Most pickleball players are shocked to learn that the world was first introduced to pickleball in 1965. With just over two million players in 2019, the sport was largely a sleeping giant known mostly as a game for retiring seniors. The sport grew dramatically over the last four years and especially so during the COVID-19 pandemic. John and Karen Whitaker, pickleball enthusiasts and founders of dink.pro pickleball apparel are a part of the “pandemic surge” which saw this quirky game become a national obsession. Why did pickleball, more than any other sport, see such an explosive spike in growth? We asked John and Karen to share their thoughts on this topic, and why they see such a bright future for the sport. They narrowed it down to these three reasons:
- Access – During the most restrictive phase of COVID, overly zealous safety precautions saw basketball hoops removed, parks locked and chained, tennis nets removed – the ability to “play” was suddenly taken away from us. John and Karen, like thousands of others, realized with pickleball you can set up a court on the street, in an open parking lot or wherever you find an open slab of concrete. People who had never heard of the sport were suddenly creating their own make-shift courts, ordering paddles and whiffle balls, and off to the races they went!
- Learning Curve – The game is easy and fun, and while it takes a lot of hard work and consistency to become an advanced player, beginners can learn the basics of the game in no time. “Easy to learn, difficult to master” is how most describe it. Karen explains, “Before we even knew the rules and nuances of the game, we were having a blast. With the extended free time during the pandemic, it wasn’t uncommon for us to play five or six hours a day ~ your game improves dramatically in a short time!” Anyone with a racquet sport background found an immediate transfer of skills, whether they came from tennis, table-tennis, badminton, paddleball, the learning curve is quick. For those with no background in racquet sports, there is more work involved to become “great” but you can be “good” relatively quickly.
- Investment – Any sport that requires equipment will have a wide range when it comes to cost. Pickleball beginners can find their initial equipment (for two) for as little as $29. As you advance, so does the price of your “weapon,” but still pales in comparison to the financial commitment needed for golf, baseball, hockey, football, even tennis. More important to John, however, was the investment of time. “I used to be an avid golfer, but as our family grew it became a real challenge to carve out six hours on a Saturday. When we discovered pickleball, it may have been the first time all four of us (the Whitakers have two sons, age 18 and 21 respectively) could play together, even if only for an hour.”