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What’s The Deal With Pickleball?

American sports such as basketball, baseball and football are known as being some of the most exciting and popular in the world.

But could there be another sport about to take the number one spot?

Many pickleballers would say so, and they would have good reason to. Pickleball is the fastest-growing sport in the US, expanding by nearly 40% between 2019 and 2021. 

There are now around five million Americans who play pickleball on a regular basis and an average of three new pickleball venues are opening every day across the States.

The sport even has a professional tour with teams backed by the likes of LeBron James and Tom Brady!

If you have no idea what pickleball is then don’t worry, we have you covered. Who knows, after reading this article you might even want to try dinking a few wiffle balls yourself.

What Is Pickleball?

Pickleball is a fun sport that is a bit like a mix of badminton, tennis, and ping-pong. It was invented decades ago, in 1965 to be exact, and has hit the mainstream in recent years. 

We have three men to thank for pickleball: Barney McCallum, Bill Bell, and Joel Pritchard.

This trio came up with the game one afternoon in Washington State to occupy their bored families.

Fast forward 57 years and pickleball now has official rules, regulations and even an international governing body, the International Federation of Pickleball.  

But how is the sport even played?

Well as mentioned, the game looks, and plays, a lot like some sports you’re probably already familiar with. Courts measure 20ft x 44ft and are split by a net, like a tennis court.

A “no-volley zone” occupies the 7ft section of the court nearest to the net, while the rest of the court is split by a centerline, creating both right and left service areas. 

Pickleball court
Image: Sports Imports

The ball, known as a wiffle ball, is made of plastic and has holes covering one half of it. This means it travels slowly through the air no matter how hard it’s hit.

The rackets that are used look like big table tennis paddles and are usually made from materials like aluminum and graphite.

Points are started with an underarm serve and the rest of the point is played just like tennis; only one bounce is allowed, and the ball’s first bounce must be within the boundaries of the court.

The winner is the first to 11 points and you must win by two. However, points can only be won on serve, like squash. 

It’s also important to say that, despite the name, pickles have absolutely nothing to do with the sport. 

Joan Pritchard came up with this name in reference to pickle boats, rowing boats that are manned by the leftovers of all other rowing crews.

Her point being that pickleball is made from the “leftovers” of badminton, table tennis, and tennis.

Why Is Pickleball So Popular?

Image: US Sports Camps

There are a number of reasons why pickleball is the fastest-growing sport in the US. 

1. It’s extremely easy to learn

If you’ve played or know anything about tennis, table tennis or other racket sports, then you’ll be able to pick up pickleball in minutes. 

2. Anyone can play

Thanks to the small court, nearly every shot in pickleball is reachable, meaning that players don’t have to exert a great deal of energy or be very mobile to play, especially when they’re playing doubles. 

Not needing to run or change direction quickly makes pickleball a sport suitable for older players.

Because of this, older people have formed a huge part of pickleball’s community; of those who play pickleball eight times a year or more, half of them are over 55.

3. It’s good for business

The small court size also means that businesses can make a lot more money by providing pickleball courts.

For example, three pickleball courts can fit on the same area as one regulation tennis court, meaning more paying customers can play at any one time. 

4. It’s sociable

Pickleball is a great way for people to have fun and spend time together.

The sport is often played in doubles teams, which when combined with the small court, and relatively easy style of play, makes for a very sociable time. 

Scientific studies have shown that playing pickleball can have a huge, positive impact on mental health, especially those of an older age. 

But while pickleball has a reputation for being an “old person’s sport” many youngsters are also being attracted to it. In fact, the sport is growing quickest in groups of players who are aged 24 and under.

This is a trend that only looks set to continue as professional tours such as The Professional Tour of Pickleball, breathe more excitement – and growth – into the sport. 

Welcome To The Major Leagues

Major League Pickleball was founded in 2021 and has quickly become the leading professional league for the sport.

The number of teams will expand from 12 to 16 for the 2023 season, and the number of events has doubled from three to six. 

Player prize money and pay-outs are also set to break the $2 million mark for the very first time. 

In Major League Pickleball the teams are made up of two male athletes and two female athletes, selected via a draft.

At each tournament, teams play each other in four different matches: Female doubles, male doubles, and two mixed doubles matches.

If teams are tied 2-2 after these matches, then a special tiebreaker game is played. 

Pickleball’s growing popularity in America has not gone unnoticed, and many savvy entrepreneurs are looking to invest in Major League Pickleball.

These include NFL legend Tom Brady and NBA stars LeBron James, Kevin Love, and Draymond Green, who have all become partial buyers of an expansion team. 

They join ex-NFL quarterback Drew Brees, and celebrity entrepreneur Gary Vaynerchuk who are already owners of Major League Pickleball teams. 

Not Everyone Is A Fan

Pickleball courts
Image: Wikimedia Commons

It’s easy to look at pickleball as a giant success story.

After all, it’s a sport that provides a fun way for a whole host of people to exercise, from pensioners to children. 

However, there are many Americans who are not happy with the sport’s sudden popularity.

Chief amongst these are tennis players who are upset that many tennis courts are being converted into pickleball courts in order to keep up with the high demand. 

And it’s not just tennis courts that are being sacrificed, either. 

Other public spaces like basketball courts and even children’s parks are being taken over by pickleballers who use masking tape and portable nets to set up mobile courts. 

While playing pickleball in parks is not an issue by itself, the crowding it causes is, as parks are becoming increasingly busy with pickleballers and children playing very close to one another. 

Of course, this crowding increases the chances of accidents and injuries occurring, a fact that has led to arguments and alterations.

It’s Exploded In Popularity And Is Set To Continue

The pickleball craze looks like it’s here to stay.

Not only is the amateur game flourishing, but the professional tour looks set to attract thousands of new fans and players in the coming years.

As the sport becomes more common it is hoped that private businesses and local councils will find ways to improve public pickleball facilities.

In turn, this should reduce the pressure mobile pickle ball games are placing on public parks. If this does happen there’s no telling how big pickleball will become.

Lead image: Michael & Sherry Martin/Flickr

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