Sport is lifesaving, in many ways. However, there comes a time, with the arrival of white hair, when the challenges posed by the practice of physical activity become more complex, for a host of reasons.
What if, unpretentious in performance and motivated only by the desire to have fun, an all too often neglected segment of the population had finally found something to eat to stay young?
This magic potion is called pickleball. And it works.
At the Complexe Multi-Sports de Laval, located in the Pont-Viau district, more than thirty players are gathered, like every Tuesday morning.
In the hallway leading to the two gymnasiums reserved by the Laval Regional Pickleball Association, the sound of balls on rackets becomes a very unique symphony, similar to the music of maple trees in a forest flowing into the boilers .
If each blow creates a note, each laugh turns into speech.
On a wooden bench leaning against the wall, a green comparable to the color of the marinade associated with the name of the sport, Mina Oskoui explains why her sport is so popular. Since the start of the pandemic, pickleball has been one of the disciplines that has seen the greatest rise.
“It’s an accessible sport and it is accessible to different age groups. You can have three generations on the same pickleball court. It is also a very family sport, which brings people together. It is a sport that is not expensive and can be learned within an hour, enough to have fun playing. It’s also very social. This side of the sport is important,” says one of the administrators of the Quebec Pickleball Federation and president of the Regional Association, while balls from the border fields hit her calves.
In Quebec, there were about 5,000 players before the formation of the Quebec Pickleball Federation more than two years ago. There were more than 8,500 at the end of 2022. The Federation expects to end 2023 with 12,000 registrations, distributed among some 60 clubs across the province. Not to mention non-members, who play recreationally in parks or sports complexes.
Same south of the border. This sport is buzzing. In 2023, 36.5 million people play pickleball, a 158.3% increase over three years.
“When I found this about a year and a half ago, I was like, ‘Wow!’ “, exclaims Michel Trottier, on the other side of the curtain separating the gymnasiums, after a frenzied joust.
“It’s an accessible sport, easy to learn, and immediately you are able to play at a good level. Everyone benefits from it, really,” he believes.
A former physical education teacher and now a member of the Pickleball Laval board of directors, Mr. Trottier has also discovered a new way to introduce young people to physical activity with pickleball: “It’s the sport of easiest racquet for a child to learn. I think it’s a sport of the future for primary school physical education teachers. »
Quebec players perform very well internationally. Catherine Parenteau and Ernesto Fajardo paved the way and continue to make the fleur-de-lis popular on the national and world stage.
If global sports coverage and funding are usually focused on top athletes, professional players and the next generation, an increasingly large part of the Quebec population feels forgotten, even neglected.
These seniors also deserve attention, support and spaces to stay healthy as long as possible, believes Mr. Trottier: “So it takes sports for these people aged 65 and over to be able to play and have fun. »
“I’m going to be able to practice until I’m 80, if not longer!” I have found my fountain of youth,” rejoices Ms. Oskoui.
Now all you have to do is find enough places to get all those new followers to play. In Laval, the lack of infrastructure is glaring. “In the parks, there is nothing for senior citizens. I have always fought for there to be accessible sports infrastructure in the neighborhoods, ”underlines Mr. Trottier. “Here in Laval, it’s tough,” says his colleague bluntly.
The association meets five times a week. With the approach of summer and the high season, she even has to limit the number of registrations due to the lack of land, explains Ms. Oskoui: “We can’t accept a lot of more members, because we does not have the infrastructure. Otherwise, we would have dissatisfied members. »
Still, Laval has a pool of players among the largest in Quebec, but they must be content to play on “rinks that really leave something to be desired”.
Mr. Trottier looks forward to a recovery plan from the City to give back to a generation that is just waiting to play: “The City of Laval is supposed to table a plan for tennis and pickleball courts. We’ve been waiting for it for a year and we don’t know when it’s going to happen. For the summer, we’re going to have our same four courts, on ice rinks, that we had two years ago and we’re getting by with that. »
In the meantime, the followers of this new religion must practice their sport in the few temples made available to them.
At least there, they can play and move, the time of a melody of balls, rackets and laughter.
Stéphane Brière, general manager of the Fédération québécoise de pickleball, is the first to lament the lack of infrastructure. “For sure that’s our biggest challenge. […] What is holding back the explosion of pickleball is the infrastructure, frankly,” he says.
The rise in popularity of pickleball still allows him to be optimistic: “When the municipalities called me last year, it was to build three or four courts. Now they are talking about eight, ten and even twelve lands,” he gloated.
The idea is also not to play in the flowerbeds of tennis players. If some fields are converted to the advantage of pickleball, he believes that the two disciplines can coexist. “We spoke with Tennis Quebec and wondered what we could do to work together instead of harming each other. They therefore worked on a guide to good practices.
The infrastructure development in the United States is spectacular and many Quebecers go there to take advantage of it, but for the moment “we are not there”, specifies Mr. Brière, adding that “it does not want say it’s not going to happen.” According to him, “in two years the problem will be solved”.