Pickleball: America’s Latest Craze

When it comes to sports, it may seem like an industry set in stone. There are the classic games like football, basketball, tennis and golf, to name a few, that will always remain on top. However, beginning in 2022, pickleball has exploded in popularity dispruting the sports status quo.

The sport, which is a mix of ping-pong, badminton and tennis, has the advantage of being very accessible while remaining engaging for all ages and abilities. In fact, it is a sport that has found resounding success with those often not typically associated with sports: those 55 and older.

In 2021, the 55 and older bracket is the largest in the pickleball community at 19.8%, followed closely by 18-34-year-olds, who comprise 18.5%, according to a Sports and Fitness Industry Association (SFIA) report. While it is popular with older Americans, it has been growing the fastest with younger generations.

Pickleball is similar to other racket sports where the goal is to paddle a ball over the net to one’s opponent, but there are noticeable differences. Pickleball is played on a similar court to tennis but is much smaller, at 44 feet, compared to tennis’ 78 feet. Likewise, with similar sports, it can be played in singles or doubles.

For many who have found enjoyment in pickleball, its success lies in the proper mixture of similar sports. With a large paddle and ball, it is more accessible and requires less hand-eye coordination and technique for beginners. It also strikes a balance with the physical effort needed. It is not as much as tennis, but it still leaves players with a better workout than table tennis.  

Pickleball has also found success in its ability to be a social and community outlet. At many community courts, it is common to have a very open and welcoming environment where strangers play against one another.

It is no surprise that the sport doubled in popularity from 4.8 million to 8.9 million regular players during the COVID-19 pandemic in 2022, according to the SFIA. From Aug. 2021 to Aug. 2022, a total of 36.5 million Americans played pickleball at least once, according to a YouGov poll via Pickleheads. That is more than all other sports. It is only less popular than running and biking.

This boom during the pandemic was a way for people to maintain distance, be outside, and engage with others. It is unclear just how far it will go.

Like most sports, pickleball has humble beginnings. It began in 1965 in Seatle when three fathers were looking for a way to entertain their children. Without having access to badminton rackets, they used ping pong rackets instead and lowered the net. Modeling off of the rules from badminton, the modern game of pickleball was invented.

The strangest part of the sport is its name. Nothing resembles a pickle or a pickle-shaped ball. Instead, the name origin is a reference to the “pickle boats,” which is a rowing term for a randomly thrown-together crew.

Since its beginning, community, regional and national tournaments and leagues have spread throughout the nation. The Fargo-Moorhead Pickleball Club (FMPC) is one such local organization. The FMPC hosts a community league in the summer and spring, along with tournaments.

However, there are still many ways to play pickleball in the Fargo-Moorhead community outside of the league. There are several courts around the community. To find locations, visit the fmpickleball.com website for court locations.

For those interested but who don’t know someone who is familiar with the sport, there are plenty of resources online to get started. Pickleball paddles and balls can also be found at major relators.  

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