Pickleball has hit critical mass in America. Courts are flooded with people and demand for new places to play is constant.
What got us here? Why has there suddenly been a surge in pickleball’s popularity?
Pickleball is not a new sport. It’s actually been around since the 1960s. This is surprising for many to hear since most people hadn’t heard about pickleball until 2020 or later.
In this post, we’re going to dive into why this surprisingly fun multi-generational sport has become such a phenomenon.
Whether you’re an avid pickleball player or just a curious bystander who’s just trying to suss out what the hell is going on in your suddenly pickleball-crazed town, this post is for you.
Let’s dive in.
- 1. The pandemic lockdowns provided the initial fuel that increased exposure
- 2. Pickleball has a low barrier to entry – just about anyone can pick up and play
- 3. Pickleball is a highly social sport
- 4. Pickleball is fun, stimulating, and mentally engaging
- 5. Pickleball is inexpensive to play
- 6. Pickleball has a high skill-ceiling
- 7. Pickleball provides a great source of low-impact, low injury-risk exercise
- 8. It’s (typically) easy to find locations to play
1. The pandemic lockdowns provided the initial fuel that increased exposure
During lockdowns, everything shut down. People were craving activities, and outdoor activities became a huge outlet for exercise and fresh air.
Two sports really exploded in popularity around this time – disc golf and pickleball. Disc golf blew up first, with discs flying off the shelves and new tournaments popping up left and right.
Pickleball was next. It had already been popular with the boomer population. But the surge in people of all ages who were looking for relatively safe and accessible outdoor activities to participate it in during COVID kicked off a wave of interest that simply grew and grew.
Tennis also experienced a boost in popularity during the pandemic, but tennis has already been a huge hit in America for decades. It also has a bit of a higher barrier to entry than pickleball, ensuring that it couldn’t blow up like wildfire across such varied demographics as pickleball has.
Once word got out that pickleball was an incredibly fun and addictive game that anyone can play, the growth turned exponential.
The rest of the points on this post cover the specifics of why pickleball is such a desirable pursuit. This is key because pickleball wouldn’t have gotten to the place of growth it has today in 2023-2024 if it wasn’t such a player-friendly and gripping game.
2. Pickleball has a low barrier to entry – just about anyone can pick up and play
Few sports are as accessible as pickleball. People of all ages, skill levels, and body types can compete and have a good time on day one of playing. The rules are simple and easy to understand (for the most part). This low skill floor makes pickleball feel incredibly inclusive and appealing to a very wide demographic.
People aged 10 to 80 can step onto a court and learn how to hold their own in rallies in just an hour or two of getting acquainted with the game. They’ll be having fun after just a few games, which can’t be said for a lot of sports.
Pickleball is certainly far more beginner-friendly than tennis. Unlike tennis, you don’t have to be an athlete or serious player to get started with the sport. It can take people years of deliberate practice in tennis to be able to rally consistently. You can be “pretty good” in pickleball after playing for one afternoon, rather than have to wait for months to build basic skills, like in tennis.
Because doubles pickleball isn’t too athletically demanding, those who’ve never played sports before or who are physically disadvantaged can play the game with relative ease. It’s easy to compensate for a lack of mobility with good technique in pickleball.
Close-quarters socializing. Pickleball is most often played in a doubles format, which puts four people close together on a small court, encouraging interaction and a sense of community.
Pickup/open-play culture. Due to the pickup/open-play nature of the sport, it’s also an easy sport to just show up and rotate into games. You can go anywhere that pickleball is played and immediately get a sense of community. I’ve seen players transitioning from tennis to pickleball expecting not to get to play for a while on a full court. But they’re happily stunned when they’re asked to rotate in right away.
Warm and welcoming culture. It helps that pickleball players are generally welcoming and courteous. While tennis tends to be pretty insular and people keep to themselves, the culture of pickleball promotes playing and interacting with strangers. There’s generally a lot of socializing and chatting on the court during games and off the court between them.
4. Pickleball is fun, stimulating, and mentally engaging
Just because pickleball has a low barrier to entry doesn’t mean that it’s not fun and highly stimulating.
Pickleball’s rallies are fast-paced, action-packed, varied, and frequent. The pace of the game is great for keeping player’s minds and bodies engaged.
Since play at the net is promoted by the rules of pickleball, quick reactions are needed which makes the game very visceral.
The progression of games moves faster compared to tennis with no second serves, easier ball fetching, and less downtime between points. A doubles pickleball game typically lasts 15 min, while a doubles tennis set is typically 30min to an hour.
5. Pickleball is inexpensive to play
Pickleball is a cheap sport to get started with, especially compared to other big sports like golf or tennis. You can pick up a decent paddle for under $20, a solid one for under $50, or an excellent beginner paddle for under $100. You also don’t typically need to have a backup paddle like you would with tennis racquets.
Pickleballs are also cheap and don’t need to be pressurized or replaced as often as tennis balls.
Other than that, you’ll just want some decent court/tennis shoes, and you’re good to go.
6. Pickleball has a high skill-ceiling
While comparable sports like tennis and ping pong have a high skill floor and high skill ceiling, pickleball stands out by being easy to learn but hard to master.
It might look like checkers, but pickleball is sneakily strategic and plays more like chess at the higher levels. This aspect really adds to pickleball’s draw.
Just about anyone can play pickleball, which is great, but serious competitors and athletes remaining engaged and developing indefinitely is awesome. You can get to 3.0 in pickleball within a month or two, but getting obove 4.0 takes some serious skill acquisition.
This flies in the face of a lot of people, typically tennis players, that say pickleball is just tennis but worse. Or more critically, that pickleball isn’t even a sport.
I’ve encountered a number of skilled tennis players who were surprised to see how difficult it was to adjust to pickleball against highly skilled players. They thought they could walk on the court and dominate.
7. Pickleball provides a great source of low-impact, low injury-risk exercise
Before pickleball’s recent explosion in popularity, it was popular among seniors. This is because it’s a sport that promotes physical fitness and cardiovascular health without the huge injury risk of other sports.
Pickleball has a much lower impact footprint on your body, which greatly reduces the risk of injury. It’s a sport that enables the older population and those with lingering sport injuries to play safely for long sessions.
8. It’s (typically) easy to find locations to play
A huge boon for pickleball has been how easy it is to find a location to play. Courts are popping up everywhere in prime locations.
While there is a shortage of courts right now due to extreme demand, it’s relatively easy for private parties and large municipalities to add more courts due to the space efficiency of pickleball courts. Much less space is required to put down a court when compared to tennis.
Many tennis courts are being repurposed for pickleball, increasing accessibility. You can place multiple pickleball courts on top of a single tennis court.
The growing infrastructure is making way for more and more players to start enjoying the game, as well as more tournaments and workshops.
Another bonus for pickleball is that you can play it year-round in many places. There’s a ton of indoor facilities to allow comfortable play during intensely hot summers and cold winters.
Pickleball’s popularity seriously exploded during the pandemic. Now that everyone’s keyed in to pickleball, we’re likely going to see continued growth as people recognize how great of a sport it is for the casual player and the serious athlete.
Pickleball is a perfect social sport for the casual 30-minute here-and-there player as well as the complete pickleball addict who wants to play for five hours a day (of which there are many). It’s a sport you can play over and over without destroying your body in the process.
What brought you to pickleball? Is pickleball brand new to you and you’re just trying to figure out what all the hype is about? Did you start playing in the pandemic? Or are you the rare gem who’s been playing pickleball way before the recent explosion in the sport.
Let us know your experience in the comments below.
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