How And Why Has Pickleball Become Such A Popular Activity?

Talk to any friend, family, and colleague, and chances are they’ll tell you they’ve either heard of pickleball or play it themselves during their downtime. At present, there’s a growing number of places within Metro Manila alone that offer a space to play the game, including malls, sports centers, and yes, even Bonifacio Global City in Taguig and Emerald Avenue in Pasig City (the latter of which opens on weekends for “pickleball nights”). 

In 2022, pickleball popularity in the U.S. exploded and continues to grow, with more than 36 million Americans playing it, according to Jessica Golden of CNBC. Even famous celebrities like Leonardo DiCaprio, Taylor Swift, George Clooney, and Reese Witherspoon play it. But what exactly is this recreational activity with the comically cute name, and why has it become such a beloved sport?

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Defining Pickleball

Before getting into the reasons why many people have turned to the pickleball life, it’s best to shed some light on the sport itself. Though it’s experiencing quite the boom in recent years, the game is actually not that new. 

According to USA Pickleball’s official website, the game came into being in 1965. Joel Pritchard, a congressman from Washington State, and Bill Bell, a successful businessman, invented the game for their families to fill up their spare time. However, when they went looking for badminton equipment, they couldn’t find enough rackets. So they improvised, getting ping-pong paddles and getting perforated plastic balls. 

They heavily based the game’s rules on badminton, but with a considerably lower net, creating an activity that everyone in their respective families could play. Eventually, a corporation was born to protect the new sport, and like many beloved sports, pickleball would continue to grow on a national and international level over the years with its tournaments and groups. 

A pickleball ball and rackets
A pickleball ball and rackets/Photo by Ben Hershey via Unsplash 

Pickleball now has its own set of rules entirely separate from other similar sports, with numerous resources online including USA Pickleball’s site. Generally, people can play it in singles or doubles. To win a game, one must score more points than their opponent by reaching a score of 11 points, leading by at least 2 points. Points are gained when: an opponent fails to return the ball; volleys in the non-volley zone, or; hits the ball out of bounds. 

Fitness for All Ages

The main draw of pickleball is its accessibility. As Juno DeMelo writes for The New York Times, many racket sports have a “steep learning curve,” even if one is only starting out. What’s more, one doesn’t need to wield heavy rackets that are difficult to maneuver.

Like a ping pong paddle, the pickleball racket is light and small, so even children can wield it with prowess. The plastic ball contains holes that prevent it from flying too fast or bouncing too much. 

Pickleball is a sport for all ages, which is why it has grown in popularity over the years
Pickleball is a sport for all ages, which is why it has grown in popularity over the years/Photo via Instagram @usapickleball

Pickleball courts also require far less space, which means that groups and establishments can set them up almost anywhere. This also makes it easier to play, since one doesn’t need to navigate a sprawling area. 

Despite its simpler set up, pickleball is a great cardiovascular workout
Despite its simpler set up, pickleball is a great cardiovascular workout/Photo by Venti Views via Unsplash

Yet don’t be fooled: even if persons in wheelchairs and senior citizens can very much play the sport, it still provides plenty of great physical activity that’s good for one’s health. DeMelo cites two particular studies in his article, one from the International Journal of Research in Exercise Physiology and another from Western Colorado University, that have found cardiovascular health benefits of the game. These are chiefly healthier heart rates and a fair amount of calories burned, enough for them to classify pickleball as a moderate-intensity workout like yoga and hiking. 

A Social Sport 

Pickleball also offers a wide range of mental health benefits as a great social sport. Due to its accessibility, people from all walks of life can enjoy the game, which means pairings one wouldn’t normally see in other sports tend to happen a lot. 

Senior citizens play against children, and women can play against men—there aren’t any definite boundaries when it comes to challengers. This allows players to meet different people, and even form bonds in the process, as Daryl Austin of National Geographic writes. 

The social element of pickleball has also helped people de-stress and form meaningful connections over the fun sport
The social element of pickleball has also helped people de-stress and form meaningful connections over the fun sport/Photo via Instagram @usapickleball

For senior citizens in particular, it’s a chance to sharpen their mental facilities and prevent the loneliness that can sometimes come with aging. 

“These benefits are especially important among older adults as they are more likely to be isolated and experience depression and anxiety,” explains Emily Hemendinger, a psychiatrist and outpatient clinical director at the University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus, to Austin. 

With so much to gain from such a simple yet ultimately rewarding sport, it’s no surprise that pickleball is likely here to stay. 

Banner photo by Aleksander Saks via Unsplash

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