Have you found yourself thanking your favorite deity for the existence of your favorite sport, but you never stopped to think about how and why it came to be what it is today?
All sports have quite interesting stories about their origin and evolution; pickleball doesn’t escape this reality. After some ideas and efforts were put together, pickleball became one of the fastest-growing sports.
How did pickleball become one of the fastest-growing sports?
The beginning of pickleball.
The “how’s” are always related to history and pioneers, so let’s start there. Like it happened with other sports, the reasons behind the existence of pickleball were boredom and resourcefulness. Back in 1965, congressman Joel Pritchard and his friend Bill Bell were out of ideas to keep their families from succumbing to the hands of boredom, so they turned to a badminton court with no equipment but ping pong paddles and a perforated plastic ball. The family game became a more serious idea, and seven years later, a corporation was created to protect it. It started to gain recognition as journalists started writing about it just three years after that, and the sport appeared in a book in 1978.
In 1976, the first known pickleball tournament took place at Tukwila, Washington, and by 1982 there were more tournaments played across Washington.
The origin of USAPA and the expansion of Pickleball
1984 was a crucial year for pickleball because the United States Amateur Pickleball Association (USAPA) and first rule book were created. Look at that, seven years to create a corporation and less than 20 years to turn it into an Association dedicated to protecting the sport and pushing it forward.
By 1990, pickleball was already being played in all 50 states of the United States of America. Afterward, the internet boom reached pickleball, and the first website related to this sport was created. Pickleball started to gain foreign recognition — people in Canada started playing it by 2003.
The 2000s also meant changes in the corporation (2005) and the rule book (2008). More and more tournaments were held across the country, and hundreds of players would make their appearances. Since the game started to gain more credit on other countries, the USAPA established the International Federation of Pickleball in 2010. The USAPA went from having 4,000 members to 10,000 members in just two years (2013-2015). By 2015, there were over 2 million pickleball players, according to the Sports and Fitness Industry Association (SFIA), and 12,800 courts, according to Places2Play.
Pickleball is growing in a more standardized way.
From 2016 to present, pickleball has done nothing but grow at an enviable and outstanding pace. The USAPA helped pickleball grow by creating a certification program for referees, acquiring charitable partners, partnering with the newly created Super Senior International Pickleball Association to sanction the tournaments, and developing a construction and maintenance manual for pickleball courts.
In just one year, Places2Play reflected an outstanding growth of over 1,000 different locations to play pickleball. In 2017, even a Hall of Fame for pickleball was created, and the USAPA reached a total of 22,000 members. We just talked about it having 10,000 members two years earlier.
More people started to play pickleball, and their needs were matched by creating almost 8,000 new courts.
Pickleball and its recent and exponential growth
2018 was a really important one in pickleball’s history —The National Championships were moved to the Indian Wells Tennis Garden in California with over 2,200 players. In that same year, the first results-based rating was created.
The 2019 SFIA report regarding Pickleball participation stated that there are over 3.3 million pickleball participants and the overall Pickleball participation increased by 9.7 % in the three previous years.
Why is pickleball growing so fast?
Pickleball’s growth throughout the years required pioneers, associations, standards, new locations, and media coverage, but the reasons behind its growing popularity and high demand are about to be revealed.
It’s an all-ages and inclusive sport
In 2019, the SFIA reported that 20.2% of the 3.3 million participants are 65 years old or older. In 1999 it was introduced in the Arizona Senior Olympics — a senior program dedicated to keeping people over 50 healthy and active. Pickleball is also known to draw the attention of retired tennis players to keep their physical conditions and reconnect, somehow, with their beloved tennis sport. Pickleball is also played in mixed groups of different genders because, at its core, it’s still a very social and family type of sport.
It has health benefits
Even though pickleball isn’t an aerobic workout, it’s less demanding than tennis because the player doesn’t have to hit the ball as hard or run as far in order to make a play. A pickleball match involves the use of the player’s legs, core, arms, and shoulders. The eye-hand coordination needed for this fast-paced game keeps the player’s mental skills fresh.
More affordable and requires less maintenance than tennis.
Famous Brands are Making Pickleball Paddles
Pickleballs popularity has increased with well-known tennis brands like Wilson and HEAD designing pickleball paddles for everyone to use.
Great for social interactions
One of the advantages of playing on a smaller court is how close you and your partner can be to your opponents; this makes pickleball great for social interactions.
Easy to play
Many people are attracted to play this sport as it is a hybrid between ping pong and tennis. The rules can be easily learned along the way, and they are mostly related to the way the ball is served, the non-volley zone, and a basic way to keep score.
Even though we already talked about pickleball being very social, it doesn’t have to be. You are, in fact, near your opponents, but “the kitchen” conveniently keeps you 14 ft away from them. If you and your partner are tested or are inside the same family bubble, it’s safe to hit the court.
Pickleball has come a long way since 1965. What started as a fun way to make time fly by is now a well-known sport with millions of participants and a well-established association with a set of parameters and standards to keep boosting the sports growth across United States and the world.