The Fastest Growing Sport In The Nation?

Did you ever play tennis, or maybe ping pong? Perhaps you’re among the limited number of badminton players here in the US. If you check any of these boxes, or even know somebody who does, chances are that you’ve heard someone rave about their new favorite sport: Pickleball. It is a game frequently described as a mashup of the top three racket sports, and ever since it started really taking off in popularity during the pandemic, the players love to talk about it.

A Sudden Rise In Popularity

A 2023 report from the Association of Pickleball Professionals (APP) showed that 36.5 million people in the US played the game at least once within the past year. 8.5 million people reported that they were active players (8+ games) within the same period of time. In 2022 the sport was already the fastest growing sport in America over the previous two years with a 39.3% increase in popularity from 2020-2021, but the increase in popularity over the course of 2022 was absolutely staggering. In a one year span of time the number of active players nearly doubled with an 85.7% increase from 4.8 to 8.9 million people according to the Sports and Fitness Industry Association (SFIA).

In the face of such staggering statistics, many people are wondering how a game that they had never heard of gained such rapid growth in popularity. Pickleball’s sudden rise to fame is attributed to a few factors. Namely, accessibility to people of all ages is a big selling point. Due to the smaller size of the court, the game tends to have a much lower impact on people’s bodies than other racket sports requiring a lot of running like tennis. This and the fact that the rules only take a few minutes to learn, make it just as fun of a sport for the elderly as it is for younger players. The low price point of a set of pickleball paddles and the availability of many free courts means that trying out the sport isn’t a big investment, but what likely had the most significant impact on the number of players is the social aspect of the game. The smaller courts and slower pace of the games allows for more talkative players to banter a little before their serves and people often enjoy chatting in between games. For many Americans that felt a desire for more social interaction brought on by the pandemic, pickleball has filled that void. Perhaps the social aspect of the game is why players are so eager to tell you all about it!

How To Play:

The Goal

Score 11 points before your opponent(s) to win the game.

Scoring Points

Points are only awarded to the serving team when the receiving team makes a “Fault,” which means that either they failed to return the ball or committed a rules violation. There are a few different circumstances that can result in a Fault:

  • The ball bounces a second time before being returned
  • The ball lands outside the court
  • The ball fails to make it over the net
  • A player touches the ball with a part of their body instead of the paddle
  • A player or team hits the ball twice on a single return
  • A player returns the ball while standing in the “No Volley Zone” or “Kitchen” before it has a chance to bounce
  • The receiving team fails to let the ball bounce once after the serve

In addition to the causes of faults listed above, the serving team receives a Fault for the following violations:

  • The serving team fails to serve into the opposite side of the opponent’s court
  • The serve lands inside the No Volley Zone 
  • The server fails to stand outside the back of the court for the serve
  • The server fails to serve underhand and below the waist
  • The serving team fails to let the receiving team’s first return bounce once

Key Rules:

The No Volley Zone / Kitchen

This is the divided area at the center of the court surrounding the net. A player is not permitted to return a ball while they are standing within the Kitchen, although they may step in the zone to return a ball that has already bounced once on their side.

Two Bounce Rule

On the serve and the first subsequent return, each team must let the ball bounce once before striking it with their paddle. This rule is in place to eliminate any advantage gained by the serving team. After each team has returned the ball once, players are free to strike the ball before it bounces on their side if they wish.

Rules For Service

The first serve from a team always comes from the right side of their court. If the serving team wins a point, they must serve the next serve from the opposite side. A serve must be made underhand from outside the back of the court and must land within the section on a diagonal to the server.

  • Singles: When playing singles, if the serving player causes a Fault, their opponent immediately gains service of the ball.
  • Doubles: When playing doubles, each teammate has an opportunity to serve before the opposite team gets service of the ball. This means that after the serving team misses a point, the serve transfers to their teammate (The second server). At the point that the second server fails to score a point, service is transferred to the opposing team.

Keeping Score & Winning By Two

Normally games go until one team reaches 11 points, but in the event that the score becomes tied at 10 points (10-10), a team must make it to 12 in order to win by the necessary 2 points. During a match teams keep score by listing first the serving team’s score, followed by the receiving team’s score, and finally the number of the current server if playing doubles.

In this example (1-2-1) the serving team has 1 point, the receiving team has 2, and the serving team is on their first server. If this team causes a Fault during their service, no points are awarded and the serve passes to the second player (1-2-2). In the event that the serving team wins the rally, they gain a point and the server stays the same (2-2-1). For singles games, the score is simplified to two numbers (Ex: 0-0) since each player is only given one opportunity to serve.

Where To Play In Houston

Pickleball courts have been popping up all over the place across the country, and there are many businesses that will happily sign you up to reserve one of their courts for a price, but did you know that there are several locations around Houston where anyone can try the game out for free?

There are a few indoor courts at community centers around the city that have “Open Play” at specific times throughout the week and quite a few outdoor courts that are available on a first come first serve basis. Information on each recreation center’s schedule is available on The City of Houston’s Website. Alternatively, lets you find open courts by city, state, or zip code, and the Pickleball+ App is another great resource for locating pickleball courts around the city.

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