Why is Pickleball So Popular?

How this family fun sport turned into nationwide phenomenon

Pro player contributes to pickleball popularity
(picture Nick Uzunyan)

“15 minutes into playing pickleball, I told everybody this is going to be one of the most popular sports in the world.”

According to Seymour Rifkind, founder and president of the International Pickleball Teaching Professional Association and the World Pickleball Federation, it was only a matter of time before people found out about the sport. “It’s a sport truly for all,” he said. “It’s a sport for life. It’s very easy to learn. And within 10 minutes, you’ll be having a great time with great people.”

As “America’s Fastest Growing Sport,” pickleball has taken over the lives of many people in the U.S. for years. During the COVID-19 pandemic, pickleball was seen as an activity that people could partake in without breaking any social distancing restrictions. In a time of despair and isolation, the sport provided a fun outlet for all age groups.

pickleball participation over 3 years
(graph dan langston)

Following the pandemic, there was no stopping the sport from growing in popularity. According to The Pickleball Dinks, in 2023, 36.5 million people played pickleball within the U.S. With over 10,000 locations of pickleball players within the U.S, various organizations and individuals continue to lead the way for the sport to flourish for years to come.

According to Sportico, pickleball is a paddle sport that takes influence from sports such as table tennis and badminton. It’s generally played on a hardcourt that is less than half as large as a typical tennis court with two or four participants playing at a time.

But pickleball didn’t just start back in 2020. The sport has been around for quite some time. In the summer of 1965, Joel Pritchard and Bill Bell created the game of pickleball after improvising the sport of badminton with ping pong paddles and a perforated plastic ball in the state of Washington. Shortly after Barney McCallum joined and began playing with them, the three men created the rules for pickleball. They created the game with the initial intention of creating a game that the whole family could play when they were bored.

From there, the sport began to grow. From different rule books, to a variety of pickleball events occurring around the nation, the game of pickleball incorporates basic athletic skills with key hand-eye coordination.

Seymour Rifkind explained there’s a lot more to the game than people realize. The more you play it, the more you realize how to play strategically.

“I always say that pickleball is like chess and all the other racket sports are like checkers,” Rifkind said. “The better you get; you realize that there are 15 to 20 different shots that you could do at any time. It’s easy to learn. It’s very difficult to master.”

Rifkind acknowledged that with today’s time, the way to get the word out fast and efficiently is to utilize the various media outlets that are available.

 “We live in a society where social media is extremely powerful and people of influence can just catapult a product or service or a sport,” Rikfind said. “Today everybody knows about pickleball. There’s hardly a day that goes by where there’s not a newspaper article, a TV show or an announcement in an ad where pickleball is not used.”

As a pickleball coach, Mike Brannon said he loves what he does because it allows him to share information and perspective with a lot of people who may not have thought of themselves as athletes and get them into something that’s “virtuous.”

“There are different aspects of today’s game that I love to teach,” Brannon said. “One being the technical aspect. And the other one being what I like to call, ‘Finding your enough,’ where players need to learn to enjoy the journey more, rather than get tied up with the results.”

Along with coaching prospective pickleball players, Brannon also wrote multiple books looking to provide a different outlet to educate those on the sport. Brannon used what he knew and used pickleball as a metaphor for life within his writing process.

“The problem is this kind of genre, which is almost more self-help in philosophy, is that you almost have to be famous first, then write a book,” Brannon said. “I’ve always wanted to just get stuff done writing, basically my philosophy of life. But I’ve come to realize that it’s really not about how the book looks. It’s more about what you’re trying to sell through the book.”

Melissa Zhang, director of communications and content for USA Pickleball, said that it’s great that the sport is at the caliber that it is today, but with such rapid growth comes problems.

“One main challenge is that there are not enough places to play,” Zhang said. “We need to make it where the supply actually meets the demand. Unless we offer people the access and the places to play the sport, it’s not going to reach its full potential or its full growth.”

In order to meet the demand, USA Pickleball is working around the country with both public and private entities to build more courts. They also have around 2,000 ambassadors around the country, spread out in different towns and communities, who are working with local city councils and the local Homeowners Association (HOA) asking where they’re able to build a pickleball court.

(Illustration Dan Langston)

“Another challenge that we are facing is the fact that there’s like a decent amount of coverage in the news about noise issues that pickleball is facing currently,” Zhang said. “It’s a very disproportionate amount of media coverage for the actual amount that it’s happening. City councils are converting courts that are in use like tennis and basketball too quickly and they’re not really reading into the consequences of what that actually means.”

In order to combat this issue, pickleball companies around the nation are in the works of creating a new set of pickleball equipment dedicated to lowering noise levels with quieter paddles and quieter balls.

olympic illustration
(Illustration Dan Langston)

With a variety of leagues and pickleball games happening throughout the U.S, the sport looks to continue to grow worldwide in hopes to potentially become a sport for the 2032 Olympic Games being held in Brisbane, Australia. In order for the International Olympic Committee to designate a sport to be added to the Olympic program, the sport must be played in a minimum number of countries for it to actually be considered.

“If we were to put the sport in the Olympics right now, the US would literally dominate everyone and there would literally be no competition at all,” Zhang said. “You have all these countries that do have pickleball established already, so working together and helping give resources to the countries that want to get started will help the sport progress towards a bigger worldwide audience.”

Whether someone dedicated their life to the sport or absolutely hates pickleball, the sport doesn’t seem to be slowing down anytime soon. Celebrities described how they’ve enjoyed their pickleball experience, with some partnering up and investing in pickleball brands and businesses. ESPN started covering numerous pickleball tournaments and invitationals, supplying pickleball athletes with a platform to showcase their skills and giving fans a chance to watch high-level competition.

As a sport dedicated to being inclusive to all, this recreational sport looks to continue to provide an outlet for people to tap into their competitive edge while having a good time amongst each other.

“It’s another sport that brings people together,” Brannon said. “I want to just keep having fun and continue to spread the love for the game. I want to continue to fill my weeks with good people, good competition and a good environment. That’s a good life to me.”

Todd Takeuchi, a Pacific University graduate and former baseball player, majored in Journalism with a Film & Video Production minor. He is now currently a graduate student at USC trying to get my master's degree and aspires to be a sports journalist, skilled in multimedia, including video production and news writing.

6 thoughts on “Why is Pickleball So Popular?”

  1. Played for the first time today. My muscles were never this sore in tennis.What a workout. Smaller court means things happen fast, few long lobs. Great exercise!


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