Pickleball for the People

Learn more about Americas latest sports craze

Along with the stories of U.S. innovations we like to tell, we can’t resist serving up news of a more lighthearted trend taking hold in America. The surprising boom seems to have grown from Americans’ heightened desire to get outdoors during the pandemic.

It’s a game with a funny name — pickleball. It was invented in a backyard and is attracting players of all ages. Pickleball is the fastest-growing sport in the United States. 

Although pickleball’s popularity has only recently surged, the sport has been around since 1965.  Some families were vacationing on Bainbridge Island in Washington state, and like parents everywhere, the fathers wanted their children to stay active outdoors. So, they grabbed a few ping-pong paddles, a plastic ball and took the children outside to a badminton court. They made up the rules as they went along. In the end, they played all summer, introducing the game to their neighbors in Seattle when they returned home.

Lately, it’s taking over community tennis courts and backyards all over America. In 2022, there were almost 9 million players over age 6, a doubling from the year before.

Can I play?

  • Get rackets, just bigger than ping-pong paddles
  • Use a plastic ball
  • Place a net a few inches lower than a tennis net
  • Try doubles, two on each side of net — it’s the most fun

Why is it called pickleball?

  • The people who invented it called it that
  • Maybe because their neighbor’s dog, Pickles, often ran off with the ball
  • Maybe because extra players, like spare rowers thrown together to race in what would be called a pickle boat, were standing by

Why do Americans like it so much? 

  • The small court and short-handled racket make it easy
  • Inexpensive equipment is available online, and communities offer courts
  • Being outdoors is great
  • Players make new friends and business contacts

There are often players waiting on the sidelines at local recreation center courts. They use the time to talk to their doubles’ partners and meet their opponents. 

As Jun Niu, a school librarian and pickleball fanatic near the city of Washington, says, “I play with one group of colleagues on Fridays after work and another group of neighbors on Sunday mornings. This has built a new channel of connection.” Niu’s pickleball friends have grown from just two to 15 in the last few months.

Maybe that is why her emails end with the tagline: Always available for pickleball.

Freelance writer Fred Bowen wrote this article.