leisure Sciences,35(1), 16–32. https://doi.org/10.1080/01490400.2013.739871
Hughes, M. E., Waite, L. J., Hawkley, L. C., & Cacioppo, J. T. (2004). A short scale for measuring
loneliness in large surveys: Results from two population-based studies. Research on Aging,26(6),
Kim, A. C. H., Park, S. H., Kim, S., & Fontes-Comber, A. (2020). Psychological and social out-
comes of sport participation for older adults: A systematic review. Ageing and Society,40(7),
Kim, J., Lee, S., Chun, S., Han, A., & Heo, J. (2017). The eﬀects of leisure-time physical activity for
optimism, life satisfaction, psychological well-being, and positive aﬀect among older adults with
loneliness. Annals of Leisure Research,20(4), 406–415. https://doi.org/10.1080/11745398.2016.
Kim, A. C. H., Ryu, J., Lee, C., Kim, K. M., & Heo, J. (2021). Sport participation and happiness
among older adults: A mediating role of social capital. Journal of Happiness Studies,22(4),
Krendl, A. C., & Perry, B. L. (2021). The impact of sheltering-in-place during the COVID-19 pan-
demic on older adults’social and mental well-being. The Journals of Gerontology: Series B,76(2),
WORLD LEISURE JOURNAL 15
Kwag, K. H., Martin, P., Russell, D., Franke, W., & Kohut, M. (2011). The impact of perceived
stress, social support, and home-based physical activity on mental health among older adults.
The International Journal of Aging and Human Development,72(2), 137–154. https://doi.org/
Lavie, C. J., Ozemek, C., & Kachur, S. (2019). Promoting physical activity in primary and second-
ary prevention. European Heart Journal,40(43), 3556–3558. https://doi.org/10.1093/eurheartj/
Levinger, P., Dunn, J., Panisset, M., Dow, B., Batchelor, F., Biddle, S. J., Duque, G., & Hill, K. D.
(2021). Challenges and lessons learnt from the ENJOY project: Recommendations for future
collaborative research implementation framework with local governments for improving the
environment to promote physical activity for older people. BMC Public Health,21(1), 1192.
Luo, Y., Hawkley, L. C., Waite, L. J., & Cacioppo, J. T. (2012). Loneliness, health, and mortality in
old age: A national longitudinal study. Social Science & Medicine (1982),74(6), 907–914. https://
Mannell, R. C., & Snelgrove, R. (2012). Leisure and the psychological well-being and health of
older adults. In H. J. Gibson & J. F. Singleton (Eds.), Leisure and aging: Theory and practice
(pp. 143–157). Human Kinetics.
Moore, S. A., Faulkner, G., Rhodes, R. E., Brussoni, M., Chulak-Bozzer, T., Ferguson, L. J., Mitra,
R., O’Reilly, N., Spence, J. C., Vanderloo, L. M., & Tremblay, M. S. (2020). Impact of the
COVID-19 virus outbreak on movement and play behaviours of Canadian children and
youth: A national survey. International Journal of Behavioral Nutrition and Physical Activity,
17(1), 85. https://doi.org/10.1186/s12966-020-00987-8
Mukhtar, S. (2020). Psychological health during the coronavirus disease 2019 pandemic outbreak.
International Journal of Social Psychiatry,66(5), 512–516. https://doi.org/10.1177/
National Institute of Aging. (2019). Social isolation, loneliness in older people pose health risks.
U.S Department of Health & Human Services.https://www.nia.nih.gov/news/social-isolation-
National Recreation & Park Association. (2020). Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19).https://
Ng, Y. L., Hill, K. D., & Burton, E. (2021). Exploring physical activity changes and experiences of
older adults living in retirement villages during a pandemic. Australasian Journal on Ageing.
Nimrod, G. (2007). Retirees’leisure: Activities, beneﬁts, and their contribution to life satisfaction.
