Pickleball [The Hottest Sport Among Boomers] | Extra Mile (2024)

The Pickleball-playing community is seeing a growing number of players on its courts. Pickleball is a sport that combines tennis, badminton and ping-pong. It’s played by two to four players using paddles and a plastic ball with holes. The court can be either indoors or outdoors and is about one-third the size of a standard tennis court.

The game has become particularly popular among people in their 50s, 60s and 70s looking for an activity that offers good aerobic exercise without being as strenuous as traditional racket sports. An important bonus: it gives players the chance to socialize during the game.

“It’s the right mix of exercise and fun competition with friends for a person my age,”said Armand Nadeau. Nadeau plays the sport several times a week at a local pickleball center.

How Pickleball Began

The gamewas first invented in 1965on Bainbridge Island, Washington near Seattle at the home of former U.S. Congressman Joel Pritchard—who was then a state representative. He and two other dads returned from golfing to find their families bored. No one could find the shuttleco*ck for the badminton, so they used wiffle balls instead, lowered the badminton net and used ping-pong paddles to invent their own game. Thus, Pickleball was born.

The origin of the name has been debated. Some people have claimed the odd name for the sport was derived from the “pickle boat,” a nickname for the last boat to return from a fishing trip. This boat would carry the leftover oarsman and gear, similar to how pickleball began by using leftover equipment from other sports. However, a family friend has said the Pritchards had a co*cker spaniel named Pickles who would chase after the balls while they were playing the game, so they named the game after him.

No matter where the name came from, pickleball soon became extremely popular among Pritchard’s neighbors, eventually spreading from Bainbridge Island to become a worldwide sport.

Click the image to open the PDF version of pickleball history.

Pickleball Tournaments | A Growing Success

The first known pickleball tournament was held in 1976,according to the USA Pickleball Association. USAPA was organized in 1984, and the first official rulebook was published that same year. By 1990, pickleball was being played in all 50 states. The sport continued to spread as it became increasingly popular inathletic events for older individuals in the early 2000s. Though the sport is now more than 50 years old, it’s grown rapidly over the past decade. The USAPA estimates that about3.46 million people now playthe game nationwide and there are nearly 6,900 knownplaces to play, up from fewer than 50 places in 2003.

The association hoststournamentsaround the country, allowing more people to learn about and watch the sport.

Why Is Pickleball so Popular?

Move over, golf and tennis. Pickleball is now a favorite pastime in America.

A big reason for the popularity of the game among adults is that it helps them stay physically active, albeit on a smaller court, with a slightly lower net and larger, slower-paced balls relative to tennis. This means it can be enjoyed by people who may not be able to play tennis, but enjoy similar games.

For players of any age, pickleball offers the mental and physical challenge and hand-eye coordination required by a game like ping-pong while providing more physical activity—often outdoors. At the same time, it’s generally easier to learn how to play pickleball than more-intense racquet sports like tennis, which can take months of practice to play well. By comparison, pickleball is generally faster to learn.

It’s also a great way to be social while staying fit. In fact,many retirement communitiesacross the U.S.—particularly in southern states such as Florida and Arizona—have built on-site pickleball courts in recent years. They’ve also designated the sport as one of the main social activities they promote among their residents.

Pickleball Is Easy to Learn

“This is aneasy sport to learn,” Jay Schofield, a retired high school physical education teacher who lives on Martha’s Vineyard, told the island’s paper. “You can develop some proficiency pretty quickly. I’ll get someone who’s never played, and they will be playing competitively within a couple of sessions.”

Another allure: Many pickleball players can teach their grandchildren to play with them.

Though it’s especially popular in southern states where it can be played outdoors year-round, it’s popular in northern states as well. Some local athletic centers, such as YMCAs, now host leagues and mark pickleball lines on tennis courts so they can be used for both sports.

The game has gotten so popular in some areas that lines can form outside pickleball courts, causing many enthusiasts to urge their communities to add more courts.

Rules of the Game

Pickleball can be played as either a singles or doubles game. For both singles and doubles, thesize of the courtis 20×44 feet, the same as a double badminton court.

Pickleball [The Hottest Sport Among Boomers] | Extra Mile (2)

Rules of the game include:

  • The serve must be underhand and below the waist. It must be made at least one foot behind the baseline, struck diagonally.
  • The serve must land within the opposite diagonal court.
  • Only the team serving the ball is able to score points, which take place when the opposite side fails to return the ball or commits other faults, such as hitting the ball out of bounds.
  • When the ball is served, the receiving team must let the ball bounce once before hitting it back, as must the serving team when returning it.
  • Once the ball has bounced once in each team’s court, it is permitted to volley the ball (i.e., hit it before it bounces).
  • Games normally go to 11 points with the leading team needing to be 2 points ahead to win.

Click the image to open the PDF version of basic pickleball rules.

