The Rise of Pickleball: An Unexpected Sport for All

A Mysterious Origin

Pickleball, a sport that has entered the American mainstream culture, has been gaining popularity in recent years. But why is it called pickleball? The truth is, nobody quite knows. Some believe it was named after the founder’s family dog, Pickles, who had a habit of running off with the ball. Others argue that the name is a reference to a pickle-boat, a term used for a race composed of leftover crews from other teams. This boat, like the sport itself, is a mishmash of borrowed equipment and rules from tennis, badminton, and ping-pong. Regardless of its peculiar name, pickleball has become the new “it” sport in America.

A Sport for Everyone

The concept of pickleball is simple: hit the ball over the net and prevent your opponent from hitting it back, much like other racket sports. It can be played in singles or doubles, indoors or outdoors, on a court about the size of a badminton court. The game continues until one side reaches 11 points, with a two-point cushion. What sets pickleball apart is its accessibility and inclusivity. It minimizes running, allowing older players to be just as competitive as younger ones, and it diminishes the role of power, enabling children to play alongside adults. As professional pickleball player Ben Johns describes it, “it’s truly a sport for everybody.”

A Pandemic Pastime

The COVID-19 pandemic played a significant role in the explosive growth of pickleball’s popularity. Offering a safe and socially distanced form of exercise, the sport found a strong base among retirement communities. However, between 2018 and 2021, pickleball membership in the USA nearly doubled, and it is estimated that 4.8 million Americans now play the sport. Surprisingly, much of this expansion has come from younger demographics, with the fastest rate of increase among players under 24. Portable pickleball nets sold out as people set up their own small courts in driveways and gardens during lockdown. Even celebrities and athletes have joined in, finding enjoyment in this sport that levels the playing field across different disciplines.

The Path to Olympic Recognition

As pickleball’s popularity grows, professional tournaments are now being broadcast on multiple networks, including Fox Sports, the Tennis Channel, CBS Sports, and ESPN. Designer paddles line store shelves, pickleball-themed weddings make the news, and even philanthropic endeavors are centered around the sport. Pickleball is also making its presence felt around the world, with the International Federation of Pickleball boasting 60 member countries. As the sport approaches the criteria for Olympic recognition, its potential for global growth is undeniable. According to Ben Johns, “it’s really a sport for everybody,” and it’s only a matter of time before the rest of the world catches on.

Embracing Instruction and Growth

Ben Johns, one of pickleball’s greatest professional players, is now sharing his expertise through the digital tennis teaching platform, TopCourt. This platform brings together the best players, including tennis stars like Iga Swiatek, Venus Williams, and Nick Kyrgios, to provide high-quality instruction. Johns believes that access to top-quality instruction is essential for players’ improvement and the sport’s growth. With consistent support and guidance, pickleball has the potential to become a prominent sport on a global scale.

The Future of Pickleball

Pickleball’s journey from a backyard game to a mainstream phenomenon is nothing short of remarkable. Its ability to attract players of all ages and backgrounds and its adaptability in various settings have been crucial to its success. As its popularity continues to soar, the potential for pickleball to become an Olympic sport seems promising. With its inclusivity, accessibility, and growing international presence, pickleball’s future is bright.

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