It’s the sport that’s sweeping the country and attracts players from ages 3 – 83 — it’s pickleball! A cross between tennis, badminton and ping pong, pickleball was deemed the fastest growing sport by Economist magazine and grew over 21% between 2019 and 2020. Stars like Leonardo DiCaprio and George Clooney are fans of the growing sport, which held its 2021 national championship in December.
Pickleball can be played both indoors and outdoors with a slightly modified net (set at 34 inches). Instead of a stringed racket, pickleball is played with a paddle (like ping pong) that can vary in size and players use a plastic ball with holes.
The pickleball court is like tennis with right and left courts but with a seven-foot non-volley zone in front of the net (referred to as a kitchen), says USA Pickleball. The court size is also smaller (20 x 44 feet) for both singles and doubles.
HOW AND WHERE TO PLAY
When it comes to rules of play, you serve the ball cross court like tennis, but do so underhand, and the “point of contact must be below the hip,” said Elite Sports Clubs. The ball must bounce once on each side before volleying can begin if you aren’t in “the kitchen.”
Points can only be scored by the serving team. “The winner is determined by the first side to reach 11 points, but you must win by 2 points. Play will continue beyond 11 points until a side wins by 2,” Elite Sports reports.
“Every U.S. state and all Canadian provinces now have pickleball venues. Senior residence communities, YMCAs, local community recreation centers, schools and parks are just some of the places likely to have pickleball courts,” according to USA Pickleball.
Here in Gainesville, there are several pickleball courts available for players including newly constructed courts at Gainesville’s Northside Park as well as courts at the 300 Club, Jonesville Tennis Center, Martin Luther King Center, Alachua County Sports Complex at Celebration Pointe and the Hal Brady Recreation Center in Alachua.
WHY HAS THE SPORT BECOME SO POPULAR?
Enthusiasts believe it’s because it can be played by those of a range of ages and physical abilities. The average age for players is 38.1 years old, says USA Pickleball.
Gainesville resident and lifelong tennis player Mark Williams had been sidelined from tennis by an ACL injury. When his mom discovered pickleball, she told Mark he may like the sport since it’s like tennis but easier on the body.
“Before I played pickleball, I hadn’t played tennis in about seven to eight years,” Williams said. “Since pickleball games tend to be shorter and the court is smaller, it’s a little less taxing on the body and easier to get into the game.”
Gainesville Pickleball is a nonprofit dedicated to the promotion of the sport in North Central Florida. Their website gainesvillepickleball.club maintains local pickleball news as well as an updated schedule of regular pickleball play. For more information on pickleball nationally, visit usapickleball.org