The sport also has rules specific toplayers in wheelchairs. Though many of the rules are similar to the standard rules, there are some basic differences, including getting up to two bounces of the ball on their side of the net instead of one. Also, the wheelchair can move once while the player is serving the ball.

How to Start Playing

Thanks to the fast-growing popularity of the game, it’s easier than ever to start playing and to find other players in your area.

USAPA’s websitehas many helpful resources, including a map of places to play and contacts for “ambassadors” of the sport and local pickleball clubs. They can connect you with others in your area who are already playing and may be willing to teach you.

Pickleball Equipment: What Is Needed to Play?

Beyond having access to a pickleball court (or a tennis court with pickleball line markings), you also need some basic equipment to start playing. Here are the main essentials:

1. Paddle

A pickleball paddle is between the size of a tennis racket and a ping-pong paddle. You generally have a choice among several different types of core materials, including fiberglass (often called composite), graphite, aluminum and wood. The material of the paddle can affect its price, but also its performance.

  • Aluminum is lightweight and provides a high level of control, but it may lack the power provided by a heavier paddle made of fiberglass.
  • Wood paddles are often the cheapest, but they are also the heaviest, making them somewhat harder to control.

A beginner may want to choose a lighter-weight paddle with an oversized head as it will provide more control and increase the odds of hitting the ball. A more experienced player, on the other hand, may be willing to choose a heavier paddle but one with more power. Ultimately, however, you should choose the paddle that feels most comfortable for you. It’s worth trying out at least a few options before settling on one.

2. Pickleball

Pickleballs have holes like wiffle balls and come in two basic designs for either indoor or outdoor use. The balls with larger holes are typically for indoor use, since wind is less of a concern. They come in a large variety of colors, but yellow is the most popular color for outdoor balls because it stands out nicely against blue or green courts. Indoor pickleballs come in a wide range of colors. The International Federation of Pickleball requires that pickleballs not be more than one color.

3. Net

The court you use may already have a pickleball net of the right size and length, but if not, you can buy aUSAPA Portable Net Systemthat’s easy to carry and set up.

Pickleball Apparel and Accessories: What Do You Wear to Play?

Beyond the equipment, you may also want to buy some apparel and accessories that will make playing the game more comfortable. Pickleball apparel and accessories worth considering include:

1. Comfortable Sportswear

You’ll want to wear clothes that give you a good range of motion while keeping you cool even if you work up a sweat. You may choose shorts or sweatpants and short- or long-sleeved shirts. Many clothes designed specifically for tennis and pickleball include wicking fabric that draw moisture away from the body.

2. Tennis Shoes

Running shoes and cross-training sneakers won’t cut it. Running shoes have ridged soles that help propel you forward but can cause slipping when you’re using them for other types of motions. Cross-training sneakers have grooves on the bottom that can stick to the court’s acrylic surface and also cause you to trip. Therefore, tennis sneakers will generally be the safest and most comfortable choice. They generally have rubber soles that provide cushioning for the hardcourt surface but also have tough materials in the right places to support your feet and ankles during sudden starts and stops. In fact, you should look for tennis shoes that have a toe guard, extra padding and special cushioning for stop-and-go movements. According to PickleballAce’s website, some of thebest pickleball shoes include:

  • The ASICS Women’s Gel Rocket 7
  • K-Swiss Women’s Hypercourt 50TH-W
  • ASICS Women’s Gel-Dedicate 4
  • ASICS Men’s Gel Dedicate 5
  • Adidas Men’s Barricade Club
  • ASICS Men’s Gel Rocket 7

3. Carrying Bag

Though not a requirement, a pickleball carrying case will make it easier to carry your paddle, balls and any other gear or personal items (such as keys and a towel) you choose to bring along. Look for a bag that fits the amount and type of equipment you’re bringing, as some can hold multiple paddles and balls. Also consider getting one that includes a cooler that can hold your water bottles or other refreshments.

4. Sunglasses

If you play outdoors, having a pair of shatter-proof sunglasses designed for athletic wear will prevent the sun’s glare from interfering with your game while also protecting your eyes.

The USAPA offers the officialUSA Pickleball Association Store, which has a complete line of pickleball clothing along with other merchandise emblazoned with the official association logo.

Pickleball Terms You Need to Know

Like most sports, pickleball has special terminology that its players use to describe various shots and situations. Some of the terms overlap those used in tennis and other racquet sports, but others are unique. You will surely begin to learn these terms as you start playing, but it’s helpful to know some key phrases beforehand, like:

Groundstroke:When a player hits the ball after it bounces once. There are two basic kinds including:

  • Forehand groundstrokes
  • Backhandgroundstrokes

Dink:A shot that clears the net and lands within the “non-volley” zone on your opponent’s side.

Lob:A shot that moves in a deep, high arc over the net and often forces the opponent to back up to the baseline.

Dead ball:The ball is out of bounds and the current point is over.

Fault:A violation of a rule that stops the play.

Side out:When the person or team serving the ball loses the point. A “side out” is declared and the opponent begins to serve.

