You’ve probably heard your neighbor or coworker talk about pickleball. You may have heard the distinctive “clop-clop” of the hard plastic ball in a neighborhood park. The sport is hard to ignore. There are now about five million players in the U.S., and the number has been growing at close to 15 percent a year.
The sport bears some resemblance to tennis. It’s played on a smaller court with a shorter net, using what look like oversize ping-pong paddles and a whiffleball. Recreational play is usually doubles, two players on each side. Here are five reasons for its astounding popularity.
1. It’s Easy To Get Started
Some sports require lessons, coaching and extensive practice before you can play well enough to enjoy them. Not so with pickleball. You can learn the basics in an hour and play against other beginners on your first day.
Also, its inexpensive. All you need is a paddle and shoes. Paddles are often provided for beginner lessons, and a good beginner/intermediate paddle can be had for $100 or less. Sure, you can spend money on instruction, pickleball camps and tournament fees, but none of that’s vital to enjoying the game.
2. Men and Women Compete on Nearly Equal Footing
Size, strength and speed offer some advantage, but not nearly what they do in many other sports. Tactics, technique and skillful placement of the ball are just as important. Genders are segregated in high-level tournament play, but in any recreational court it’s common to see a game where the “girls” beat up on the “boys.”
3. Open Play Makes It Simple To Participate
There are pickleball tournaments and leagues, but most courts reserve times for open play. You don’t need to call anybody or sign up; just show up with your paddle. Most open play courts have a system for rotating players, and you get to play with a variety of partners and opponents. USA Pickleball maintains a nationwide list of places to play. There are also apps for arranging games.
4. It’s (Relatively) Easy on the Body
Many pickleball players have come over from tennis because it doesn’t put as much strain on shoulders and elbows. It also doesn’t require as much running as tennis, especially if you play pickleball doubles. As with any physical activity, there is of course some risk of injury, and a couple hours of vigorous play can wear you out.
If you’re participating in open play, you can sit out for a rest break then jump back in. Most players find the sport provides enough exercise to help maintain a fitness level but not enough to bring on exhaustion.
5. It’s Amazingly Fun
There might be drugs that are less addictive. Many people try it once and are hooked. The game doesn’t have the speed of tennis, and long rallies are common. There are few things more satisfying than hitting a great shot, having it come back at you then smacking it again for the putaway.
It’s a social activity, too. Pickleball players love to gather, chat and get to know one another on the sidelines almost as much as they love to play.