Pickleball is everywhere, having become the fastest-growing sport in the nation for the fifth consecutive year. 48.3 million U.S. adults (19% of the adult population) have played at least one game in the last 12 months, according to the Association of Pickleball Professionals.
It’s great fun, but it’s not for everyone. It can cause serious injuries, especially to the knees, and is becoming a divisive issue.
Invented in 1965 by three dads — Joel Pritchard, Bill Bell and Barney McCallum — as a way to entertain their kids during summer vacation, the cross-genre sport pickleball combines elements of tennis, badminton and ping pong, and it has become very popular in recent years, especially among older adults. It’s easy to learn and play—both as a singles and doubles game–it offers a fun and social way to exercise, and it can be played by people of different ages and skill levels. Connor Pardoe, founder and CEO of the Professional Pickleball Association Tour, notes that no other sport has been able to bring people of so many ages, backgrounds and cultures together in such a short time frame.
It’s also relatively inexpensive and simple to start — a paddle, balls and a pickleball-sized net can be had for well under $200 in total — and tennis and basketball courts are often converted for pickleball use, making it easily accessible.
However, pickleball is not without risks, and many players have suffered injuries from playing the game. A report by UBS Group estimates that medical costs associated with pickleball injuries could reach $500 million this year. The most common injuries are elbow tendonitis, knee injuries, ankle sprains and shoulder problems.
But not everyone is happy about the pickle ball explosion. The demand for it has led cities to convert community tennis and basketball courts (at YMCAs, parks, schools, community clubs and residential neighborhoods) to part-time, sometimes full-time pickleball venues. By the end of 2022, there were over 44,000 pickleball venues in America. If those were your community tennis or basketball courts, chances are you are complaining to your town supervisors.
Some residents have been upset that parks, basketball courts and other public spaces are being converted into pickleball courts without notice or community input; in one case, in New York City, parents of kids who used a public space to scooter, bike, run and play ball games went to war with pickleballers, who were eventually ordered to take their game elsewhere. The same fights have been breaking out in communities around the country, particularly when it comes to pickleball being played in basketball or tennis courts.
Others complain about the noise it creates, the constant ping ping, or tick tock of the ball striking the surface puts some people in an uproar and many have taken their fights into courts of law.
Whatever your feelings about it, pickleball is here to stay: There’s even a push to make it an Olympic sport by 2030.