According to a report from the Association of Pickleball Professionals, pickleball racked up a total player count of more than 36.5 million Americans between summer 2021 and summer 2022. With those numbers—figures in line with well-known sports like golf, tennis, and basketball—pickleball is quickly becoming the most popular sport you didn’t know existed.
And by all accounts, its appeal is only going to grow.
Whether you’re already an avid pickler (a pickleball addict) or you’re still being pickled with every play (the equivalent of getting “skunked” in other sports), there’s something in pickleball for everyone.
WHAT IS IT?
Invented in 1965 by three friends to entertain their families, pickleball is effectively a combination of tennis, badminton, and ping-pong with some different rules, playing zones, and quirky terminology mixed in (things like “kitchen” and “falafel” have entirely different connotations in this game!). Played on a badminton-sized court, it involves hitting a light, perforated plastic ball back and forth across a net, and like many serve-and-volley sports, it can be played with two people or two teams of two.
WHERE IS IT PLAYED?
Originally developed in the US, its international stage has been flourishing since the International Federation of Pickleball formed in 2010. What began as a collective of four countries—the US, Canada, Spain, and India—now includes 78 member countries that represent six of the seven continents.
While the US still has arguably the biggest collection of pickleball fans, public courts, and national-level competitions, Europe is a close second, with 24 countries officially signed up to the federation and lots of both individual country and large regional tournaments.
WHY’S IT SO POPULAR?
The best part about pickleball? It may sound like the drink, but unlike chasing whisky with pickle juice, this sport can do wonders for your mental and physical health—and anyone of any age, gender, and ability can play.
With limited movement range required and a manageable court size, it’s hailed as a particularly inclusive sport for seniors and people with mobility challenges. It’s also pretty easy to dive right in and relish the fun without hassle or preamble, thanks to fairly simple rules, ties to other racket sports, and relatively inexpensive equipment. Plus, the ability to play both indoors and outdoors coupled with the strong social culture around the game make it an enjoyable and accessible perennial pastime.
SO, WHAT’S NEXT?
From sports superstars like Michael Phelps, Kevin Durant, and Tom Brady to tech gurus (Bill Gates), models (Heidi Klum), and actors (George Clooney), even celebrities are taking to the court for drives, dillballs, and drop shots. Some, like LeBron James and Drew Brees, are also investing in pickleball teams. The biggest move for the game, though—and one that will solidify its status—is lobbying to make it an official Olympic sport. The federation is already working away on that goal, so for now, the only real question is: are you intrigued enough to get a taste of this dill-icious sport for yourself?