By Cheri F Rosen
The Present Passion: Pickleball, Part III
In 2022, after several years of exponential growth, pickleball was undoubtedly one of the hottest trends in the United States. Today pickleball continues to be the fastest growing sport in the nation. This three-part article in the 5 Towns Jewish Times joins the hundreds of media outlets that have covered every aspect of the growth of the sport including pickleball segments featured on NBC’s The Today Show, CNBC, Live with Kelly and Ryan, and stories published within top-rated publications and news sources including The New York Times, Bloomberg, ESPN, Vanity Fair, Forbes, Allure Magazine, The Boston Globe, The Economist, USA Today, SportsBusiness Journal, Sports Illustrated, and Axios, among others.
Pickleball grew in 2021 to more than 4.8 million players in the U.S., according to the 2022 Sports & Fitness Industry Association (SFIA) Single Sport Report on Pickleball. (SFIA is the premier trade association for top brands, manufacturers, retailers, and marketers in the American sporting goods and fitness industry.) This 14.8% growth from 2020 to 2021 follows on the heels of 21.3% growth the previous year and contributes to an 11.5% average annual growth rate over the past 5 years.
The SFIA breaks down the pickleball players into two categories based on their frequency of play. “Casual” players are those who play 1–7 times a year and “core” players play 8 or more times during the span of any given year. Of the almost 5 million total pickleball players in 2021, approximately 3 and a half million were casual players while the remaining 1 and a half million were core players. The total of pickleball players for 2022 has not been tabulated as of this printing, but the projected estimate given the sport’s popularity coupled with the availability of many more venues on which to play should exceed 6 million, an incredible increase of 20%.
Slightly more than half of the present total participants are men, although with a somewhat faster rate of growth among women, that statistic may even out within the next year or two.
The average age for all players continues to get lower each year. In 2021 the average age was 38.1 years old, a decrease of 2.9 years from 2020. The average age of core players was 47.9 and casual players 34.3 years old. Just over half of core players are 55 or older while almost 80% of casual players are 54 or younger. Growth of total participants from 2020 to 2021 was the fastest among players under 24 years of age (21%). This is indicative of the effort USA Pickleball has made to ensure the sport plays an integral part in school sports programs, and of course, the return of students across the country to school attendance.
Pickleball On Social Media
Another reason for pickleball’s rise in popularity can be attributed to social media, as the various platforms’ followers support the sport’s rapid growth. As of January 2023, the total audience on Facebook numbered over 65,000. At the end of 2022, Instagram had 31,900 followers. In November of 2020, USA Pickleball added an official Twitter account that currently has over 4,600 followers. Overall, USA Pickleball social channels saw 52% year over year growth from 2021 to 2022.
Every U.S. state as well as all Canadian provinces now have pickleball venues. Senior residence communities, YMCAs, local community recreation centers, schools, and parks are just some of the places likely to have pickleball courts. USA Pickleball compiles the most up-to-date and comprehensive listing of places to play on a new dedicated website: places2play.org. The known places to play totaled 10,724 at the end of 2022, an increase of 1,557 locations or approximately 130 new locations per month. Although many of these venues may charge for use of the courts, they are still considered “public” as opposed to private country clubs and courts within gated communities. Country club and private courts are only available in Florida to members and their guests and their names and locations are not included in the places2play website. With that in mind, the number of actual pickleball court locations far exceeds the current amount named on the places2play website.
Competitive paddles used in pickleball are constructed from a high-tech composite. An official pickleball is made of plastic and is between .78 to .935 ounces and 2.874 to 2.972 inches in diameter. There are no color restrictions other than the ball must be a single, consistent color. USA Pickleball has tested and approved several outdoor and indoor balls for official tournament play. To access the complete list of all tested/approved paddles and balls approved for sanctioned tournament play you can use the following link equipment.usapickleball.org.
Pickleball Shoes And Outfits
Players wear just about anything comfortable and appropriate for the climate: For men athletic shorts, sweatpants, wicking apparel, and t-shirts are worn most often. Tennis-style dresses and skirts are seen most for Floridian women.
Many new players come to pickleball from other sports. For instance, running shoes are built to move in one direction, therefore they are not suggested for pickleball. Pickleball shoes are designed to favor multi-directional movement with lateral stability and support. Tennis shoes are ideal.
How to Play and Players’ Etiquette
Finally, USA Pickleball has published many instructional videos at usapickleball.org/what-is-pickleball/how-to-play/ and suggests the following rules of etiquette for optimal fun:
- Remember: Pickleball is only a game.
- Begin each game by acknowledging the other players and introducing yourself if you don’t know them.
- If the ball is out and it’s on your side, call it out. If it’s close, give the benefit to your opponent. This is hard to do when the game is close, but do it anyway. If your opponent does not do it, you do the right thing anyway when it’s your turn. Never make calls for your opponent’s side of the court.
- Never ask for (nor accept) line calls from spectators.
- Play with all skill levels. Good sportsmanship is the rule.
- If you want a stronger/more competitive game, stack your paddles together as a group and wait your turn.
- When the players on the opposing team are unequal in skill, avoid always playing the weaker player just to score points. Also, play the stronger player equally or he/she may get bored and not want to play with you in the future. Your game will improve by challenging the better player.
- If you are the strongest player of the four, play the weakest players in a way they can handle and learn from you.
- Before the game starts, tell your partner if you are working on a particular skill in that game so they understand you may not necessarily put every shot away. Saying this beforehand manages expectations.
- Avoid taking advantage of a person’s physical limitations when you play them socially. If someone cannot go back for a lob (due to physical limitations), don’t take advantage.
- At the end of each game, meet at the net (clink paddles) and say “good game.” NEVER leave a game without acknowledging the other team.
- Never criticize opponents nor your partner’s play.
- Abusive language is not allowed. Verbal comments of any detrimental nature during a game is unacceptable. Do not discuss politics!
- Compliment people on outstanding “hero” shots or on a really great game.
- At the end of a game, if you believe another player would benefit from an observation about their play, don’t offer it! Most people don’t want critiques about their play. If they want your advice, they will ask.
- We are all excited about new players! If you bring a guest to open play who doesn’t know how to play pickleball, remember you are their teacher and stay with them until they are comfortable.
- Teaching takes time. When teaching during peak hours, we have limited space. Spend no more than 20 minutes on the court if players are waiting and rotate back in when it’s your turn. n
Cheri F Rosen, of Lang Realty, has been a realtor in South Florida since moving to Boca Raton over a decade ago. You can learn more about real estate in South Florida by calling Cheri at 561-221-2233 or visiting Cheri’s website: southfloridacondosandhouses.com or just Google the words Orthodox Boca. Cheri’s website is the top search result. Submit your personal questions and concerns to Cheri, and they will be answered personally, or anonymously in future columns.