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If you are asked to name a sport, there are probably a few big name, televised sports that pop into your head.
Likely, pickleball is not one that would immediately come to mind, but it’s possible that could change soon.
Pickleball is a relatively young sport, as it was only created 55 years ago, but it is quickly gaining popularity and spreading all over the world.
This game combines elements of tennis, badminton, and table tennis for a more low-impact version of these other racquet sports.
It is possible that you have seen pickleball played at a local school, community center, or senior living center, as this game is good for all ages and is easy and quick to learn.
If you have never heard of pickleball or known anyone that played, you might find yourself asking, “Where is pickleball most popular?” or “why have I not heard of it?”
Read on to learn more about the rising popularity of pickleball and how you can find a location nearby to try it out.
The History of Pickleball
Pickleball originated on Bainbridge Island right outside of Seattle back in 1965.
Three fathers—Joel Pritchard, Bill Bell, and Barney McCallun—were trying to find a way to entertain their children during the summertime.
The men tried to find some badminton equipment but were unable to find a full set of rackets, so they played with ping-pong paddles and a whiffle ball instead.
They started off playing with the net at badminton height, but eventually lowered it down to waist height of 36 inches.
The men and their children played all weekend and ended up creating rules for the new game.
They constructed the first official pickleball court in a friend’s backyard two years later.
In 1972, the men formed a corporation to protect the new sport, and then in 1976 an article was published about pickleball in Tennis Magazine, calling it “America’s newest racquet sport.”
The first ever pickleball tournament was held in the spring of 1976, and by 1990, pickleball was being played in all 50 states.
How popular is pickleball?
Thanks to the Sports & Fitness Industry Association (SFIA), there are actual statistics that show us how popular the sport of pickleball really is.
The SFIA is a trade association that runs research reports to track the participation of various sports and registers the sale of products for those sports.
According to a 2012 report, there were 2.815 million pickleball players in the United States; this number was up 12.3% from the previous year, showing how quickly the popularity of the sport was growing.
In the three year time span of 2015 to 2018, the number of pickleball players grew 29.1%, which is an incredibly fast rate of growth.
According to the 2019 report, the total had jumped to 3.3 million pickleball players in the United States. Of the 3.3 million, 2 million were considered “casual” participants who play 1 to 7 times per year, and 1.3 million were considered “core” participants who play 8 or more times per year.
They also found that there were 30,238 pickleball courts throughout the US at the end of 2019, with an average of over 100 locations being added per month.
In addition to its popularity in the United States, there has also been growing interest and participation in other countries as well.
Why is it popular?
The popularity of pickleball is quickly on the rise with more and more people getting involved with this fun sport.
Pickleball is popular in part because it is a really easy sport to start.
There is very little expense involved, for the only equipment that you need to get started is a paddle and a few balls.
There is pretty easy access to pickleball courts across America and Canada as we will discuss later on, so your court fees will be very little or nothing at all.
If you don’t have access to a court, it is also really easy to set one up on your own with some tape and a portable net.
Pickleball is also becoming popular because it is an easy sport to learn, and it is a low-impact sport to play.
Younger kids can pick up on the rules easily and can then use the sport to practice hand-eye coordination and team sports.
The elderly can play pickleball as a way to stay active while still doing a low-impact activity.
This sport is ideal for any age range and any skill level, and it is also a great sport for families to play together or for kids to learn during physical education class.
Additionally, because pickleball is played with a light plastic ball, there is much lower risk of injury than other racquet sports.
Overall, pickleball is a slower paced game, is easy to learn, is inexpensive to start, and is a fun activity to play while socializing.
There has also been a huge push by the USA Pickleball Association to spread more awareness about this sport and to develop more courts and locations to play.
There are community and high school grant programs that award reimbursement for the purchase of pickleball equipment to be used in a designated community location or a high school physical education class.
These programs are helping spread information about this sport and providing equipment and locations to play where they were previously unavailable.
Where is pickleball most popular?
With the previously mentioned statistics, it probably comes as no surprise that pickleball is most popular in the United States.
In fact, it is currently one of the fastest-growing sports in North America.
As of 2018, Seattle, Washington had 93 pickleball courts, which is more than any other U.S. city.
This is only appropriate considering that is very close to where the sport originated.
Other U.S. cities with a large number of pickleball courts includes Virginia Beach, Virginia, with 43, Honolulu, Hawaii with 41, and St. Paul, Minnesota, with 38. Omaha, Nebraska, Plano, Texas, and Chesapeake, Virginia all have 31.
Additionally, there are also cities in the Unites States that have a large number of pickleball courts per capita.
Seattle has the most pickleball courts per capita of any other U.S. city, coming in at 1.4 courts per 100,000 residents.
This is closely followed by St. Paul, Minnesota, with 1.2, Madison, Wisconsin with 1, Virginia Beach with .8, and Omaha, Nebraska, Plano, Texas, and Chesapeake, Virginia all having .7.
If you are wanting to take up pickleball but do not live near one of these cities, don’t fret, for there is likely a pickleball court nearby.
As of 2019, there were 7,928 places to play pickleball that were officially designated by the USA Pickleball Association. This number included at least one location in each of the 50 states and in each of the Canadian provinces.
If you are looking for a place to play, you can use this website to search for a pickleball location near you.
Places that are likely to include a pickleball court include YMCAs, community recreational centers, schools, parks, and senior residence communities.
The survey was also able to break down the popularity of the sport by region of the United States.
Of the 1.3 million “core” players who play at least 8 times a year, the breakdown by region was as follows:
- South Atlantic Region (FL, GA, SC, NC, VA, WV, DC) = 276,000 core players
- East North Central (WI, MI, IL, OH, IN) = 268,000
- Pacific (CA, OR, WA) = 260,000
- Mountain (AZ, NV, NM, UT, CO, ID, WY, MT) = 164,000
Players in these four regions made up about 74% of the core players in the United States.
Where else is pickleball played?
While pickleball is raging through the United States, it has also become a global sport, as several different countries have started to participate.
The International Federation of Pickleball (IFP) is the world governing body for pickleball.
This non-profit, volunteer organization was established with the goal of introducing pickleball to all other nations.
The IFP also aims to get pickleball officially recognized by the International Olympic Committee so that it can become an Olympic sport.
According to the IFP website, there are a total of 26 countries who are members of the IFP and have established pickleball teams and courts.
IFP also has a World Ambassador Program in which volunteers from different countries pledge to promote pickleball throughout the world.
There are currently 89 world ambassadors from various countries around the world that are part of this program and trying to spread pickleball even further.
While the IFP has not yet gotten close to their goal of helping pickleball reach the Olympics, they are well on their way.
In order to qualify to make the Olympics, the sport has to be played in 75 countries across 4 continents if it is played by male athletes and 40 countries across 3 continents if played by female athletes.
While pickleball has not made it that far yet, it is gaining attention and popularity quickly.
Before you know it, pickleball will be known and played worldwide and will be represented in the Olympics.