Leisure Studies,26(1), 65–80. https://doi.org/10.1080/02614360500333937
Notthoﬀ, N., Reisch, P., & Gerstorf, D. (2017). Individual characteristics and physical activity in
older adults: A systematic review. Gerontology,63(5), 443–459. https://doi.org/10.1159/
Penedo, F. J., & Dahn, J. R. (2005). Exercise and well-being: A review of mental and physical health
beneﬁts associated with physical activity. Current Opinion in Psychiatry,18(2), 189–193. https://
Robins, L. M., Hill, K. D., Finch, C. F., Clemson, L., & Haines, T. (2018). The association between
physical activity and social isolation in community-dwelling older adults. Aging & Mental
Health,22(2), 175–182. https://doi.org/10.1080/13607863.2016.1242116
Rowe, K., Shilbury, D., Ferkins, L., & Hinckson, E. (2013). Sport development and physical activity
promotion: An integrated model to enhance collaboration and understanding. Sport
Management Review, 16(3), 364–377. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.smr.2012.12.003
Ryﬀ,C.D.(2014). Psychological well-being revisited: Advances in the science and practice of
eudaimonia. Psychotherapy and Psychosomatics,83(1), 10–28. https://doi.org/10.1159/
Sallis, J., & Owen, N. (2002). Ecological models of health behavior. In K. Glanz, B. K. Rimer, & K.
Viswanath (Eds.), Health behavior and health education: Theory, research, and practice (pp.
16 J. M. CASPER ET AL.
Sepulveda-Loyala, W., Rodríguez-Sánchez, OI., Pérez-Rodríguez, P., Ganz, F., Torralba, R.,
Oliveira, D. V., & Rodríguez-Mañas, L. (2020). Impact of social isolation due to COVID-19
on health in older people: Mental and physical eﬀects and recommendations. The Journal of
Nutrition, Health & Aging.https://doi.org/10.1007/s12603-020-1469-2
Sheahan, T. P., & Frieman, M. B. (2020). The continued epidemic threat of SARS-CoV-2 and
implications for the future of global public health. Current Opinion in Virology,40,37–40.
Smith, M., Denning, M., Zagrodnik, J., & Ruden, T. (2016). A comparison of pickleball and
walking: A pilot study. Medicine & Science in Sport and Exercise,48(5S), 93–94. https://doi.
Solway, E., Piette, J., Kirch, M., Singer, D., Kullgren, J., & Malani, P. (2019). Loneliness and health
among older adults: Results from the University of Michigan national poll on healthy aging.
Innovation in Aging,3(Supp. 1), S600–S601. https://doi.org/10.1093/geroni/igz038.2233
Son, J. S., Nimrod, G., West, S. T., Janke, M. C., Liechty, T., & Naar, J. J. (2021). Promoting older
adults’physical activity and social well-being during COVID-19. Leisure Sciences,43(1-2), 287–
Stathi, A., Fox, K. R., & McKenna, J. (2002). Physical activity and dimensions of subjective well-
being in older adults. Journal of Aging and Physical Activity,10(1), 76–92. https://doi.org/10.
Stillman, C. M., Cohen, J., Lehman, M. E., & Erickson, K. I. (2016). Mediators of physical activity
on neurocognitive function: A review at multiple levels of analysis. Frontiers in Human
Neuroscience,10, 626. https://doi.org/10.3389/fnhum.2016.00626
Toepoel, V. (2013). Ageing, leisure, and social connectedness: How could leisure help reduce social
isolation of older people?. Social Indicators Research,113(1), 355–372. https://doi.org/10.1007/
USA Pickleball Association. (2020). 2020 Pickleball fact sheet.https://usapickleball.org/wp-
Walsh, D. W., Green, B. C., Holahan, C., Cance, J. D., & Lee, D. (2019). Healthy aging? An evalu-
ation of sport participation as a resource for older adults in retirement. Journal of Leisure
Research,50(1), 56–80. https://doi.org/10.1080/00222216.2018.1554092
Ware, J., Jr., Kosinski, M., & Keller, S. D. (1996). A 12-item short-form health survey: Construction
of scales and preliminary tests of reliability and validity. Medical Care,34(3), 220–233. https://
Williams, C. Y., Townson, A. T., Kapur, M., Ferreira, A. F., Nunn, R., Galante, J., Phillips, V.,
Gentry, S., & Usher-Smith, J. A. (2021). Interventions to reduce social isolation and loneliness
during COVID-19 physical distancing measures: A rapid systematic review. PLoS ONE,16(2),
World Population Prospects. (2019). World population ageing report.https://www.un.org/en/
WORLD LEISURE JOURNAL 17