Pickleballs’ Increasing Popularity

Posted: December 14, 2022

There are many different team sports that are available to play in the world, but currently nothing is trending upwards as much as one sport: Pickleball. For some this may be surprising, but in reality people have seen this coming for a very long time. 

Previously considered a sport for the older generation, Pickleball has started to make a booming impact among younger generations. 

Josh Thurow, Minnehaha’s very own Athletic Director loves playing Pickleball, and he has definitely seen a shift in the type of players over the past couple years. 

 “I just kind of joined in and started watching the good [older players] and learning from them how to play well,” said Thurow, “then slowly but surely, I caught up to them.” 

Stats from the USA Pickleball organization show that from 2020-2021 there was over a 14 percent increase in the number of Pickleball players around the nation, with the most increased age group being of those ages 18-34. 

Pickleball is becoming a global sport, and many famous athletes are investing in new Pickleball leagues. LeBron James, Tom Brady and Kevin Durant, for example, have all purchased their own individual teams that are part of Major League Pickleball. Also, Mark Cuban recently bought 6 teams as part of VIBE Pickleball.

VIBE Pickleball is a professional Pickleball league that will be run similar to other popular sports leagues. Started only back in early November, the league is set to start in 2023, even holding a live draft in Vegas as a start to the league. They already have several of the sports top players, featuring the top five male and female athletes from the PPA (Professional Pickleball Association).

Although there are many preconceived opinions on the game, there are some undeniable facts about it that are key to understanding. Pickleball is very similar to tennis, however the courts are much smaller. People use rackets and a plastic ball to play, and there are always two people on a team. 

 “So you don’t have to run a lot… but you’re still exercising, still working on sweat, which is great. It’s very social,” said Thurow.

It is also a perfect sport to participate in while recovering from an injury. In fact, originally Pickleball was indeed a sport to recover from injury for tennis players.

Thurow himself actually got into the sport originally after facing a tough injury that prevented him from playing his favorite sport, baseball. 

 “I had a knee replacement surgery so that really slowed me down,” said Thurow, “but then my wife introduced me to a Pickleball league at the local YMCA.”

More recently, Pickleball leagues around the cities have really been growing. There are many different places that participants can go to participate in small Pickleball leagues. There are more casual leagues, such as those at Lifetime Fitness (a local fitness club), but there are also more serious leagues. 

For example, Thurow has found himself attending a local Pickleball league close to his house, called Mega Pickle and Pong in Chanhassen. There, he found that people approached the game of Pickleball differently.

“That had serious players that have been playing for a long time,” said Thurow, who on top of that, also joined a local outdoor league in Prior Lake. 

Pickleball isn’t going to settle as just a recreational sport, however, and there has been lots of speculation that it will be the newest addition to high school sports. 

The USA Pickleball organization has a grant program that donates money to high schools across the country to ensure that Pickleball is being taught in the curriculums of the schools. 

Although not currently recognized as an official school sport in any state, it very well could be the next big topic of the MSHSL. No state currently has adopted Pickleball as an official high school sport, but there are three other racket sports that are considered official sports at the high school level; badminton, squash, and a sport called soft tennis.

Badminton is actually offered in Minnesota, as well as 8 other states. Squash is offered in three states, Ohio, Massachusetts and California, and soft tennis is offered in Ohio and Hawaii. All of these racket sports are a bit different, but they all share similar characteristics to those of Pickleball. There is an argument to be made that Pickleball would be the most popular out of the bunch, so why isn’t it an official high school sport yet?

Thurow believes that Pickleball very well could become an official school sport, but just questions the appropriate time and logistics part of it. 

 “It could make sense during the winter season, but what the winter season provides is not a ton of indoor space at schools because [of basketball],” said Thurow. 

Tennis teams also don’t want Pickleball to impact their participation number, but as current Minnehaha tennis player Langston Stingley puts it, “it’s just a good sport to go out and play.”

As a matter of fact, Stingley’s father, Marc Stingley, worked for the Professional Pickleball Registry. His thoughts on Pickleball becoming an official high school sport are very similar to Thurow’s.

“I can see it possibly being a club option in some states in the near future,” said Marc Stingley, “but right now it’s difficult to see a path for Pickleball to become a sanctioned high school sport, primarily because there isn’t space.”

Stingley also makes a good point, using statistics about the demographics of Pickleball.

“The largest group in Pickleball is 65 and up, making up about 33% of the number of core players,” said Stingley. “The number of players 17 and under makes up the smallest demographic, at 14%.”

Regardless of whether it becomes a high-school sport or not, the rage of Pickleball will continue to cruise through the United States and could potentially end up in a gym near you. 

 

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