Is Pickleball a real sport?

A sport is defined as having these properties according to various dictionaries and Wikipedia let’s see if Pickleball achieves some or all of them:

  • athletic activity
  • requiring skill or physical prowess
  • often competitive in nature
  • provides enjoyment to the participants and sometimes entertainment to spectator
  • can improve physical health
  • has a set of rules by which to play/compete
  • usually involves a contest between two sides who are competing to win
  • the ability to win is a result of not only physical capabilities and skills but also strategy and luck

So is pickleball a real sport?

Going by every possible criteria for what a sport is, Pickleball is absolutely, unequivocally a sport. It is a competitive athletic activity that requires skill, can improve physical health, involves a contest between two players or teams and provides entertainment to fans.

If you want more support for this argument:

  • The game has been around for 56 years
  • There are official associations in the US and internationally that maintain official rules and regulations for equipment, courts, game-play, tournaments, etc
  • There is an official player rating that tracks player skills
  • This sport is based on the combination of 3 other activities that are considered sports: tennis, ping pong and badminton

ALL of that said: pickleball can also be considered a hobby too. Doesn’t take away from the fact that it’s a sport though. (And, I mean, check out all of these terms in this pickleball glossary. Anything with that much lingo has to be a sport right?)

Going a bit further, is pickleball a professional sport?

Absolutely. Top players make a full-time living off of tournament winnings, coaching and pickleball equipment sponsorships. The tournament winnings are generally the smallest piece of the pie since there are only a few dozen tournaments with any meaningful price money associated with them.

So, granted, on the scale of all professional sports, pickleball is pretty far down there in terms of how much money you can make, but no one can say it ISN’T a professional sport, albeit on a small scale.

Is pickleball a high school sport?

While they definitely have high school pickleball programs for gym/PE classes, the number of high school teams that then play in tournaments or other high schools is pretty low. I’m sure they’re out there, but I’m not aware of them. Are you aware of any official high school pickleball teams? Drop me a line: ryan@pickleballdrive.com

The USAPA has a high school grant program whereby they will grant $350 in aide of setting up a pickleball program at a school.

Is Pickleball a recognized or internationally recognized sport?

Now we’re getting into some real bureaucratic territory. Some real United Nations level of rules, regulations and by-laws.

While you might be able to have an argument about whether pickleball is a “sport” in general (though you would roundly lose if you argued it wasn’t), there really isn’t much argument in terms of whether pickleball is a recognized or internationally recognized sport.

It’s pretty clear-cut that pickleball is NOT recognized or internationally recognized.

Okay, let’s get into what that means:

The international body that decides recognition and international recognition is the Global Association of International Sports Federations (GAISF).

You can take a look at all of the recognized sports and various memberships each of them have here. And you can see the extensive requirements to join the GAISF here.

To be recognized a sport has to have an established international sports organization. Pickleball has one: the International Federation of Pickleball.

HOWEVER: they have not applied and been accepted for membership to the GAISF. So they’re part of the way there.

To be internationally recognized the IFP would need to be accepted by BOTH the GAISF and the International Olympic Committee. Further, by being internationally recognized they would be eligible to participate in the Olympics.

Unfortunately, Pickleball has not reached the requisite level of adoption across enough countries in the world to qualify. It is, however, growing robustly across the world so it should just be a matter of a few more years before the sport is able to clear those hurdles.

Every year Pickleball as a sport, as an international set of organizations becomes more and more popular and robust. The trajectory is clear and I’m sure pickleball will establish itself as a legitimate and respected sport around the world int he coming years.