Why Is Pickleball So Popular?

Plus, 4 Reasons You Should Play

Woman playing pickleball outside holding paddle and ball.

halbergman / Getty Images

While pickleball may have once been relegated to senior living centers, it is gaining popularity as a fun and beneficial sport for all ages. In fact, the Sports and Fitness Industry Association (SFIA) has called it the fastest-growing sport in America.

Its rise to fame likely has something to do with the fact that it is easy to play regardless of age, especially compared to other racket sports like tennis, and offers a fun approach to exercise. Created in 1965 by three neighbors looking to occupy their children on a rainy day, it has become much more than a simple game to keep bored kids busy.

Today, it's primarily an adult activity that requires minimal equipment and a few basic skills. Using a flat paddle and a plastic pickleball reminiscent of a wiffle ball, opposing teammates play a game much like tennis or badminton. However, the ball's waffle-like design keeps the pace manageable and user-friendly.

How Pickleball Is Played

A three-foot-long net is set up in the center of a court measuring 44 feet long by 20 feet wide. You can play the game in singles or doubles where teams take turns batting the ball over the net. If the receiving side misses the serving side volley, the serving side receives a point. The game is played to 11 points, but a team must win by two points.

Pickleball has a few other intricacies, as is common with other court-played sports. Such as who delivers service and from which side the ball must be served. The no-volley zone, known as the "kitchen," is seven feet from the net on both sides.

There are rules regarding when picklers (the name players have been unofficially given) must call the score, how tournaments work, and variations between singles and doubles games. Fortunately, most players only need to play a few games to pick up the basics of play, making it quite accessible.

Why Is Pickleball so Popular?

Pickleball has long been a favorite in places like tennis and community centers. But, the court is only a quarter the size of a tennis court, making it easy to recreate at home in a driveway. Other than a net, a few balls, and paddles, you don't need any other equipment. Plus, everyone from kids to grandparents can play the sport, making it ideal for families. 

This multigenerational sport also is easy to learn for younger players and easy on the joints for more seasoned ones. These characteristics make it the most accessible racquet sport for any age. Recent stats indicate that the sport is growing at an average of 158.6% over the past three years.

Who Is Pickleball For?

A better question is, who isn't pickleball for? This sport is a great activity for seniors, many of whom were initially drawn to it because it is joint-friendly. Despite its slightly slower pace, it still provides excellent health benefits and an enjoyable way to socialize. These qualities also make it ideal for families. 

The health benefits of pickleball extend to players of all ages. Family members can enjoy the bonding experience of a low-key game while parents and grandparents don't have to worry about the younger generation lacking the skills to play. Pickleball is relatively approachable and a great picker-upper, requiring very little practice. 

Even competitive athletes can have a delightful time participating in pickleball games. Plus, the sport is easy on the body while helping you work up a sweat—ideal for those cross-training days. Seasoned athletes who haven't lost their love of competition but are finding traditionally aggressive sports, like basketball, harder to play often embrace pickleball. That said, you don't need to be an athlete or belong to a certain age group to play or benefit from pickleball. 

4 Reasons You Should Play Pickleball

Aside from being an accessible sport that can be enjoyed by people of all ages and fitness levels, pickleball also offers a number of health benefits. Here are some of the potential benefits you may experience by playing pickleball.

Decreases Levels of Depression

One study found that individuals who played pickleball tended to have lower levels of depression. Researchers followed 153 older adults competing in pickleball competitions. They reported at the end of the study that a commitment to serious leisure, or the systematic pursuit of a hobby, is correlated to reduced depression rates.

Boosts Cardiovascular Health

Pickleball may not be as physically intense as tennis, but it offers significant benefits for cardiovascular health. One study found that those who played an hour-long game three times a week had improved cardiorespiratory fitness, lower cholesterol levels, and decreased blood pressure.

Researchers concluded that it is a feasible alternative to traditional exercise modalities, like walking or biking, for adults trying to move more.

Promotes Better Hand-Eye Coordination

Pickleball doesn't require being super fast on your feet, but you will need hand-eye coordination and strategic reflexes. Coordinating your feet, legs, arms, hands, and eye movements may improve your reflexes, challenge your brain to think quickly, and enhance balance. In older adults, physical activity combined with cognitive challenges has been found to improve cognitive health and help prevent mental decline.

Provides Opportunities for Socialization

A significant benefit of pickleball is that it provides increased social interactions. Socializing with others, especially as you age, can help reduce loneliness.

Loneliness can negatively impact physical and mental health, elevating your risk of heart disease, stroke, dementia, and depression. Because pickleball requires an opponent, or two opponents and a partner for doubles matches, it's an excellent way to spend time with others.

How to Get Started

You need minimal gear and knowledge to get started playing pickleball. One of the easiest ways to begin is locating a court near you. Creating a home court is always possible, though finding one in your community may lead to more socialization. 

A basic understanding of the rules and regulations is also necessary. Knowing how to keep count of the score, rotate through servers, and how games or tournaments are carried out is important too. When you feel confident in your understanding of how to play pickleball, getting out and trying the sport is an excellent way to learn by doing.

Your club or community center can often provide helpful beginner tips. Finally, you will want to purchase gear, such as a paddle, shoes, and a few balls, if your court does not provide them. Remember, pickleball is a form of physical activity that can be perfect for those with a competitive drive, but overall it is meant to be fun, approachable, and enjoyable.

8 Sources
Verywell Fit uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Sports & Fitness Industry Association. SFIA's topline report shows Americans' inactivity rate declining.

  2. USA Pickleball. Rules summary.

  3. Smith, Leslie & Buchanan, Christina & Dalleck, Lance. The acute and chronic physiological responses to pickleball in middle-aged and older adults. International Journal of Research in Exercise Physiology. 13. 21-32. 

  4. Heo J, Ryu J, Yang H, Kim KM. Serious leisure and depression in older adults: a study of pickleball players. Leisure Studies. DOI:10.1080/02614367.2018.1477977

  5. Denning WM, Zagrodnik J, Smith M, Ruden T. Physical activity differences between walking and playing pickleball doublesScience & Sports. 2022;37(5-6):513.e1-513.e4. doi:10.1016/j.scispo.2021.06.009

  6. Gheysen F, Poppe L, DeSmet A, et al. Physical activity to improve cognition in older adults: can physical activity programs enriched with cognitive challenges enhance the effects? A systematic review and meta-analysis. Int J Behav Nutr Phys Act. doi:10.1186/s12966-018-0697-x

  7. Ryu J, Yang H, Kim ACH, Kim KM, Heo J. Understanding pickleball as a new leisure pursuit among older adults. Educational Gerontology. doi:10.1080/03601277.2018.1424507

  8. National Academies of Sciences. Social isolation and loneliness in older adults: Opportunities for the health care system.

By Nicole M. LaMarco
Nicole M. LaMarco has 19 years of experience freelance writing for various publications. She researches and reads the latest peer-reviewed scientific studies and interviews subject matter experts. Her goal is to present that data to readers in an interesting and easy-to-understand way so they can make informed decisions about their health.