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What is Pickleball? The Fastest Growing Sport in the U.S and Across Europe

Fancy a game that's fun, sociable, and accessible to all ages and skill levels? Pickleball is your answer. It's a captivating sport that blends elements of tennis, badminton, and ping-pong into an engaging game that's easy to learn yet challenging to master.

The Basics of Pickleball

The game of pickleball is played on a court that's the same size as a doubles badminton court, measuring 20 x 44 feet, or approximately 6 x 13.4 meters. The game is enjoyed both indoors and outdoors, utilizing a slightly modified tennis net. The net stands 36 inches or about 91.4 cm at the sidelines and drops to 34 inches or roughly 86.36 cm in the middle.

Played with a Pickleball paddle and a lightweight plastic ball dotted with holes, pickleball can be played as singles or doubles, with the same court used for both. The game features a "kitchen" or a 7-foot non-volley zone in front of the net, and it's striped akin to a tennis court, with right and left service courts.

Pickleball in History

The sport finds its roots back in 1965 on Bainbridge Island, a short ferry ride from Seattle, Washington. The game was born from the ingenuity of three dads, Joel Pritchard, Bill Bell, and Barney McCallum, who devised it to alleviate their children's summer boredom. The game has since transcended from its humble beginning with handmade equipment to being a popular sport across North America and now expanding into Europe and Asia.

The Unstoppable Growth of Pickleball

As of 2022, pickleball boasts of about 4.8 million participants in the U.S alone, with a growth rate of 39.3% over the preceding two years, according to the Sports and Fitness Industry Association (SFIA). In Europe, the game's popularity has been snowballing, with more European countries, including Spain, France, and the UK, increasingly adding courts and formalizing the sport through national associations.

The game's appeal lies in its social nature and its inclusivity, welcoming players from young children to grandparents. The pandemic even saw a surge in pickleball's popularity, thanks to its suitability for small spaces, including driveways, parking lots, and small gym spaces.

The Game Gear

Pickleball is played with a flat paddle that should not exceed 17 inches or 43.18 cm. The paddles come in different sizes and thicknesses to suit various styles of play. The ball used in the game is plastic and perforated with 26 to 40 holes, resembling a wiffle ball. It should measure 2.87 to 2.97 inches in diameter, or about 7.29 to 7.54 cm, and must be a single color, except for logos.

The Pickleball Play

Pickleball matches go up to 11 points, but a team must win by two points. The game starts with an underhand serve, crossing the net and landing diagonally into the opponent's service court. The ball is then rallied back and forth until a player misses. The serving team is the only one that can score points.

Pickleball's Health Benefits and Potential Risks

Pickleball isn't just fun; it offers significant health benefits. The sport is associated with lower levels of depression, improved cognitive performance, enhanced hand-eye coordination, agility, muscle strength, and cardiorespiratory fitness. However, like any sport, it carries potential risks, including accidental falls, strains, sprains, and tendonitis. Hence, it's essential to exercise care while playing and seek immediate medical attention for any injuries.

The Future of Pickleball

Pickleball's future looks bright, with about 70 countries having joined the International Federation of Pickleball. There's even talk of it being included in the 2028 Olympic games as a demonstration sport. In the U.S, the demand for courts is on the rise, with homeowner associations (HOAs) and hotels like the Ritz-Carlton and Marriott building or converting courts from tennis to pickleball.

In Europe, the game continues to gain momentum, with European countries building dedicated pickleball facilities and running national championships.

Embrace the Pickleball Obsession

Whether you're a beginner looking to learn a new sport or a seasoned player wanting to challenge your skills, pickleball is a perfect choice. With just a paddle, a perforated plastic ball, and a suitable court, you're all set to engage in this fast-growing sport and experience the joy it brings.

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