Why is Pickleball So Popular?
Unless you have been living under a rock the past year or two you have heard of the new sport sweeping the nation, Pickleball! Even if you don't play it you have had to have seen it being played in local parks and tennis clubs, or you have a friend that won't stop talking about it. It's also everywhere on TV! Everyone from the Today Show, to Live with Kelly and Ryan to Vanderpump Rules with Lala Kent playing it with her then-fiance.
Pickleball courts are replacing tennis courts and popping up everywhere. People who once played tennis and other racquet sports like squash and racquetball are making the switch to pickleball. So what's the appeal? Why is Pickleball the fastest growing sport in America?
What is Pickleball?
Pickleball is a sport that combines elements from tennis, badminton, and ping pong. It is played on a badminton-sized court with the net set to a height of 34 inches at the center which is slightly shorter than a tennis net. It is played wiffle ball and composite or wooden paddles that are about twice the size of ping-pong paddles.
Unlike most sports it can be played either indoors or outside; however, outside is wildly more popular. It's a relatively easy game to learn the rules and can be played as easily or fast-paced as you like. It is not just a sport played casually anymore.
The History of Pickleball
A lot of people think that pickleball is a new sport that just popped up in the past few years. That is not the case. Pickleball just celebrated its 56th anniversary! Pickleball was invented in 1965 on Bainbridge Island by three dads, Joel Pritchard, Bill Bell, and Barney McCallum. They came up with the game because their kids were bored with their normal summertime activities. They came up with the game and it caught on. Pickleball continues to grow across the world.
The Fastest Growing Sport in America
Why is pickleball so popular? From 2019 to 2020 participation in pickleball grew by 21.3%. It has become the fastest-growing sport in America with over 4 million people playing the game at least once a year. If you have played the game then it's not hard to see the appeal. It's a fast pace game that you can play with family and friends. It is not as physically demanding as tennis and other racquet sports and is played on a smaller court which reduces how much you are having to run and increases your chance of a good rally. You are also playing a lot closer to your friends than when you play tennis so it makes it easier to have conversations.
With pickleball participation booming in players of all levels (casual players to pro pickleball players that compete in national tournaments) new courts are popping up everywhere. Where I live in Northern California it seems as though 80% of the public parks are transforming tennis courts into pickleball courts. One tennis court can be transformed to fit two pickleball courts.
One local tennis club in our areas is transforming the whole south side of their facility to a pickleball center, getting rid of 13 tennis courts and building 26 pickleball courts. Such an exciting time to see pickleball's popularity growing. I love being a part of this historic time.
Why Is Pickleball Gaining Popularity?
March of 2020... was a pretty grim time. We were told to stay home and not go to work. Businesses were told to shut their doors if they were not considered essential. Kids weren't allowed to go to school. We weren't able to hug family members and friends. Our local yoga studios and gyms had to shut their doors. You couldn't get your nails or your hair done. Airplanes were grounded and cruise ships were docked. The world was shutting down.
We were told to go outside and enjoy the fresh air. To do hikes and walks just maintain 6 feet socially distancing. Other sports such as basketball, soccer, lacrosse were frowned upon because they were too close to each other. Even hot tubs were getting shut down!
Two things thrived during this time (I speak from personal experience, our business was booming)... Tennis and Pickleball. It was the solution to all our problems. We were outside. We were getting to see family and friends while maintaining a safe 6 feet apart. We were getting exercise in one of the few ways we could since all the gyms and fitness studios were shut down.
Both tennis and pickleball surged over 20% each in participation. It was one of the few things we were able to do. But what is so great is that once people put down the basketball and picked up the tennis ball or wiffle ball, racquet, or paddle they realized something.... how incredibly great these sports are. They have never been considered the most popular sport; however, I think that is slowly changing. Tennis and pickleball have been around for a very long time, I think they are finally getting the participation and recognition that they deserve.
Pickleball participation surged during the pandemic but I have news for you... it's here to stay! It is not going anywhere and that's because as soon as someone gets that whiffle ball and paddle in their hands and they finally play this sport they see how incredibly addicting it is. Mark my words, this sport is here to stay.
Where is Pickleball the Most Popular?
