What is Pickleball and Why Is It the Fastest Growing Sport in the Country?
Pickleball is the fastest-growing sport in the U.S. as of June 2021.
Pickleball was invented in 1965 by three fathers from Bainbridge Island near Seattle in response to their children’s complaint that “they were bored and there was nothing to do.” Legend has it the game was named after Pickle, the dog of one of the families, who either volunteered his ball or chased the one in play.
As a local player told us, “The best thing about the game is, even without competing you can have a good time,” he said. “And it is co-ed, so men and women play together. Most of the games are mixed doubles, not like in tennis. It’s a quicker game too. It’s only played to 11.”
Players use a lightweight solid paddle, about twice the size of a ping-pong paddle, to hit a wiffle ball over a net. The game combines elements of tennis, ping pong and badminton. Racquetball players usually have an advantage. The court is small; when the players bring their own nets, two tennis courts can accommodate four pickleball courts.
The first players to pick up the sport were seniors, often former tennis players who took readily to a game played on smaller courts that demanded less running and thus was easier on aging joints. But in the last decade, younger people have also begun to get in the game.
Pickleball is now taught in school as part of the physical education curriculum in most areas of the country. It’s one of the only sports where three or more generations of a family can all be on the court at the same time playing a game where everyone can excel and have fun!
2021 Pickleball Participation Report:
- Of the 4.2 million players, 2.8 million were “Casual” players who play 1–7 times a year
- 1.4 million were “Core” players who play 8 or more times a year
- The Average Annual Growth Rate (AAGR) for all players from 2017 to 2020 was 10.5%, for a total growth rate of 34% over three years
- 61% of participants are men and 39% are women
- The average age for all players is 38.1 years old
- The average age for Core players is 47.5 and Casual players 33.6 years old
- The total number of players age 54 or younger is 69%, with 46% of Core players and 80% of Casual players being age 54 or younger
- From 2016–2020:
- Percentage of Core players ages 54 and younger grew from 40% to 46%
- Percentage of Casual players ages 54 and younger grew from 79% to 80%
- The percentages by age of Total, Core, and Casual participants are:
- The 4.2 million participants represent 1.38% of the US population of 304 million people ages6+; the 1.4 million Core players represent 0.33% of that population: demonstrating the tremendous potential for further growth of the sport.
- The SFIA (Sports & Fitness Industry Association) US regions with the largest number of Core participants were:
o South Atlantic (FL, GA, SC, NC, VA, WV, DC) = 283,000
o East North Central (WI, MI, IL, OH, IN) = 262,000
o Pacific (CA, OR, WA) = 255,000
o Mountain (AZ, NV, NM, UT, CO, ID, WY, MT) = 155,000
o Middle Atlantic (NY, NJ, PA, WV) = 142,000
o These four regions account for 80% of Core players
- 59% of Core players live east of the Mississippi River
Any citation of this data should reference the SFIA report as its source