Origin and popularity
If you are not new to sports, you will find pickleball a little familiar because it combines elements of badminton, pingpong, also known as table tennis, and tennis to create an exciting sport. Back in 1965, three friends, Joel Pritchard (who was a congressman), Bill Bell, and Barney McCallum were looking for a way to get their families to have fun during the summer holidays in Bainbridge Island, Washington. The amalgamation came about because Pritchard’s property had an old badminton court which they wanted to use but they could not find a full set of rackets. They improvised everything as they went along and that is how this fast-growing sport was born.
There are two theories on how the game got its name with one being that it was named after the Pritchard family dog called Pickles that loved to run after the ball, and it was hence named pickleball. However, the more accepted version even by the National Governing body of USA Pickleball is that it was named by Joan Pritchard, the congressman’s wife, after the term pickle boat, which refers to the boat or crew which comes last in a boat race.
Though started years ago in 1965, pickleball is gaining a lot attention lately to the extent that it is said to be the fastest growing sport in the United States according to the Sports and Fitness Industry Association (SFIA). The association credits pickleball with this tag for the 3rd year in a row and estimates that it has 8.9 million players in the US who are over 6 years old. Wall Street analytics firm UBS is predicting that pickleball will have a staggering 22 million players by the end of 2023. The game is played in schools, communities, in retirement programs and even in prisons, just to name a few. This is a testament to its wide and universal appeal. The sport has grown so popular that celebrity athletes such as Tom Brady and Lebron James have purchased Major League Pickleball teams.
Play and set up
The game can be played as doubles or singles and is played in a court the size of a badminton court while the net is a modified version of the tennis net. The pickleball paddle on the other hand is nothing but a larger version of the pingpong or table tennis paddle. The ball itself is a perforated plastic ball which has different colors to denote the level of play. The objective of the game is to hit the ball over the net and have it land within the opponent’s court. Players have to follow specific rules regarding serving, scoring, and court boundaries which are unique to it. On the officiating front, there are referees and line judges too. This is how it combines different elements of the 3 games to create a unique one.
Medical costs and injuries
As with any sport, and due to its popularity, the millions of people playing as well as the nature of the game, there are bound to be injuries with the most common being sprains, tendinitis, tears, fractures, and it is not uncommon for players to have concussions. UBS are even predicting that in 2023, pickleball injuries will cost a staggering $500 million. The same analysts are estimating 67,000 emergency room visits due to pickleball, 366,000 outpatient visits as well as 9,000 outpatient surgeries all due to pickleball injuries. The USA pickleball association even has a guide on safe play such as proper wear, avoidance of wet courts as well as avoidance of backpedaling on the court. They also have a concussion safety protocol.
In a 2020 study which was published in the Journal of Emergency Medicine, 90% of pickleball emergency room visits between 2001 and 2017 were by people 50 years and older. On the other hand, according to a 2021 study published in the Injury Epidemiology journal covering the period 2010-2019, there were 29,000 pickleball injuries among players 60 and older.
It therefore stands to reason that most of the predicted hospital visits by UBS and the sky-high medical costs associated with it will majorly come from the older players who are 50 years and above. This also illustrates that it is a popular game for seniors.
Pickleball is a great way for people to have fun, to make money, to invest as well as to keep fit. It has something for everyone and can be played by people of all ages. It is also easy to play, further increasing its appeal. With the media and celebrity interest in the game, the rise of pickleball will only continue to rise. If you are looking for a way to have fun with your family, friends, or colleagues, pickleball might just be what you are looking for.