The Rise of Pickleball: A Sport for Everyone

The Quirky Origin of Pickleball

Pickleball, a sport that has recently gained popularity in American culture, has an unusual name with unclear origins. Some believe that the name was inspired by the founder’s family dog named Pickles, who had a habit of running off with the ball. Another theory suggests that it was named after a pickle-boat, a patchwork-style boat in a race composed of leftover crews from other teams, symbolizing the sport’s amalgamation of equipment and rules from tennis, badminton, and ping-pong.

A Cultural Phenomenon

Pickleball has made its way into the mainstream, attracting attention from various media outlets and celebrities. The New Yorker questioned if pickleball could save America, while Ellen DeGeneres dedicated a segment of her TV show to her “obsession” with the sport. Vanity Fair marveled at how pickleball had won over so many people, and even the Kardashian family showcased their love for the game on their reality television show.

With over a million Americans picking up a paddle in the past two years, pickleball has been unofficially crowned as America’s pandemic pastime.

A Sport for Everybody

Like other racket sports, the objective of pickleball is simple: hit the ball over the net and prevent your opponent from returning it. The game can be played in singles or doubles, indoors or outdoors, on a court approximately the size of a badminton court. Matches continue until one side reaches 11 points with a two-point cushion.

What sets pickleball apart is its inclusivity. The creation of the non-volley zone, also known as the “kitchen,” allows players of all ages and skill levels to compete on an equal footing. The non-volley zone minimizes the role of power and reduces the need for extensive running, making it possible for older players and children to participate alongside their more athletic peers.

“It’s truly a sport for everybody,” declared professional pickleball player Ben Johns during a game at Squibb Park in Brooklyn Heights. The courts were abuzz with a mix of beginners, experienced players, and even children preparing their equipment. “It spans a wide range of ages and people with different backgrounds,” he added, emphasizing the game’s universal appeal.

The Pandemic’s Influence

The rise in pickleball’s popularity can be attributed, in part, to the COVID-19 pandemic. As a safe and socially distanced form of exercise, pickleball found a devoted following among retirement communities. However, between 2018 and 2021, membership in USA Pickleball nearly doubled, reaching an estimated 4.8 million players nationwide.

Surprisingly, the fastest-growing demographic of pickleball players has been those under 24 years old. During the height of lockdowns, portable pickleball nets sold out as people set up small courts in their driveways and gardens. Celebrities and athletes have also jumped on the pickleball bandwagon, further fueling its popularity.

The sport’s sociable nature, moderate physical activity, and sheer fun factor have made it a hit among people of all backgrounds.

An Olympic Dream

With the proliferation of professional pickleball tournaments being broadcast on major networks, as well as its increasing presence in popular culture, pickleball is making a case for Olympic recognition. The International Federation of Pickleball currently has 60 member countries, inching closer to the requirements for becoming an Olympic sport.

Ben Johns, one of pickleball’s most accomplished players, believes that the sport has immense potential globally. Although it may not have caught on as strongly in other parts of the world yet, once it does, he predicts rapid growth similar to that experienced in the United States.

Pickleball’s inclusivity and broad appeal make it a natural fit for the Olympics, but Johns cautions that growth should not be rushed. Regardless of its Olympic destiny, pickleball has undoubtedly found its place among the hearts and paddles of millions around the world.

Sharing the Joy and Expertise

Now, as an ambassador for the sport, Ben Johns has joined TopCourt, a digital tennis teaching platform, to provide lessons and introduce pickleball to a wider audience. TopCourt features renowned players such as Iga Swiatek, Venus Williams, and Nick Kyrgios, and now includes pickleball instruction.

According to Johns, the desire to improve at pickleball is driving the demand for top-quality instruction. With the best players lending their expertise, enthusiasts can elevate their skills and accelerate their progress.

As pickleball continues its journey from a casual holiday pastime to a widely recognized sport, its infectious appeal ensures that more people than ever before are picking up a paddle and experiencing the joy of this inclusive and entertaining game.

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