Pickleball: The Fastest Growing Sport in the U.S.

A Fun and Inclusive Sport

Pickleball, a unique combination of badminton, tennis, and ping-pong, has rapidly gained popularity in the United States. According to the Sports and Fitness Industry Association, there are now 4.8 million pickleball participants nationwide, with a remarkable 39.3% growth rate over the past two years. The sport has claimed the title of the fastest growing sport in the U.S. for the second consecutive year.

One of the main reasons for pickleball’s success is its accessibility and inclusivity. It is a sport that can be enjoyed by people of all ages and skill levels. Professional pickleball player Parris Todd, a former competitive tennis player, explains that the game is not only social and extremely fun but also easy for the whole family to play. It brings joy and offers various health benefits, making it an appealing choice for people of all generations.

A Brief History of Pickleball

Pickleball was originally created in 1965 as a way to keep bored children entertained on a rainy day. Joel Pritchard, Bill Bell, and Barney McCallum, three neighbors from Bainbridge Island, Washington, came up with the concept using old ping-pong paddles and a perforated ball on a badminton court. However, the game quickly gained popularity among adults.

By 1967, the first permanent pickleball court was built, and in 1972, the first corporation was formed to protect the creation of pickleball. The USA Pickleball Association took over governance of the sport in 1984. Over the years, pickleball has transformed from a rainy-day activity to a worldwide phenomenon.

The Popularity of Pickleball

The sudden peak in pickleball’s popularity can be attributed to several factors. Even before the pandemic, pickleball was on the rise, with the number of participants doubling in the last five years. It offers a great workout experience that doesn’t feel like a workout, making it more appealing to those who may be hesitant to engage in more intense physical activities.

During the pandemic, pickleball’s growth continued to accelerate. With people seeking ways to stay healthy and active within the confines of their homes, pickleball’s smaller court size made it a perfect choice. Many individuals were introduced to the sport by playing with their families in their driveways, parking lots, or gym spaces. Its adaptability and the ability to set up a court almost anywhere made it an ideal choice during unprecedented times.

Another significant factor in pickleball’s popularity is its multi-generational appeal. People of all ages can enjoy the game together, strengthening family bonds and fostering a sense of unity.

The Equipment and How to Play

To play pickleball, one needs minimal equipment. The game is played with a flat paddle, which is different from the stringed rackets used in tennis and badminton. The paddles come in various sizes and thickness levels to accommodate different playing styles, and their length should not exceed 17 inches. The ball used is a plastic perforated ball, lighter and easier to hit than tennis balls, with 26 to 40 holes. The game requires a 3-foot-long net and a court space of approximately 44 feet long and 20 feet wide.

Pickleball can be played as both singles and doubles, with some variations in serving rules and scoring. The game involves serving the ball underhand over the net and hitting it back and forth until a player misses. Points are scored only by the serving team, and the game goes up to 11 points, with a requirement to win by two points. There are specific rules, such as a “no-volley” zone called the “kitchen,” where volleying is prohibited.

The Benefits and Risks of Playing Pickleball

Pickleball offers numerous health benefits. Research has shown that playing pickleball can lower levels of depression and improve cognitive performance, especially in older adults. It also enhances hand-eye coordination and increases agility, coordination, and muscle strength. A study conducted by Western State Colorado University highlighted the substantive cardio benefits of regular pickleball participation. Participants who played for one hour three times a week experienced improvements in cardiorespiratory fitness, cholesterol levels, and blood pressure.

Despite pickleball being a safe and accessible sport, there are some risks involved. Common pickleball injuries include accidental falls, strains, sprains, and tendonitis. However, these risks can be minimized by following safety precautions and proper techniques. In case of any injuries, it is advisable to consult a doctor or physical therapist for proper treatment and recovery.

Pickleball’s Future

It is clear that pickleball is here to stay. The sport has gained international recognition, with approximately 70 countries joining the International Federation of Pickleball. There are even discussions of adding pickleball as a demonstration sport in the 2028 Olympic Games.

As the demand for pickleball courts increases, efforts are being made to build more courts across the United States. Homeowner associations, hotels, and major retailers like Target and Walmart are converting or constructing new pickleball courts. Currently, there are around 10,000 places to play pickleball across the country, and this number continues to grow.

If you are interested in trying pickleball, consider taking a lesson at your local club or simply grabbing a friend and giving it a try. The game’s inclusivity and the joy it brings make it an excellent choice for anyone looking for a fun and active sport. Before you know it, you’ll be hooked on pickleball and joining the millions of enthusiastic players across the nation.

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