Contrary to what some might think, pickleball is not new.
In fact, it was invented almost 60 years ago. Before it was “the fastest growing sport in America,” pickleball was just some game invented by some people in the Washington area.
It’s taken over a half-century to take over backyards and tennis courts around the United States.
But that’s not uncommon. For example, American football was created in 1892, but the NFL wasn’t formed until 1920 and really wasn’t considered popular until the late 1950s – or almost 60 years after it was invented.
Baseball, invented in 1839, took about 30 years to become a professional sport known as “America’s pastime.” Not many alive today can remember the formation and growing pains of these other national sports.
For pickleball, though, we are living it out daily. There are rule changes, tour wars, new investors, and countless new venues and content creators popping up regularly.
It may seem messy at times – hell, it is messy at times. But boy, is it exciting! So, today's question is, “Are we living in the greatest time for pickleball?”
Everyone is figuring things out together
From youth clubs and Pee-Wee leagues to varsity high school and college scholarships, most athletes spend their entire lives playing a sport before trying to turn pro.
It would be rare for an NFL player to say, “Oh yeah, I started playing football for the first time during the pandemic.”
Yet, that’s where we are with pickleball.
Sure, there’s the occasional pro who started before 2020, but plenty have only been dinking and driving the one-ounce wiffleball for a handful of years.
There is still so much for many of us to learn and new skills yet to develop, and we get to watch it unfold every tournament, even on the pro level.
Think about it. It wasn’t that long ago that we all had to learn what an ATP (around the post) was, and now it happens in almost every game – even at the recreational level.
Pickleball hasn’t been ‘solved’ yet
Pro and PicklePod co-host Zane Navratil likes to say, “When pickleball is solved," referring to shots or strategies that are still a work in progress. For the most part, the sports mentioned above have been solved. No major innovations are happening.
Instead, micro adjustments and tiny margins separate the best players or teams from the competition.
At some point, so much data will be available that premium strategies and techniques will emerge and become adopted by all pro players. That’s just what happens. Watching this unfold should be a whole lot of fun.
Paddle arms races and tour wars
Naturally, when money is to be made, many will chase after it.
Companies are making paddles and equipment that maybe shouldn’t (adios, Takeya). Multiple organizations are fighting to take control of the sport. But, again, this is no different than what happened with other sports.
Before the NFL, there was the AFL and the NFL. Eventually, they merged. Before Major League Baseball, you had the National Association of Base Ball Players (NABBP) and the National League of Professional Baseball Clubs (NL).
Today, we are blessed with the MLP, APP, and PPA. As mergers happen, dissolve, and then happen again, that can and will likely change.
Ten years from now, we might be talking about an entirely different organization at the top.
Regardless of how many paddle companies or tours there are, competition is good for all of us. It forces competitive prices. It makes the companies work harder to innovate. And it incentivizes those companies who “get it right.”
At the end of the day, this is what’s most important for those of us who live and breathe pickleball. We want a quality game with updated technology available at an affordable cost.
If there was only one to choose from, they could make our paddles out of whatever scrap material they wanted and charge outrageous prices for ho-hum tournament experiences.
Pickleball is everywhere right now
Okay, perhaps not everywhere, because so many more courts still need to be built. But, there was a time when those empty tennis courts were once full of rec tennis players, and ballfields were full of kids and teens living out their ballplaying dreams.
At some point, pickleball won’t be able to boast itself as the “fastest growing sport in America.” It’ll just be another sport.
Right now, across parks and pickleball clubs everywhere, you can find games almost any time throughout the day. You can watch it on YouTube, Instagram, or Pickleball TV if you can't play it. Content creators are making videos constantly.
Not a day goes by when I’m feeding my six-month-old at 5 AM that I can’t watch a new pickleball video to help me stay awake. That likely won’t always be the case. Attrition will happen. Those who are just hopping on trends will fade away. But right now, it’s awesome.
Anyone can be a star
It’s not just the pros who get to showcase their pickleball skills. Every day in my rec games, someone does something incredible or jaw-dropping.
Occasionally, I’ll even pull off an Erne or an ATP that gets a clap or a high-five from my opponent.
This is a sport where everyone can have an awesome moment, regardless of age, gender, or physical ability. Truly, anyone can be a star at pickleball ... at least for a point or two.