A sport for everyone and every ability. Everything you need to know about the growing trend of pickleball.
According to USA Pickleball, the sport was invented in 1965 on Bainbridge Island by three dads — Joel Pritchard, Bill Bell and Barney McCallum — whose kids were bored with their usual summertime activities. While the sport has been around for quite some time, it has evolved from original handmade equipment and simple rules into a popular sport throughout the U.S. and Canada.
One place pickleball is especially popular is at the Katie & Irwin Kahn Jewish Community Center in Columbia, South Carolina. According to Robby Lewis, the sports programming manager and assistant fitness director, members love the sport, which is why the facility offers it every day of the week.
“Right now we have the greatest amount of seniors we have ever had in America, and the actively aging community is still looking to exercise in some way, shape or form,” said Lewis. “Pickleball is an activity played with others and many seniors really want that interaction, even if they don’t or can’t voice it. The sport is low impact, small area and a cross between badminton and tennis — so it’s something folks are semi-familiar with.”
While pickleball might be viewed as a senior activity by some, Gerald MacKillop, the chief operating officer at the YMCA of the North Shore in Beverly, Massachusetts, said the stereotype needs to be debunked. “People of all ages are playing pickleball and they play together,” he said. “It is not uncommon for people in their 30s to play with folks who are twice their age.”
The North Shore Y offers over 75 hours of pickleball play daily across its seven locations — not including private, semi-private and group lessons. MacKillop said the Y has become a pickleball destination in the 25 communities it serves.
“Pickleball offers something for everyone and of every ability,” said MacKillop. “It’s easier on the body and joints compared to tennis, for example. People who have a passion for tennis or other paddle sports can remain active and competitive through pickleball. And the pickleball community — particularly at our Y — is strong and vibrant. People have the ability to build new friendships, combat isolation and connect with others who share a similar passion.”
One of the great aspects of pickleball is courts can be constructed specifically for pickleball or they can be converted using existing tennis or badminton courts. For specific dimensions, USA Pickleball states a court is the same size as a doubles badminton court and measures 20 by 44 feet. The net height is 36 inches at the sidelines and 34 inches in the middle. Additionally, the court is striped similar to a tennis court with right and left service courts and a seven-foot non-volley zone in front of the net.
Lewis shared since the JCC is a nonprofit, he was able to get a net system and several paddles for free by applying for a grant offered by the USA Pickleball Association (USAPA). “Once a member of the USAPA, you get a discount on their equipment,” he added. “I just recently purchased a new net system for under $130.”
For equipment, all that is needed is a net system, paddles and a pickleball. Luckily for the members of the Katie & Irwin Kahn JCC, all equipment is provided.
While equipment and space are the starting components for pickleball, MacKillop elaborated that schedules are also critical to the success of the sport. “If you think you can just schedule time in the middle of the day, you are not going to realize the participation you may hope for,” he said. “Our Y has offerings in the early morning, late morning, evening and on the weekends. This is not just a sport for retirees and your schedule must be reflective of that.”
There’s a reason the sport of pickleball is growing, and what better place to offer the sport than community recreation centers? If your facility is looking to attract new members, provide fresh programming for current members or just try something new at a low cost, consider adding the fastest growing sport to your list of programs this year.
If your facility doesn’t offer it currently, Lewis added potential players can likely find the game elsewhere. “Pickleball players travel — they go all over the midlands in pursuit of playing pickleball,” said Lewis. “The pickleball community is passionate and welcoming to new players, which very well may be another reason it’s spreading like wildfire.”