Pickleball is frequently referred to as 'the fastest growing sport' in the United States. This is largely due to a report published by the Sports & Fitness Industry Association, which shows that pickleball has been growing at a rate of over 10% annually for the last five years.
Why Do People Call Pickleball the Fastest Growing Sport?
Pickleball often carries the moniker of ‘the fastest-growing sport.’ The sport has been on an all-encompassing ride across America, and it’s popular on Europe as well.
But how did a game played with a plastic ball and named after a pickled cucumber become “America’s Fastest-Growing Sport”? And what are the statistics behind that claim?
Most of the claims come from a report from the Sports & Fitness Industry Association (SFIA), an industry trade group that produces research into sports engagement. In crowning pickleball the fastest-growing sport, the SFIA is comparing it to sports like:
|Badminton||Paintball||Track and Field|
|Basketball||Roller Hockey||Volleyball (Beach/Sand)|
|Bicycling (BMX)||Rugby||Volleyball (Court)|
|Bicycling (Mountain Biking)||Skateboarding||Volleyball (Grass)|
|Cheerleading||Soccer (Outdoor)||Water Skiing|
|Football (Flag)||Softball (Fast Pitch)||Wrestling|
|Football (Tackle)||Softball (Slow-Pitch)|
Pickleball Growth Statistics
USA Pickleball (USAPA), the pickleball governing body of America, has made some SFIA pickleball growth statistics available.
Some key takeaways:
- Currently, pickleball has a 60/40 gender split in favor of men. However, growth among women is slightly faster, meaning that gap should narrow in coming years.
- Casual players of pickleball tend to be younger, while core players trend older: 52% of core players are over 55, but 79% of casual players are 54 or younger.
- From 2020 to 2021, the number of casual players grew by nearly a quarter (22%).
- The four regions with the most pickleball engagement are South Atlantic (including Florida, North & South Carolina, Washington DC), East North Central (including Wisconsin, Michigan, Ohio), Pacific (including California, Oregon, Washington State), Mid-Atlantic (including New York, New Jersey)
As of 2022, there were 4.8 million pickleball players of all skill levels in the United States. This represents an annual growth average of 11.5% over the last five years, with a projected further growth of 7.7% a year expected.
What this demonstrates is that there are many people picking up pickleball for the first time. It’s unclear whether these first-time new players are new to racquet sports in general, or are moving across from tennis courts to try the hip new sport.
Another way to measure the growth of pickleball is to take a look at the number of pickleball courts available. There are now 10,320 places to play pickleball in the United States. This includes recreation centers, pickleball clubs, country clubs, and public pickleball courts.
Is Pickleball Only Growing Fast in the United States?
Pickleball is a sport that originated in the United States, and a large proportion of its fan base still exists within the US.
However, that doesn’t mean pickleball isn’t on the rise across the world.
The International Federation of Pickleball (IFP) is an organization looking to grow pickleball internationally. The IFP has seven full member countries. Three come from North America (the US, Canada, and Mexico) but the others are spread far and wide:
- The Czech Republic
- The Philippines
Pickleball is also growing quickly in urban regions of the Asia Pacific, including Australia, New Zealand, China, and Japan.
The Olympic committee is still yet to be convinced to add pickleball to the games, citing its US-centric player base. However, the continued growth of pickleball worldwide means that may not be the case for long.
Why is Pickleball the Fastest Growing Sport?
So why is pickleball growing so quickly? There are a number of reasons.
- Accessible: Compared to other racquet sports, such as tennis and squash, pickleball is relatively easy to pick up. The plastic ball moves slowly enough that returning it is not too much of a challenge, and the small-sized court reduces the amount of sprinting required, making pickleball accessible to those with mobility issues.
- Challenging to Master: Pickleballl’s quirky rules and focus on tactics means that though the game is easy to pick up, it is hard to master. This is a great combination for getting people into the game and then getting them addicted. Unlike tennis, which can be dominated by brute force and powerful serves, pickleball’s rules (underarm serves, the non-volley zone) mean that the only way to win is to out-think and out-play your opponent. This makes it popular among those looking for a more engaging game.
- Affordable: Many pickleball courts are free, the plastic balls are cheap, and entry-level pickleball paddles can be picked up without too much investment. Pickleball is accessible to new players, while offering enough development to keep them interested.
- Sociable: Pickleball is a sociable sport. It offers opportunities for conversation between points, and the small size of the court means you are always relatively close to your playing partner and opponents. This makes it a brilliant game for those who are looking for fun and friends rather than out-and-out sporting warfare.
What Are the Other Fastest Growing Sports?
Other fast-growing sports besides pickleball include:
- E-Sports (the rise of streaming and social media has been a huge boon for this new age sport)
- Mixed Martial Arts (boosted by personalities such as Connor Magregor)
- Soccer (already popular worldwide, with the World Cup coming to North American in 2026, soccer is gaining traction in the United States)
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