American sports such as basketball, baseball, and soccer are known to be some of the most exciting and popular in the world.
But could there be another sport poised to take the top spot?
Many pickleballers would say so, and they would have good reason to. Pickleball is the fastest growing sport in the United Statesgrowing by nearly 40% between 2019 and 2021.
There are now approximately five million Americans who regularly play pickleball and an average of three new pickleball venues open every day across the states.
The sport even has a pro tour with teams backed by the likes of LeBron James and Tom Brady!
If you have no idea what pickleball is, don’t worry, we’ve got you covered. Who knows, after reading this article you might even want to try drinking a few wiffle balls yourself.
What is pickleball?
Pickleball is a fun sport that’s a bit like a mix of badminton, tennis, and ping pong. It was invented decades ago, in 1965 to be exact, and has gone mainstream in recent years.
We have three men to thank for pickleball: Barney McCallum, Bill Bell and Joel Pritchard.
This trio invented the game one afternoon in Washington State to keep their bored families busy.
Fast forward 57 years and pickleball now has official rules, regulations and even an international governing body, the International Pickleball Federation.
But how is the sport practiced?
Well, as mentioned, the game is very similar to some sports that you are probably already familiar with. The courts measure 20ft x 44ft and are separated by a net, like a tennis court.
A “no-volley zone” occupies the 7-foot section of the court closest to the net, while the rest of the court is divided by a center line, creating right and left service zones.
The ball, known as the wiffle ball, is plastic and has holes that cover half of it. This means that it moves slowly through the air, no matter how hard it is hit.
The racquets used resemble large table tennis racquets and are usually made from materials like aluminum and graphite.
Points start with an underarm serve and the rest of the point is played like tennis; only one bounce is allowed and the first bounce of the ball must be inbounds.
The winner is the first to 11 points and you must win by two. However, points can only be earned on serve, such as squash.
It is also important to say that, despite their name, pickles have absolutely nothing to do with sports.
Joan Pritchard came up with this name in reference to pickle boats, rowboats that are equipped with the remains of all other rowing crews.
His argument being that pickleball is made from the “leftovers” of badminton, table tennis and tennis.
Why is Pickleball so popular?
There are a number of reasons why pickleball is the fastest growing sport in the United States.
1. It’s extremely easy to learn
If you have played or know anything about tennis, table tennis, or other racquet sports, you can learn pickleball in minutes.
2. Everyone can play
Thanks to the small court, almost all pickleball shots are accessible, which means that players do not have to expend a lot of energy or be very mobile to play, especially when playing doubles.
Not needing to run or change direction quickly makes pickleball a sport suitable for older players.
For this reason, older people have formed a large part of the pickleball community; of those who play pickleball eight or more times a year, half are over 55.
3. It’s good for business
The small size of the court also means that companies can make a lot more money providing pickleball courts.
For example, three pickleball courts can fit in the same area as a regulation tennis court, meaning more paying customers can play at any one time.
4. It’s social
Pickleball is a great way for people to have fun and spend time together.
The sport is often played in doubles teams which, combined with a small pitch and a relatively easy style of play, makes for some very sociable times.
Scientific studies showed that playing pickleball can have a huge positive impact on mental health, especially in older people.
But although pickleball has a reputation as an “old people’s sport”, many young people are drawn to it as well. In fact, the sport is growing fastest in groups of players aged 24 and under.
This is a trend that is only set to continue as professional tours such as The Professional Tour of Pickleball breathe more excitement – and growth – into the sport.
Welcome to the major leagues
Major League Pickleball was founded in 2021 and has quickly become the sport’s premier professional league.
The number of teams will increase from 12 to 16 for the 2023 season, and the number of events has doubled from three to six.
Player prize money and payouts are also expected to cross the $2 million mark for the very first time.
In Major League Pickleball, teams are made up of two male athletes and two female athletes, selected through a draft.
Each tournament sees teams compete in four different matches: women’s doubles, men’s doubles and two mixed doubles matches.
If the teams are tied 2-2 after these matches, a special tiebreaker game is played.
The growing popularity of Pickleball in America has not gone unnoticed, and many savvy entrepreneurs are looking to invest in Major League Pickleball.
These include NFL legend Tom Brady and NBA stars LeBron James, Kevin Love and Draymond Green, all of whom have become partial buyers of an expansion team.
They join former NFL quarterback Drew Brees and famed entrepreneur Gary Vaynerchuk who already own Major League Pickleball teams.
Not everyone is a fan
It’s easy to think of pickleball as a giant achievement.
After all, it’s a sport that provides a fun way for a multitude of people to exercise, from retirees to children.
However, many Americans are unhappy with the sport’s sudden popularity.
Chief among them are tennis players who are unhappy that many tennis courts are being converted to pickleball courts in order to meet the high demand.
And it’s not just the tennis courts that are sacrificed either.
Other public spaces like basketball courts and even children’s parks are overrun with pickleball players who use duct tape and portable nets to set up movable courts.
While playing pickleball in parks is not a problem in itself, the overcrowding it causes is, as parks become increasingly busy with pickleball players and children playing in close proximity to each other. others.
Of course, this clutter increases the risk of accidents and injuries, which has led to arguments and modifications.
Iits popularity has exploded and is expected to continue
The pickleball craze seems to be here to stay.
Not only is the amateur game booming, but the professional tour is expected to attract thousands of new fans and players in the years to come.
As the sport becomes more mainstream, it is hoped that private companies and local councils will find ways to improve public pickleball facilities.
In turn, this should reduce the strain that mobile pickle ball games put on public parks. If that happens, there’s no telling how big pickleball will become.
Main image: Michael and Sherry Martin/Flickr