If you’re into your racket sports, or even sport in general, you may have heard of pickleball. Combining elements of badminton, tennis, and even table tennis, the fast-paced sport has seen participation and popularity soar through the roof over the past ten years. With famous celebrities such as Leonardo Di Caprio, George and Amal Clooney, as well as the Kardashians, picking up the pickleball paddle its future certainly looks promising.
In 2021 and 2022, the sport was named the fastest growing sport in the United States by the Sports and Fitness Industry Association, boasting over 4.8 million active players. In March of this year, the state of Washington recently declared pickleball as the official state sport. In the UK, its popularity is also on the up with over 4000 active players and 120 venues to play across the nation. David Lloyd Leisure have recently unveiled 15 pickleball courts thus far, with more imminently incoming. The sport’s spike in accessibility is helped by the fact it is multi-functional, being played both indoors and outdoors.
With the 2022 English Nationals taking place in Bolton this week, we explain the sport’s origins and the craze behind its growth…
What Is Pickleball & How Do You Play?
Pickleball is played on a badminton-sized court as well a net slightly to different to a standard tennis net. You can play in singles or doubles, hitting the perforated polymer ball with a solid paddle made of wood or composite materials. If the defending side hits the ball out of the court parameters or fails to return the ball, then the serving side wins the point. There is also a zone near the net known as the ‘kitchen’, which prohibits volleying (hitting the ball before it bounces) if standing within this area of the court.
The sport was invented in 1965 in Bainbridge Island, a small city just outside of Seattle. Three fathers (Joel Pritchard, Bill Bell, and Barney McCallum) were simply going about their regular parental duties when they fancied mixing things up for their children playing on a badminton court on their vacation home. After stumbling on some table tennis paddles and a perforated plastic ball, they set about creating some amendments to what was in front of them. These included lowering the net from 60 inches down to 36. The rules were largely similar to Badminton, with all serves made using an underhand stroke action. This resulted in a largely fast-paced and dynamic game, complete with the use of tactical, trick shots to outfox your opponent.
Fast forward two years and the very first permanent pickleball court was built in the garden of Pritchard’s nextdoor neighbour. Five years after that in 1972, an official corporation was established, intended to protect and expand the sport.
What Is The Future Of Pickleball?
Pickleball is on the rise globally, especially in the US. In 2019, professional pickleball tours were independently formed whilst a professional pickleball league, the MLP (Major Pickleball League) was established in 2021. Three separate competitions are scheduled for 2022, with the winning team in each of the three competitions pocketing a prize purse of $25,000 per team member. The winning team will also be awarded the Pritchard Cup. In 2023, the league is expected to expand to 16 teams. Some of the teams joining are owned by NFL quarterback legend Tom Brady, as well as NBA superstars LeBron James, Draymond Green and Kevin Love.
Both the IFP (International Federation of Pickleball) and WPF (World Pickleball Federation) are pushing for pickleball to be given Olympic sport recognition. This is not expected to materialise however until the 2032 Olympics, according to Sports Illustrated.
In the UK, pickleball’s popularity is on the rise but it’s not yet matching the forest-fire like effect across the Atlantic. 75% of Pickleball England’s members are currently in the over 50 age-bracket, meaning the craze has yet to hit the youth masses with any serious effect. More and more tournaments are cropping up though, with participation continuing to snowball. By 2030, the sport within the UK market is expected to achieve a compound annual growth rate of 9.5% worth over a £110 million in revenue. Sam Basford, Regional Director of Pickleball England, believes, “It is so exciting to see pickleball in the UK begin to follow in the footsteps of such exponential growth in the US! I can’t wait to see what the next year, 5 years, and 10 years, hold for pickleball”.
The English Nationals will be played out at Bolton Arena in Greater Manchester on Thursday 27th October through to Sunday 30th October 2022. With up to 24 courts simultaneously being competed on, the event will mark the final time that both English and Welsh players can participate. From 2023, only English players will be permitted to compete.
In Europe, the sport of padel just ahead of pickleball in terms of growth, participation, and access, pickleball’s rapid boom in the US is predicted to transpire within the UK in the next few years. The rate of this depends on many factors such as awareness of the sport continuing to spread in terms of television broadcasting.
One thing’s for certain though, you can expect to see more and more pickleball courts pop up near you in the very near future. Will it pickle your fancy?