How many people play pickleball? While pickleball isn’t a new sport, new players are picking up a racquet daily! The sport saw a massive 14.8% growth from 2020 to 2021.
The USA Pickleball Association estimates there were approximately 4.8 million players in 2021 and that number continues to grow!
An 11.5% growth rate over the last 5 years proves that pickleball popularity is more than just a fad. Pickleball is popular among both men and women with a slightly faster growth seen in women in 2020 and 2021. About 60% of all pickleball players are men while 40% are women.
The History of Pickleball
Inventing the Game
Pickleball is not a new sport. The history of pickleball dates all the way back to 1965! The sport was thought up by three dads. Joel Pritchard, Bill Bell, and Barney McCallum made the sport with the help of their kids on Bainbridge Island.
They had a badminton court, table tennis paddles, and a Wiffle ball. This strange combination could surely create a fun game, right? A bit of ingenuity and multiple trials lead to what we know as pickleball!
- The History of Pickleball
- How Many People Are Playing Pickleball?
- How Does Pickleball Popularity Stack Up Against Other Racquet Sports?
- Bottom Line
The badminton net was lowered to waist level while the tennis racquet was swapped for a wooden plywood paddle. Once the kinks were worked out, the game spread quickly through Prtichard’s neighborhood and friends.
Where Did the Name “Pickleball” Come From?
There’s some disagreement over where the game got its unique name. The first story says that Joel Prichard had a dog named pickles. The family dog was loved so much that they named the new sport after it! This story has been told in interviews and written down, but so has the second story.
The second story that’s widely documented is that Joel’s wife Joan compared the mismatched combination of sports to the crew you’d find on a pickle boat. A pickle boat is a rowing team made up of weaker, mismatched crewmates.
Making it Official
In 1968, Pickleball Inc was created. Pickleball Inc. became the first official source of pickleball paddles, nets, and knowledge. Snowbirds traveling to the south in the winter were among the first group to show interest in pickleball.
By 1976, the first official pickleball tournament was held! The tournament was featured in Tennis Magazine, creating even more buzz around the new sport. The first pickleball rule book was published in 1984.
USA Pickleball Association was formed in 2005 which worked to make the sport more popular with sanctioned tournament play. The USAPA is in charge of setting the basic rules for this paddle sport.
In 2016 Pickleball Inc was purchased by Pickleball Central. The popularity of pickleball only continues to spread not only in the US but around the world.
How Many People Are Playing Pickleball?
Beyond the total number of players in the US at 4.8 million in 2021, how do the players break down? Understanding who’s playing pickleball with pickleball popularity statistics can help put that large number into a perspective that’s easier to understand.
The USAPA considers someone who plays pickleball 1-7 times a year a casual player. These players typically aren’t part of a pickleball club and don’t compete in sanctioned tournaments.
Casual players make up the majority of pickleball players with 3.5 million casual pickle ballers in the US.
Core players are players that take the sport more seriously. With more time and money spent on the sport and pickleball equipment, they make up most of the tournament participants and formal pickleball clubs across the US. They are more likely to compete for prize money.
There are an estimated 1.4 million core players in the US that play 8 or more times per year.
Who’s Playing Pickleball?
Sports tend to become popular among a core demographic before spreading to the masses. It’s not uncommon to see the majority of players remain in that demographic for years to come. Pickleball is no different.
While anyone can play and enjoy pickleball, it’s most popular among Caucasians with a household income of $100,000 or more per year according to the 2021 Sport and Fitness Industry Association report.
32.7% of core players are 65 or older while 33.5% of casual players are aged 18-34.
Pickleball is a sport that can reach all ages and demographics. With new courts opening every month, who knows what the pickleball participation stats will look like in a month? For now, it’s safe to say that younger players are more casual while older players spend more time playing.
Pickleball Courts in the US
4.8 million players need pickleball courts to play on. This growing demand has led to pickleball courts opening at a rapid rate. There were 9,524 pickleball locations at the last USAPA count. 66 new locations are opening each month on average!
It’s important to note that each pickleball location has more than one pickleball court.
The number of pickleball courts is somewhere around 35,000, but that may not include courts at personal residences and retirement communities, as well as some courts that are set up by a community grant program. There are also a number of tennis courts that do double duty as a pickleball court.
Celebrities Who Play Pickleball
Professional pickleball has its type of celebrities with big names seen on the pro tour each year. What you might not know is that there are plenty of mainstream celebrities playing on their home court or a nearby country club!
Leonardo DiCaprio plays regularly. So does George Clooney, Jillian Michaels, Jamie Foxx, Owen Wilson, Zach Braff, and more. Vanity Fair covers the full scope of celebrity pickleball lovers here.
How Does Pickleball Popularity Stack Up Against Other Racquet Sports?
Although pickleball is a popular sport, there are a lot of racket sports giving it a run for its money! Other sports have been around longer, attract different demographics, and require a different set of skills.
Tennis is by far the most popular racket sport with 21.64 million players in the US.
Interestingly, there’s a lot of overlap between tennis and pickleball players. Many of the biggest pickleball players played tennis first! The move from the tennis court to the pickleball court seems to come naturally.
Top-ranked player Tyson McGuffin is one example of a pickleball player who used to play tennis. Tyson even takes it a step further with a large social media following and influencer status online.
Table tennis, also known as ping pong, originally was part of the inspiration for pickleball! Ping pong paddles were the first pickleball paddles.
This racquet sport is played indoors with a plastic ball and paddles slightly smaller than what’s used during gameplay today.
There are an estimated 16 million ping pong players in the US, but the statistics are not updated as often as pickleball and tennis.
Badminton & Wiffle Ball
Badminton is the least popular racquet sport in the US with just 4,000 registered players. A whiffle ball is in the same boat with primarily recreational players and no steady growth in new players.
Is pickleball more popular than tennis?
No, pickleball is not more popular than tennis. It is growing rapidly, but 21.64 million US tennis players have 4.8 million pickleball players outnumbered.
Is pickleball the fastest-growing sport in the world?
Pickleball is one of the fastest growing sports in the world, closely ranked with MMA and standup paddle boarding.
What is Pickleball?
Pickleball is a racquet sport played on a badminton-sized court. You can play doubles or singles.
Are you even more curious about the sport that was started decades ago by three dads? We have all the information you need about this fast-paced sport, from tournaments and gear to the hottest names in the pickleball influencer crowd, we got it covered. Check back frequently for more informative content.