One of the biggest reasons pickleball has dramatically increased in popularity over the past several years is its multigenerational appeal. Anyone at almost any age can play and even hold their own against a much older or younger opponent.
For many years, it has been widely believed that pickleball was a sport played mainly by older people. According to a State of Pickleball report released earlier this week by the Sports and Fitness Industry Association (SFIA) and its collaborative partner Pickleheads, the generation gap is narrowing considerably.
The report’s demographic data shows the average age of a pickleball player is 35. The 25 to 34-year-old age group has seen the most significant increase in participants, followed closely by people aged 18-24 and 65 or older.
Participation statistics of the report were obtained from a nationwide study conducted in 2022 by Sports Marketing Surveys USA (SMS) under the guidance of SFIA and seven other sports industry associations.
“I can confirm to you that the sustained growth of pickleball in the past six years is virtually unprecedented. Pickleball is booming, and it is here to stay.”Tom Cove, CEO of SFIA
Decline of Other Sports
These upward trends are not being seen in other recreational activities, particularly at the grassroots level. Participation in youth sports is declining, with income and socioeconomic factors playing the most prominent role in that decline.
A Project Play survey indicates the average family spends $883 annually on a primary sport for one child. While this figure was down 6% from before the coronavirus pandemic, the wealthiest families still spent over four times more than the lowest-income families.
Many children have been forced to quit sports or not play at all due to the financial demands placed on their parents. Worse, public schools have begun charging for kids to participate in athletics due to budget cuts.
The good news for pickleball lovers is income disparity has been increasingly shrinking since 2019. The sport has experienced improvements in the income disparity score, which measures the rate of play for the highest-income participants as compared to lowest-income participants.
A score of 1.0 means the lowest household income participants are playing pickleball at the same rate as the highest household income participants.
According to the SFIA and Pickleheads report, pickleball had an income disparity score of 1.90 in 2022. The 2019 score was 2.83, indicating that higher-income participants were playing almost twice as much as low-income participants in 2022.
The average annual income of a pickleball player is around $75,000. Core players, those more likely to participate on a regular basis, earn a slightly higher income (85,000), with 42 being the average age.
The success of any recreational sport starts at the grassroots level, and pickleball is no exception. The 2022 SFIA Single Sport Report on Pickleball states that kids ages 6-17 made up 21.2 percent of the nearly five million pickleball players in 2021. This means children are following their parents’ lead and choosing pickleball to spend quality family time.
Pickleball is growing in almost every region and demographic group in the United States, but there is still work to be done to make the game accessible for everyone. According to the State of Pickleball report, more males are picking up paddles and heading to the court than females. For the sport to keep its current growth trajectory, getting more women involved is imperative.
Narrowing the Gap
Lower-income families don’t often have the means to take lessons or travel to camps. In order to get the income disparity gap closer to 1.0, more opportunities need to be available for the lower-income demographic.
Some instructors and facilities are beginning to take notice of that group. Sean Bollettieri, son of legendary tennis coach Nick Bollettieri and head of The Tennis Club at Newport Beach, holds lessons for kids free of charge.
Calvin Keeney, a pickleball coach in Austin, TX, recently began offering clinics for players at a 3.0 level or lower for a fraction of the cost of camps led by traveling professionals. In Florida, the Lady Lake Parks and Recreation Department, in collaboration with Pickleball Clinics of Florida, offers free classes for area youth. Children ages 7-15 now have the chance to learn to play.
The growth of pickleball shows no signs of slowing down anytime soon, as the number of participants continues to rise each year. Imagine what those statistics would show if the income disparity score mentioned in the State of Pickleball Report reached the 1.0 mark. That would mean anyone, regardless of age, gender, or income group, would have access to the game. It’s a goal worth striving for.
You can purchase a copy of the full SFIA-Pickleheads report by visiting the Pickleheads website.
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