With pickleball’s recent meteoric rise in popularity among Americans, the natural fight over court space with tennis players came with it. We’ve seen protests and fights break out, and the “pickleball and tennis war” has even seen destruction and vandalism to the courts that should be a place of recreation and community.
However, not all of the tennis community has felt the need to fight back against the wave, more akin to a tsunami, that is the pickleball revolution. Recently, the Atlanta Lawn Tennis Association (ALTA), which is considered to be one of the largest recreational tennis leagues in the United States, started its first pickleball league.
ALTA has been a pillar within the American racket sports world since 1934, starting with just 50 members; now, the non-profit organization is home to over 80,000 members. On July 10, ALTA started its first pickleball league, where about 4,000 of its members have signed up to compete in teams of five men and five women in seven weeks’ worth of tournaments.
Like many tennis organizations across the nation, the COVID-19 pandemic caused a noticeable downward shift in ALTA’s membership, while pickleball grew in popularity as a way for family’s to bond and pass the time. In a recent interview with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Emmy Powell, ALTA’s marketing director, believes that tennis players need to embrace pickleball, as it’s only going to continue to grow in the coming years.
“They know they can’t stop it. It’s here, and it’s not going anywhere.”Emmy Powell, ALTA Marketing Director
Pickleball used to be regarded as a game for retirement communities, but in recent years, the average player age continues to trend younger and younger. Its pro scene has also erupted, with tours and leagues, like the PPA Tour and Major League Pickleball (MLP), posting record numbers of attendees and broadcast viewership.
The MLP’s founder, Steve Kuhn, recently participated in the CNBC x Boardroom Game Plan conference, where he spoke on how pickleball is the “Benjamin Button of Sports” as the player base grows younger and the professional pickleball action is only just starting. He went on to regard the issues involved with court space.
“The media loves the story of how noisy pickleball is, how it angers the neighbors, and how tennis people are angry. Look, there’s some reality – I’m not denying that that’s true. One thing we need to do with Major League Pickleball, through our organization and our owners, is to create dedicated pickleball courts where people go to play pickleball in an area where they’re not going to bother anybody. It’s our responsibility to do that.”Steve Kuhn, Founder of Major League Pickleball
While efforts are being made to create more court space, tennis purists still believe that pickleball is a lesser sport and is only a nuisance to the preexisting tennis world. The most recent example was seen in the backlash against the announcement that two of tennis’ greatest players, Steffi Graf and Maria Sharapova, will join John McEnroe and Andrei Agassi in the Pickleball Slam 2. One fan even exclaimed, “We lost the two greatest women of our sport to pickleball.”
The greatest difference between pickleball and tennis right now is the culture. From its very origins, pickleball was created to be a social activity; yes, it can be a highly competitive sport, but at its core, pickleball was made to bring people together. Tennis, on the other hand, still enjoys its rich history and prestige. It’s perfectly fine to honor and uphold tradition, but that doesn’t have to come at the cost of disrespecting a new lineage of racket sports.
Ben Austin and his father, Rich Austin, play tennis together on an ALTA tennis team and have also recently joined ALTA’s pickleball league after realizing how fun the game is. While they may have been initially apprehensive about the game, they’ve opened up to pickleball being just another avenue to enjoy racket sports.
“I think people are realizing that it’s not an us against them thing anymore. Let’s all just get along.”Rich Austin on building unity between tennis and pickleball communities.
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