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Pickleball: America’s rapidly growing and inclusive sport

Brandon Mackie

Co-founder of Pickleheads (Pictured at right)

Pickleball, a unique fusion of ping pong, badminton, and tennis, has emerged as the fastest-growing sport in America. With an astounding estimated 36.5 million pickleball players across the country, it has become one of the largest sports in terms of participation. The rise of pickleball is evident in the presence of 10,320 pickleball facilities nationwide, as reported by Pickleheads, a court data provider.

In 1965, on Bainbridge Island near Seattle, three vacationers invented pickleball, a sport that offers a delightful blend of excitement, socialization, and accessibility. Players of all ages can easily learn and enjoy this captivating game, making it a popular choice for individuals and families alike.

The pickleball craze has now reached Tea. Tea proudly stands as the 15th most popular city in the state for pickleball, according to data from Pickleheads.

Jacob Kerr, Tea Park & Rec Director, has noticed the increasing interest in the sport. “This spring, we started an indoor pickleball league for the first time, and we had a total of 14 teams, which is the most we can accommodate for our program. In my experience, when you initiate a new program, particularly for adults, the turnout isn’t typically remarkable in the first year. However, this overwhelming response highlights the demand for pickleball in the Tea area, especially considering that most gyms in the Sioux Falls area are already at full capacity for pickleball,” Kerr stated.

In late May, pickleball lines were added to the tennis courts in Tea, further fueling the excitement surrounding the sport. South Dakota currently boasts 50 pickleball courts, contributing to the state’s growing pickleball community.

Brandon Mackie, co-founder of Pickleheads, shed light on the allure of pickleball, remarking, “The magic of pickleball is that it’s easy to learn but hard to master. Beginners can step onto the court for the first time, grasp the game, have fun, and even secure a few victories. Meanwhile, advanced players remain challenged, making them eager to return for more. This dynamic plays a significant role in the explosive growth of pickleball.”

The PPA (Pickleball Players Association) released a new report estimating that 36.5 million people engaged in pickleball last year, firmly cementing it as one of the most popular sports in the nation in terms of participation. In fact, pickleball’s player base is nearly twice the size of tennis and rivals other popular activities such as running and cycling.

Pickleball is not only a sport but also a social activity that fosters camaraderie. It is commonly played in an open-play format, attracting 50 or more players who rotate games and partners. Additionally, pickleball is predominantly a doubles game, providing ample opportunities for social interaction and the chance to meet fellow players.

Mackie highlighted how pickleball’s popularity surged during the pandemic as individuals sought responsible ways to socialize and remain active. However, the growth of pickleball has not slowed down as normal life has resumed, indicating its enduring appeal.

Another compelling aspect contributing to pickleball’s popularity is how inclusive it is. The sport welcomes participants of all ages, ranging from 5-year-olds to 95-year-olds, ensuring that everyone can experience the joy it brings.

“This makes pickleball the perfect activity for families,” emphasized Mackie.

Kerr enthusiastically encourages Tea residents to discover the hype surrounding pickleball, urging them to give it a try.

“Go and try it! Look up the rules, which you can find on various websites and YouTube tutorials on how to play the game,” suggested Kerr. “If you know anyone in your town that knows how to play, ask them to help you. Pickleballers are the nicest people, and are always willing to help grow the sport.”


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