The new sports phenomenon taking over the country is pickleball.
A game invented by three fathers from Bainbridge Island, Wash., in 1965 to give some summertime fun for their kids is now the fastest-growing sport in the U.S. The game combines tennis, ping pong, and badminton on a scaled-down surface.
With a growth rate of 159% over the last three years, pickleball is pushing tennis off the courts until designated pickleball courts are built in public parks, country clubs, and retirement communities to keep picklers happy.
The Sport Is Drawing Big Name Investors
Big money is also entering the arena. LeBron James and fellow NBA stars are part of a group that is buying a team in Major League Pickleball (MLP). Different domestic governing bodies are developing professional tours to control a sport built up literally from the grassroots. Even Texas will have a piece of the pie as it hosts the 2023 USA Pickleball National Championship in November, which expects more than 25,000 people to attend.
Pickleball Is Growing in Popularity Across Age Groups
Some think pickleball is mainly for those older than 55 who enjoy a team sport that improves reflexes, balance, and cardiovascular health. But now the under-30 crowd is the fastest-growing age group playing. Ben Johns, 24, is the top-ranked player on the men’s international pickleball circuit. He makes Texas his home and Austin Pickle Ranch his official training facility.
One draw of the sport is the rotation of players and courts, allowing for people of all ages, who don’t know each other, to partner up. Strangers can play with each other and then meet for drinks immediately afterward — all a part of the social vibe of whacking a plastic whiffle-like ball in friendly competition.
Boomers who can dredge up a backhand shot from previous racquetball or tennis experience can easily out-angle a Millennial, Gen-Z, or Gen Alpha who forgets where their feet are. Beginners can learn from those more experienced, as playing up or playing down doesn’t prevent anyone from laughing about a shot, then laughing some more.
Besides, playing a second or third game with the shuffle of different players renews everyone’s sporting energy. Pickleball is easy for beginners to learn and rewarding to master.
You Don’t Pick Pickleball, It Picks You
I think there is a Zen-like pickleball paradigm unrealized by many, lying just below the surface of its growth. You don’t pick pickleball, it picks you.
A typical scenario occurs when one walks by a court to watch players whack away.
The players notice the person who passed by the day before, who stops the next day to watch again and invites him in for a quick lesson.
A few days later, he returns with a cheap paddle and begins to rotate in. He now walks to the courts to play daily.
As others teach him the dinking game at the net, his neurons rewire in his head. He joins a phone chain and invests in a better paddle.
He delays eating dinner to get in another game or two. He’s drug-free but addicted to ecstasy. He is one of the chosen because he is where his feet are supposed to be.
So maybe pickleball should become a dating app like Tinder or eHarmony. E-Firstserve might work as addicted players swipe right for a match on each other’s profiles. You never know when you will meet your “sole” mate and achieve enlightenment with others.