Pickleball’s popularity in the US soars

Teams battle each other during an open play session on Oct. 5 at Pickleballerz.

Gaby Gutierrez

Teams battle each other during an open play session on Oct. 5 at Pickleballerz.

Gaby Gutierrez, News Editor

Lebron James announced on Oct. 1 that he had invested in a Major League Pickleball (MLP) franchise, along with fellow NBA players Draymond Green and Kevin Love. These athletes are just a few of the people making pickleball the fastest growing sport in the U.S. Bill Gates, who calls himself a “Pickler,” has been playing the game since the late 1960s. Leonardo DiCaprio, Larry David and the Kardashians are among the many Americans who have recently taken up the game.

“It is a game that’s not as difficult as tennis, but still gives the same feel as tennis – it’s a hybrid between tennis and badminton which makes it easier to play for students that have never played a racquet sport before,” physical education teacher Kevin Boss said. “The ball doesn’t fly as far so it’s easier to control, and the court isn’t as large, so you don’t have to cover as much ground.”

Created in the 1960s in Bainbridge Island, Washington, pickleball was originally designed as a backyard game using an old badminton court and ping pong paddles. In subsequent years, rules were developed for the game and permanent courts and leagues were established.

“Anyone can play pickleball,” certified pickleball instructor Lisa Rieve said. “There are games popping up in neighborhoods, communities, parks and clubs. It’s the perfect sport to bring friends and families together, plus make new friends. You truly build a pickleball community.”

Pickleball is played on a badminton-size court with a pickleball paddle and a wiffle-like ball. The sport can be played as doubles or between singles players, but team play is the most common. There is a section on the court called the “kitchen” which is also known as the no-volley zone. Players must let the ball bounce before hitting it if the ball lands in the kitchen. 

Unlike tennis, each player gets only one chance to get their serve in, and teams can only score points when they are serving. The sport is still evolving and the drop serve, where the player hits the ball after it bounces, was just introduced into the official pickleball rules in January.

“It’s like tennis but smaller so it’s a lot easier to play and not as much physical activity,” said junior Clark James.

The sport increased in popularity during COVID-19 when the number of players in America grew by almost 40%. During this time, many neighborhoods converted their tennis courts to pickleball courts, and people made their own courts on their driveways to play. 

Teams mark their place in the open play tournament using their pickleball paddles. (Gaby Gutierrez)

Over the years, pickleball has had a reputation of catering to an older audience. However, younger people are becoming increasingly involved in the sport. Currently, one of the top pro pickleball players in the world is 15-year-old Anna Leigh Waters. As a relatively new sport, though, some find there are still challenges in accessing equipment and facilities.

“The education of the game is not readily available so you need to seek out the game to find it,” Boss said.

With the growth of the game and the creation of recreation centers such as Pickleballerz, an indoor pickleball facility in Chantilly which opened in Sep. 2020, more people are learning about the sport. The Pickleballerz facility offers a number of classes and open play sessions weekly.

“I think that pickleball for the longest time was perceived to be a sport that your grandparents played,” Rieve said. “Not anymore. It can be social or fiercely competitive. Some schools have pickleball in PE class and it’s starting to be televised on prime-time TV, so the increased awareness continues to boost excitement for the game.”