Pickleball’s popularity has shot up during the pandemic

Female Pickleball player on the court-min

Pickleball’s popularity has shot up during the pandemic

Just about every sporting discipline has had to adapt to a changing sporting landscape due to the outbreak of the novel coronavirus, and many have had to sacrifice playing altogether for as long as the lockdowns to curb the spread of the virus have lasted. One unusual sport has seen a remarkable rise in its uptake around the world, though, and is showing growth across the board, despite having perhaps one of the strangest names out there.

Pickleball was invented by a Washington State US congressman and two friends in 1965. Looking for something to fight their boredom, the men started playing a rudimentary type of badminton, utilising what they could find. The perforated plastic ball, wooden paddles and lowered net first used in the ‘60s have endured, as has the name of this combination of badminton, tennis and ping pong. Said to refer to either the pickle boat used in crew, or to one of the founders’ cocker spaniel, this unusual but universally appealing sport has Olympic aspirations, and with 37 countries having already joined the International Federation of Pickleball, this may well be within grasp if the sport’s popularity continues.

Pickleball combines elements of the racquet sports it originated from, and players use wooden paddles, shaped not unlike cutting boards, to hit a perforated polymer ball over a low net, following the established rules of the game.  

The growth of the sport has been nothing short of exponential, with pickleball showing a 650% increase in popularity over the past six years. Proving to be a very popular pandemic sport, pickleball participation grew by 21.3% in the US last year. The sport’s universal appeal seems to lie in the fact that it is easy to understand and play, no matter the players’ age or ability, while still offering more competitive players a chance to strategise and hone their skills.

So-called “picklers”, as participants are called, engage in the activity with great enthusiasm, and even popular talk show host Ellen DeGeneres has joined the craze, recently lamenting that she’s having difficulty walking after playing too much. While pickleball seems to not have gained the same popularity at home as it has abroad, it looks like it’s only a matter of time until this unusual sport makes its mark in South Africa.

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