Pickleball is the fastest growing sport in the United States having seen an increase of 21% of players since 2019 bringing the total number of players to over 4 million and growing. Amongst that figure are my husband and three children who have found new friends on the courts of Palo Alto, CA. The Palo Alto PickleBall Club (PAPC) boasts over 600 members and has successfully worked with the city to create 15 public outdoor courts thanks to PAPC president and ambassador Monica Williams. Surprisingly, those 15 courts fill up daily and my husband has resorted to waking the kids at 6:45 am Saturday mornings in order to arrive by 7:15 and nab a court. Even more surprisingly, the kids willingly go along with the plan, eager to see their friends and enjoy the morning playing friendly (though quite athletic) games.
So what exactly IS pickleball and why is it gaining such rapid popularity? Invented in Washington in 1965 by three dads trying to keep their own children entertained, pickleball was started using ping pong paddles, an old badminton net and a wiffle ball. Played on converted tennis courts, pickleball essentially combines aspects from all four sports. Senior citizens who perhaps can no longer cover entire tennis courts without severely stressing their bodies, suddenly find themselves able to enjoy a competitive game in a much smaller space (4 pickleball courts can fit on one tennis court) which allows for more conversation and personal interactions. Additionally, unlike tennis where one has to make plans with one to three other players, head to the courts, possibly wait for a free court and then play continuously for an hour before acquiescing the court to the next waiting party; pickleball allows for singles to simply arrive, put their paddle “down” to be placed in the next available game. This model also lends itself as a great way to be social and meet new people. The friends my kids made at pickleball? Their ages range from 9-85.
Indian Wells, CA hosts the US National Pickleball Tournament
As for my children, they have been taking tennis lessons for years and have just started to be able to rally over the net. A competitive tennis match is still a long way off. However, after just a few hours of pickleball instruction, they were able to have fun just tapping the ball over the net. And today, a year later they are learning the finer nuances and strategies of the sport and are able to utilize strategies such as topspin and dinking. My 14 year old has just as much fun playing Monica (who by the way is 80 and still beats him easily) as he does the 20-30-somethings who regularly ask him to join in their games. The 7 and 11 year olds can serve and rally and can seamlessly join in the fun as well. Even more amazing is that when my elderly parents came to visit, the whole family rallied back and forth for hours while laughing and enjoying each other’s company. I can’t think of any other sports both my parents and my children enjoy together.
Pickleball has also taken off globally as the International Federation of Pickleball (IFP) now boasts over 60 member countries and growing. There are professional tournaments and top players are able to earn a comfortable living thanks to gear endorsements and prize money. Pickleball has the Olympics in its sights as it aims to one day become an official Olympic sport.
As with any sport, pickleball is not completely free of injury as players reach and dive for balls. Common injuries include wrist and ankle sprains as well as general muscle soreness from overuse. At Verima, we have happily donated dozens of jars of our pain relief balm to our pickleball community as the majority of players much prefer an all-natural anti-inflammatory to help reduce pain and inflammation. We keep a jar in our kitchen at all times and my children will ask for a light massage to ease tired muscles. I should be clear though that those tired muscles are more often a result of a tough cross-country practice or ballet rehearsal and less from pickleball! And to further clarify, even those who have been sidelined by pickleball injuries will attest that the benefits of the sport far outweigh the drawbacks and all look forward to returning to the sport.
Meanwhile, this mama is thankful for the community and friends my family has made through this fun and engaging sport. And any activity that a husband proactively takes all three willing kids out of the house at 7:00am on a Saturday is a huge win in any mom’s book! Hmmm. . . . Moms, might I suggest some new pickleball equipment for the husband and children this holiday season? Play ball!