According to USA Pickleball, four regions account for 80% of the core players in this paddle sport. USA Pickleball has the four regions and their shares broken down as follows: South Atlantic (FL, GA, SC, NC, VA, WV, DC) = 283,000 participants, East North Central (WI, MI, IL, OH, IN) = 262,000 participants, Pacific (CA, OR, WA) = 255,000 participants, and Mountain (AZ, NV, NM, UT, CO, ID, WY, MT) = 155,000 participants. According to USA Pickleball, 56% of the core participants live East of the Mississippi River.
Who Plays Pickleball?
Pickleball use to be thought of as a sport that only older retired people played. However, as one of the fastest growing sports in the world, it is bringing people of all ages to the sport. According to USA Pickleball, the average age of core players is 47.5 years old. Core players are someone that plays the sport more frequently than casual participants that play every now and then. That's pretty young! USA Pickleball says the average age of casual players is 33.6 years old.
It does seem that participation in pickleball is higher though in men than women. According to the USA Pickleball Association, 61% of participation is men and only 39% female. This was something that I found as a surprise because I would say most of my pickleball players that come into my store is a pretty even 50/50 split.
It is a game for everyone though. I have young kids, high school students, young adults, and retired couples coming in to pick up and play this sport. It's so great to see something that can be played as a family and with multiple generations.
Where is Pickleball Played?
Ideally, Pickleball would be played on an actual pickleball regulated court. However, you can play anywhere! That's what is so great about this sport. Lots of people are making courts in their backyard. Some groups are buying nets and setting them up in the street (when it's safe of course) to play with their neighbors. However, the most commonplace to play is on a tennis court. Though that will be bigger than a pickleball court the lines are close to being the same. You can use the sidelines that you would use if you were playing singles and then the service line. The only thing that would not be marked off is "the kitchen". But overall I think playing on a tennis court is the best option if you don't have pickleball courts to go to.
Is Pickleball Good Exercise?
Before trying pickleball for the first time I never thought I would feel such a workout from it, it's a really great workout! Though the pickleball court is much smaller than what I am used to playing on playing pickleball is such great exercise and an excellent way to stay active. It's a fast-paced competitive game that requires lots of hand eye coordination. I noticed while playing pickleball I also feel it a lot in my legs!
The pickleball games are quick, fun, and fast pace and you don't even recognize that you are exercising. If you are wanting the highest level of exercise from the game then I would recommend playing singles. You will just get more movement and running than if you play doubles.
What is Needed To Play Pickleball?
I think the appeal to pickleball as well is it is a relatively cheap sport to get into. Some sports like skiing/snowboarding and golf you spend thousands on equipment and then there is the cost to get a day pass on the mountain or to play golf. In terms of pickleball equipment, there isn't much that you need. So what do you need if you are a pickleball player?
Good shoes are a MUST. You need to get an actual tennis shoe which is also what pickleball players call a court shoe. Tennis and pickleball are played on the same surface so it only makes sense that court shoes and tennis shoes are the exact same thing. Never play pickleball in running, walking, cross-training shoes, etc. They do not offer the lateral support that you need for the sudden side-to-side and stop-and-go movements in pickleball. They also do not have the correct tread needed to play on the court. Regular running and walking shoe tread will get stuck on the court causing you to roll your ankle or worse fall.
A paddle is another item that is obviously necessary for pickleball. A pickleball paddle is similar to what you would use in table tennis / ping pong. Pickleball paddles are about twice the size of a ping pong paddle and have a thicker core as well.
Last but not least balls! Like in any other racquet sport you need a ball to play. Pickleball varies from other sports. The ball used in pickleball is a plastic ball. This perforated plastic ball is lightweight and for the most part fairly durable. There are some balls like the ones from Core that are going to be more durable than others.
Just get these items and find a spot to play with your friends. These are places all around! Lots of senior residences communities are building courts for their members. Lots of local community recreation centers are putting together pickleball programs. Or just go to your local parks and find any court and play there!
The Future of Pickleball
To sum it all up this is such an exciting time to get involved in this sport. Pretty soon there won't be a place in the world that doesn't play this great sport... from Canadian provinces to Australia, it will be everywhere. There won't be a weekend that goes by without some pickleball tournament with prize money. One day I am sure that we will hear of the international Olympic committee meeting and having talks of turning pickleball into an Olympic sport. The future is so bright for this sport and it's so exciting!