The Rapid Rise of Pickleball: A Sport for Everybody

The Origin and Unique Appeal

Pickleball, despite its peculiar name, has quickly gained traction and entered the mainstream culture in America. The exact origin of the name remains a topic of debate, with some attributing it to the founders’ dog named Pickles, who supposedly had a habit of running off with the ball. Another theory suggests that the name “pickle” is a reference to a pickle-boat, a race consisting of leftover crews from other teams, reflecting the patchwork nature of equipment and rules borrowed from other racket sports such as tennis, badminton, and ping-pong.

The sport’s popularity has surged, with notable mentions in publications like The New Yorker, Vanity Fair, and even appearances on Ellen DeGeneres’ TV show and the Kardashians’ reality show. More than a million Americans have taken up pickleball in the past two years, dubbing it as America’s unofficial pandemic pastime.

Pickleball’s appeal lies in its inclusivity and accessibility. Like other racket sports, the objective is to hit the ball over the net and prevent the opponent from returning it. It can be played in singles or doubles, both indoors and outdoors, on a court roughly the size of a badminton court. The game continues until one side reaches 11 points with a two-point lead. The introduction of a non-volley zone, known as the “kitchen,” adds distinctiveness to pickleball. This zone minimizes running, making it suitable for players of all ages and fitness levels and promoting a level playing field for children and adults alike.

A Surge in Popularity

Pickleball’s popularity has skyrocketed in North America, partially driven by the COVID-19 pandemic. The sport initially found a solid base within retirement communities, favored for its sociable aspect, moderate exercise, and overall fun factor. However, between 2018 and 2021, USA Pickleball membership nearly doubled, and it is estimated that 4.8 million Americans currently play the sport. Interestingly, the fastest rate of growth has been among players under 24, with many setting up pickleball courts in driveways and gardens during lockdowns.

The surge in popularity has attracted the attention of celebrities and athletes. Olympic legend Michael Phelps and NFL wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald participated in an exhibition match, while Stephen Colbert is producing a “celebrity-packed pickleball tournament.” The sport’s allure lies in providing a level playing field for individuals across different sports. It allows NFL and NBA players, for example, to compete and bond on equal footing.

A Sport with Global Potential

While pickleball’s growth outside of the United States has been relatively slower, the International Federation of Pickleball currently boasts 60 member countries. As the sport edges closer to the criteria for becoming an Olympic sport, there is a belief in its enormous potential globally. Pickleball’s inclusivity and appeal make it suitable for people of all backgrounds and ages.

Ben Johns, one of pickleball’s greatest professional players, recognizes the sport’s global potential and the need for quality instruction. He has partnered with TopCourt, a digital tennis teaching platform, to provide lessons that help players improve their pickleball skills. The availability of top-quality instruction is expected to facilitate the sport’s growth and enhance the experience for players worldwide.

In conclusion, pickleball has quickly become a phenomenon in American culture, capturing the attention of celebrities, athletes, and players of all ages and backgrounds. Its inclusive and accessible nature, combined with the social aspect and moderate exercise it offers, has propelled pickleball into the spotlight. As the sport continues to expand globally, it may not be long before we see pickleball make its debut on the Olympic stage.

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