Try to guess the most popular sport in America. American classics such as football or soccer might come to mind. The real answer is pickleball. I know that it doesn’t sound like a real sport, but 4.2 million people participated in the sport according to the Sports & Fitness Industry Association’s (SFIA) 2021 Topline Participation Report. The sport was invented in 1965 by three fathers who combined tennis, ping pong, and badminton. The ball has holes in it, and the paddle is similar to the one used in table tennis but rectangular.
Picklers, as they call themselves, have been growing in numbers since 2020. Now you’re probably wondering who wants to play a game like pickleball when tennis exists. In the past, all of the serious pickleball players have been older than 55 years old. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, pickleball was an easy activity for the elderly population that encouraged social interaction. It is safer than tennis for individuals with heart problems, is low impact and not too complicated to pick up. But this does not mean there is a sector of the sport that is highly competitive. There are a growing number of players under the age of 55 that are expanding the reach of the game. The USA Pickleball League has multiple brand partners and allows players to compete. They can earn just about $200,000 a year and get prize money or obtain sponsorships.
The fact that pickleball was a top-grossing sport in America does not mean that it is accessible to all Americans. 73% of players are white and 45% have an income of $100,000 or higher according to an SFIA report. Pickleball needs more exposure in order for it to reach more communities. The pickleball culture needs to change quickly in order for the sport to not get branded as a “country club” sport.
Even though Wellesley does not have a pickleball team, this sport proves very rewarding. Dare I say, the creation of a lovely pickleball team (perhaps adorned by the name the hot dills) should be created for the wonderful picklers of campus.