Most people have played– or at least heard of– badminton, handball, table tennis, racquetball and tennis, but not as many know of the sport that combines elements of all of them.
It’s called pickleball and it may be the most popular sport you’ve never heard of. But, as the fastest growing sport in America, according to Sports and Fitness Industry Association, that shouldn’t be the case for long.
“It’s addictive,” said Dayne Flock, director of Sports Ministry at Flower Mound’s Trietsch Memorial United Methodist Church. “It’s very, very fun. It’s great exercise. You can play it indoors, which is lovely. And it’s good for any skills, any age.
“It’s just gets people up and moving. You can play it for fun or be competitive with it. When you play, even for me, I can pick up a paddle and when I start playing, I know I’m not going to get any work done.”
Pickleball was invented in 1965 by three men in Bainbridge Island, Washington. According to Charlotte Rivera, district ambassador for the North Central and North East Texas Regions of the United States Pickleball Association, the sport has only been in North Texas for about 12- or 13-years; at first only in McKinney and Lewisville.
Since then it has expanded to multiple indoor locations, including Trietsch, the Cross Timbers YMCA, Flower Mound Community Activity Center (CAC) and the Frederick P. Herring Recreation Center in Lewisville. Outdoor courts are available at Highland Village’s Unity Park, Robson Ranch plus one in Lantana. Most feature three courts, with action occurring at some places only when school is in session as gyms are used for youth when out of school.
Today it has become everything from a fun pastime to a highly competitive activity; a sport that has grown popular with people of all ages.
“There’s a lot of target audiences in this sport,” Rivera said. “It’s very multi-generational. It’s one of the only sports I know where you can be playing with your grandkid or your grandparent.
“It’s easy to learn, but hard to master. I can teach someone how to play in 10 to 15-minutes no matter their athletic background. They can be a 65-year-old woman who has never played a sport or a 19-year-old guy who is super athletic.”
Pickleball features a smaller court and a lower net than tennis, with paddles a bit bigger than table tennis and a perforated plastic ball, similar to a Wiffle ball. Games typically take 15 to 20 minutes each, with the first team to reach 11 points and be ahead by at least two-points to be the winner.
Like tennis, games can accommodate two or four players. Unlike tennis, players must allow the ball to bounce once on each side before volleying.
It’s a fairly inexpensive sport too with nets averaging around $100, paddles ranging from $20 to well over $100 and balls costing a dozen for $20.
Linda Turk, coordinator for the Flower Mound Seniors in Motion pickleball program– conducted at the Flower Mound CAC—said about 25 to 30 people have played in the program for the past 10 years.
Much larger programs are at Robson Ranch– with about 500 people– and Trietsch– with 438, according to Flock. She said the church started offering a program in 2016 on Tuesday and Thursday afternoons and when it switched Tuesdays to the evenings, it took off to where Friday night and Saturday afternoons were added. Trietsch also added instructional classes about a year ago.
While people of all ages play pickleball, it seems to have a large following of seniors. Flock said 80-percent of players at Trietsch are between ages 50 and 70. But, Rivera said there has been a big push toward youth, with many school districts– including the Lewisville ISD– featuring pickleball in their physical education classes.
Jason Walter, executive director of the Cross Timbers YMCA, said it’s been available for more than eight years, although painted lines on the court were added only two years ago.
“It’s been more popular over the years,” Walter said. “It’s just growing awareness.”
“I found out there‘s more to this game than whacking the ball,” said Denton’s Paul Foxworth, who plays at the YMCA and Trietsch. “It’s like a chess game. Some players can place the ball. You can’t get to be a 4.0 (player rating) without a drop shot.”
Rivera believes the growth is based on increased awareness and increased skills of people coming into the sport. That includes a large influx of tennis players, which has helped raise overall skill levels.
“It’s just fun,” she said. “And, I think– because you are closer in proximity– it’s very social, because you can have commentary and talk friendly trash. I think that just lends to the socializing. And, like we have here at Herring is open rec play. Tennis doesn’t really have open rec play.”
Among the athletes coming from other sports is Highland Village’s Pamela Fontaine, a former Paralympic basketball and table tennis player. Another is Carrollton’s Gina Jenkins McWilliams, a former Paralympic basketball and sitting volleyball player.
Andre Chionh, a former badminton competitor, first played the sport in September 2018 and three months later asked if lines could be painted on a Lantana tennis court. He has a list of about 50 community members interested in playing.
“We’re trying to get a consistent play date, a day of the week, where we can play so we can get more people involved and more participation so the HOA can see the numbers and give us more than one court,” Chionh said.
“The game has evolved only in the last five years primarily in my opinion because a lot of people are starting to learn about it, the technology for the paddles and the balls has gotten better. Major manufacturers are now providing equipment and aiding the promotion of the sport. It’s all about commerce.
“You have a sport popular with senior citizens and young alike, because people of different ages can compete fairly competitively. The sport will continue to grow.”