No Better Time to Start Playing

There’s no time like the present to get started. Pickleball combines exercise and an opportunity to socialize and have fun—like Extra Mile reader, Anita, commented below, “If in doubt…try it out!”

If you enjoyed this article, you seem like the type of person who enjoys living your best life. We support you andwant to help you do just that. Check out these handpicked articles for you:

  • Seven Habits of People Who Enjoy Long Lives
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Have you played Pickleball? What did you think? What other sport or hobby keeps you active?Let us know in the comments section below.

Pickleball [The Hottest Sport Among Boomers] | Extra Mile (2024)


Is pickleball the fastest growing sport in 2023? ›

Pickleball is the fastest growing – and perhaps the noisiest – sport in the country. As the sport grows, so does demand for places to play. Indoor pickleball courts are popping up all over the country. But these aren't your standard, parks and recreation-managed, courts.

Why is pickleball the fastest growing sport? ›

Pickleball has burst into the mainstream due to its low barrier to entry and variety of health benefits—including the opportunity to socialize and build community—and investors big and small have picked up on the trend.

Why is pickleball so popular all of a sudden? ›

Pickleball is gaining popularity because it's easy to play, low impact and appeals to a wide range of people, from kids to senior citizens. Most people who have played racquet sports, learn pickleball easily.

How healthy is pickleball? ›

Since pickleball is a low-impact sport and easy on the body, it's a great way to get movement in and maintain healthy bones, joints and muscles. By playing pickleball, you'll reduce the rate of bone loss and help conserve bone tissue.

Is pickleball the fastest-growing sport seniors? ›

To show how accessible it is, the fastest-growing population of pickleballers is seniors. Another factor to consider is the low cost of entry. Because of demand, many public parks and tennis courts have converted their grounds to cater to pickleball players, who can show up and play for free.

What age group plays the most pickleball? ›

The latest research reveals that the average age of avid pickleball players is 34.8. More than 70% of avid pickleball players are between the ages of 18 and 44; 40% are between 25 and 34; and 18% are between 18 and 24.

What is the average age of a pickleball player? ›

Players aged 55 and up were the largest age bracket of pickleball players in 2021, comprising 19.8% of total participants. Players aged 18 to 34 were the second largest age bracket, making up 18.5% of total participants. The average age of pickleball players was 38.1 years in 2021.

What state is pickleball most popular? ›

Florida has the most courts (a whopping 1,191) and the most clubs (26) of any U.S. state.

What 3 sports is pickleball most similar to? ›

Pickleball is a paddle sport that combines elements of tennis, table tennis, and badminton. The court is an abbreviation of a tennis court and net, and the game itself combines rules from a variety of racquet sports.

What cities are most pickleball obsessed? ›

According to our analysis, the most pickleball-obsessed city in the nation is a suburb of Kansas City: Overland Park. In 2023, the city welcomed a pickleball-based entertainment venue complete with courts, food, and bars! The other top three cities are Salt Lake City, Utah (#2) and Grand Rapids, Michigan (#3).

What is a pickleball player called? ›

To lose a game without scoring a single point, usually losing 11 to 0. Pickler. A pickleball player, particularly someone obsessed with the game.

Do Millennials play pickleball? ›

Pickleball Is a Hit With Millennials – The Average Player Is 35 Years Old — And Over 25,000 New Courts Are Needed To Keep Up With Demand.

Why do old people love pickleball? ›

Improves mental health

Playing pickleball may be a good way to boost your mood — especially for older adults. Research suggests that pursuing pickleball as a hobby could reduce depression and increase a sense of well-being. One study linked pickleball with more happiness and social connection in older adults.

Is 70 too old to play pickleball? ›

Yes, a 70-year-old can play pickleball. The sport's adaptability suits all ages, including seniors. It provides low-impact exercise, improves balance and flexibility, and nurtures social connection, offering a holistic approach to well-being.

Why do boomers love pickleball? ›

It's appealing to boomers because it's usually played in doubles and the court is smaller than tennis, so there's less real estate to cover.

How popular is pickleball in 2023? ›

(WTAP) - According to pickleheads.com, 36.5 million pickleball players were reported so far in 2023, over 10,000 places to play pickleball in the US alone, and an average growth of 158.6% per year.

How many people play pickleball 2023? ›

Total Number of Pickleball Players

According to the 2023 APP Tour's Pickleball Participation Report, there are 36.5 million pickleball players in the United States.

Is pickle ball the 3rd fastest growing sport in the US? ›

Pickleball is the fastest-growing sport in America, with an estimated 36.5 million pickleball players in the United States, making it one of the largest in America by participation. “Pickleball is the fastest growing sport in America,” Brandon Mackie, co-founder of Pickleheads said.

Will pickleball continue to grow? ›

2023 Pickleball Trends

Market reports based on recent pickleball statistics project the market to reach a value of over $2.3 billion by 2028. A variety of factors are driving this sustained growth.


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