What the Heck Is Pickleball—and Why Is Everyone Playing It?

Everything you need to know to start playing the fastest growing sport in America.

Never heard of pickleball? Well, you’re probably not alone. But know that you’re missing out on one of the fastest growing sports in the U.S. Justin Maloof, executive director of the USA Pickleball Association, says they’ve seen huge growth in the number of people joining the association–from 4,000 members in 2013 to 20,000 in August 2017. And in 2016 the Sport & Fitness Industry Association estimated there are now 2.5 million people playing in America alone, with the sport fast gaining popularity worldwide too.

What-the-Heck-Is-Pickleball—and-Why-Is-Everyone-Playing-ItAhturner/Shutterstock

So what is pickleball?

In 1965, Congressman Joel Pritchard was entertaining friends at home. According to Maloof, “He had a badminton court, and the story goes that they couldn’t find the badminton equipment. So they got creative and hand-made some paddles. Then they experimented with a couple of different types of balls and settled on a whiffle ball. That’s how it started.” (Here’s what women used to wear to wear sports.)

And how did it get its name? It’s named for Pritchard’s dog Pickles, who kept stealing the ball!

But it wasn’t until the establishment of USAPA in 2005 that the sport really began to take off, and now it’s one of America’s fastest growing leisure activities.

How to play pickleball

The game is played on a court around one-third the size of a badminton court, using a modified tennis-style net, wooden or graphite paddles, and a lightweight plastic ball. It contains elements of tennis, racquetball, badminton, and table tennis, which Maloof believes is one reason it’s become so popular.

“The skill set is so similar to pretty much any paddle or racket sports,” he explains. “If you’ve played tennis, badminton, racquetball, or table tennis, it’s going to seem very familiar. So the learning curve is almost non-existent. You can get on a court and play even if you’ve never even heard of the sport before.”

Why is pickleball so popular?

As well as being easy to learn, the sport can be played at almost any age, so even seniors can get the benefits of regular exercise. Many racket sports rely on speed and power, but this game also requires finesse.

“There is a control game that is unique to pickleball which requires a lot of strategy,” says Maloof. “And that enables players of all ages to play against players that are much younger or much older and stay competitive.”

In fact, the USAPA National Championships has a category for both men and women over 85—the oldest player is over 100 years old! But the sport is also taught in schools and colleges too, with the youngest USAPA member being just eight.

Why is it such good exercise?

This sport is great for all-round fitness. It exercises all the major muscle groups, as well as giving a cardio workout and improving dexterity, mobility, agility, and balance. Because it involves bursts of faster movement, it also works as a form of interval training. On average, it burns between 250 and 450 calories per half hour, depending on how actively you play.

As you can play at your own pace and speed, it’s ideal for seniors. Check out these inspirational senior athletes for extra motivation.

Where can I play?

New courts are springing up all over the country. The USAPA website has a ‘Places to Play‘ section which is adding around 90 locations a month, including both indoor and outdoor venues.

But the game can be played almost anywhere there’s a hard, flat surface. With a portable kit and a roll of tape, it’s possible to set up a court on a driveway or backyard within 30 minutes.

Where can I buy the equipment?

Until recently, equipment was only available through specialist outlets. But as Maloof explains, this has changed.

“Now there are over 70 manufacturers that are making paddles and balls,” he says. “Access to paddles and balls will be available like never before. We’re excited about that.”

So what are you waiting for? Go play pickleball for yourself and see what all the excitement is about!

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