If you haven’t seen them already, pretty soon I’m sure you’ll start to spot pickleball courts popping up in driveways and on tennis courts seemingly everywhere. There are myriad reasons why this unique, addictive sport has caught on and has become so popular.
- Pickleball has grown organically over the last 55 years. It was founded in 1965 by a few families on Bainbridge Island in Washington state, lacking the right equipment for an existing sport, decided to take elements of ping pong, badminton, and tennis to create a new sport. From there it slowly caught on and gradually gained adherents. In the past 15 years, it has really taken off.
- It combines some of the best aspects of three fun sports.
- The game be played just about anywhere with a flat, hard surface. with portable pickleball nets and a relatively small space needed, you can set up and play all over the place. It takes up about half the space of a standard tennis court. If you’re looking for a local place to play, you can probably find one here: https://www.places2play.org/
- It doesn’t cost much to get started – you can get high quality paddles for less than than $50 and balls are only a couple bucks each. While you can get away with playing on tennis net, it’s not exactly the right height (about 2 inches too high), it’s easy enough to find a place to play.
- You can actually win serious money at some tournaments now. The Margaritaville USA Pickleball National Championships had over 2,000 registered players last year and the purse for the event was the largest ever at $80,000. As the sport continues to gain in popularity, that number will surely rise.
- Anyone of any age who can hold a paddle can play. While a game can get very quick and intense at the higher levels, it’s possible to play it at a low intensity and still have a great time. You don’t have to run as much as tennis but you move much more than pingpong. You have far less ground to cover than you do in tennis so it’s much less strenuous.
- Great, fun way to lose weight. Play pickleball for half an hour and you can burn anywhere from 250 to 400 calories, depending on how intensely you play. Few better ways to get exercise with friends.
- In fact, as with most physical activity that requires focus and agility, it is also good for your mental and physical well being too.
- You can get a pretty good workout if you play with intensity. It gets pretty fast paced during a hard-fought game.
- Community and social aspects are awesome – getting to know people in clubs and leagues can be a rewarding and incredible part of your pickleball journey. You can play in a singles or doubles tournament, for example. Or just pop in to your local pickleball club to play a game against a new friend.
- Playing pickleball has got a pretty low risk of injury.
- Once you learn the basics of the rules, you can start playing right away. There are a few quirks to the rules but once you get the hang of them, it’s pretty smooth sailing.
- It’s always possible to improve your game. There are folks who are professional pickleball players and coaches who do this for a living. So with consistent drilling and practice you can always be improving your game and gaining in skills. check out our article on skill ratings to learn more.
- if you visit Chicken N Pickle, you can come for the pickleball and stay for the chicken and beer. Yup, it’s the world’s first picklebally themed restaurant.
- There are 1,900 volunteer ambassadors who are committed to helping promote pickleball in their local areas. I’m sure having this dedicated street team has helped make playing pickleball so popular
- You can get your competitive streak going! There are hundreds of pickleball tournaments a year all over the US.
- You can play with your family no matter how old they are.
What more could you want?
So is it the fastest growing sport in America?
It very well could be. It’s been growing at faster than 10% rate for over at least 11 years. We’ve got an aging population and this is a very popular sport for retirees. Here are some incredible stats (1, 2):
- Fact: At this point there are over 3.3 million pickleball players who play at least a couple times a year. That’s 1% of the American population! This is split out further: 2 million of those players play pickleball between one and seven times a year while the remaining core players play 8+ times a year.
- The core players are generally older, with an average age of 54 years, while casual players average 33 years old. 40% of core players are over 65 while 39% of the casual players are between 8 and 34.
- Participation has increased 9.7% in the last 3 years.
- The USAPA sanctioned a record 192 tournaments in 2019.
- There are now 8,000 places to play in the USAPA’s database — and 1,300 of those new locations were added just in 2019. That translates into 30,000 courts.
- Since 2017, membership in the USAPA has doubled!
If you can point to another sport that’s been around for more than a few years that has grown this much, let me know!