Pickleball is the fastest-growing sport in America. If you’re looking for an easy sport to pick up that’s loads of fun and inexpensive, pickleball is the sport for you.
After playing 29 USTA league tennis matches in 2022, my shoulder, knees, and feet began to break. The wisest thing would have been to take time off to heal.
However, I need to play sports to feel happier. If only there was a low-impact sport that also has a wonderful community. Enter pickleball!
Let me share with you why pickleball is one of the best sports today. I’ll also share some downsides, explain the rules and suggest some equipment.
Why You Should Play Pickleball
1) Pickleball is easier on the body.
Pickleball is a low-impact sport that can be played by more people. You will regularly see people in their 60s and older play pickleball because they can. The court size is only 44 feet long and 20 feet wide, or about 1/4th the size of a tennis court. Hence, there is much less ground to cover.
Due to the smaller court and slower pace, you don’t have to be fit to play pickleball either. Of course, being fit helps, but it’s not a prerequisite to play.
I estimate pickleball has only a 30% impact on your body vs tennis. As a result, you will experience fewer injuries for the same amount of time you spend playing. Alternatively, you can play pickleball two-to-three times longer than you can play tennis before you start feeling similar aches and pains.
2) Pickleball is more inclusive.
More people can play pickleball because it requires less space, is easier on the body, and there’s a lower skill hurdle to start playing. Within two hours maximum, you’ll be able to learn how to regularly hit a Pickleball back and forth with a friend.
I taught my 77-year-old father how to play pickleball within 30 minutes. He was the one who taught me tennis. Pickleball is also easier to teach young children how to play than tennis. I’d say learning how to play pickleball is as easy as learning how to play soccer.
Because pickleball has only recently become more popular, there is much less snobbery on the courts. There are few 5+-year veterans who aren’t willing to play or drill with you.
Sure, I’ve encountered high-level players who didn’t want to play with me when I first started out. One was even a guy my tennis doubles partner and I beat 6-1, 6-1 years ago. He didn’t recognize who I was. I’m coming for you, Mark!
There was another time when I asked a good player at a public park whether I should put my paddle down to try and compete against better players. He said, “You could, but they’ll look at you funny and may even walk away.” Ouch! But playing up is one of the best ways to get better.
In general, 95% of the Picklers I’ve encountered are quite friendly. Even if you’re a high-level player playing with a low-level player, you can always work on different shots.
Another reason why pickleball is more inclusive is that you can play at public parks for free. You don’t need to be a member of a private club to play. Golf costs $80+ a round and lift tickets for skiing/snowboard are now $150-$200 a day!
3) Short wait times.
Once you get to a park that has pickup pickleball, all you’ve got to do is put your paddle down to get the next game. If there are four or fewer paddles on the fence or leaning up against the net, then you’ve got next.
The longest you’ll ever have to wait to play is about 15 minutes. But the average wait time is under 10 minutes. While you wait, you can stretch, check work e-mails, or meet new people.
For people who don’t like to play and don’t like to schedule meetings, pickleball is the best.
4) Easy to meet new friends.
Pickleball is mostly played as pickup doubles to maximize court usage. As a result, you can constantly meet new people in a relatively small amount of space. Due to relatively fast games that last around 10 minutes each, you’re also frequently meeting new people. It’s almost like speed dating!
Eventually, you’ll find people you connect with. From pickleball, you’ll discover shared interests like work, family, education, other sports, and more. If you’re feeling lonely, there’s no easier way to meet people of all types.
Within three months of playing pickleball, I’ve met a startup CPO, an unemployed college grad, a health and fitness instructor, many retirees with pensions or Social Security, a fellow starving writer, a couple of Googlers, and even a billionaire.
One of the greatest things about sports is that it doesn’t matter who you are, how much money you have, or what you do. We’re all equal on the court or field.
5) Inexpensive to play.
More pickleball courts are being painted on more public parks all across the country. You just have to show up and you can play for free.
Regarding equipment, you can buy a great starter paddle for under $60. I went with the Head Radical Elite. And I’m sure you can buy used paddles for as little as $20.
A three-pack of Franklin balls costs about $8 and can last over 20 games if you’re a beginner.
As you get more advanced, you can buy more expensive paddles from Pursuit, Joola, and Selkirk.
6) Pickleball is great for your mental and physical health.
Getting sunshine and moving your body for at least 30-minutes a day is a must if you want better health.
When I sustained painful tennis injuries, I felt more grouchy when I could no longer hit. Even though I made lemonade by writing more posts and recording more podcasts (Apple), my creative activities only replaced about 65% of the joy I gained from playing sports.
Pickleball will give you something to look forward to. And when you look forward to doing something, like going on a fabulous vacation, you’ll also get more excited with anticipation.
Perhaps you’ll want to work on your backhand dinks. Or maybe you’ll want to work on your spin serve. Having something to look forward to brings joy!
If you continue to eat the same, the more you exercise, the better shape you will get into. Thanks to pickleball, I was able to finally lose five pounds after five years in a row of failing!
Here’s the ideal weight chart by height, sex, and frame if you’re interested.
7) Excellent couples activity.
If you’re looking for a new activity to do with your significant other, pickleball is a great solution. Given the game is so easy to pick up, even if one partner is much more athletic than the other, you’ll be able to have fun quickly.
After playing together for a while, you can each split up to play with new people. Due to short games, you can then partner up to play against another pair. You can probably find new couples to play with as well.
15 years ago, I tried to regularly play tennis with my wife who is a beginner. However, after five sessions, we threw in the towel. I wasn’t having much fun and she felt too much pressure. However, with Pickleball, we’re both having a lot of fun.
As a parent, one of the biggest conundrums I’ve discovered is that most parents don’t play sports, yet most parents aggressively push their kids to play sports. What happened? Pickleball can help bridge this inconsistency because it’s so easy to learn.
8) Wonderful work from home activity
One of the best things about working from home is not having to work as much. Work life balance is so much better without a commute and endless meetings.
As a fake early retiree, I’ve been able to regularly play between 10 am until 2 pm during the weekdays. During this time, I’ve met and seen plenty of under 35-year-olds playing.
Because you don’t have to wait longer than 10-15 minutes to play a game, people with day jobs can easily play several games in one or two hours. If you are a quiet quitter who isn’t interested in aggressively climbing the corporate ladder, pickleball is for you!
If I was working in finance again, I’d try to get as many clients as possible to play. I’d offer them free instruction if they are new players. Then I’d take them out for a lunch and a beer after! What a perfect two-hour business outing!
The Biggest Downsides To Pickleball
Now that you’re all pumped up to play pickleball, let me share some downsides of the sport as well.
1) Potential Injury
As with playing any sport, the biggest downside to pickleball is injury. I had a partner pop his calf muscle while lunging for a short ball. He was out for the next two months. I’ve seen people trip, fall, and not get up for five minutes. I’ve also met players with pickleball elbow.
Based on my sample set, the one common denominator for those injured is older age. Every injured person was over 55. Sometimes, our minds are stronger than our bodies.
Please remember to stretch and play within your limits. You can get injured at any age.
The other downside to pickleball is the noise. When you’re playing, the sound of the ball hitting the paddle is pleasant. At least the noise doesn’t bother you while you’re immersed in the action. But if you happen to live near a pickleball court, the sound might drive you nuts.
Here in San Francisco, there’s a popular park that hosts pickleball next to $20+ million mansions. I’m impressed the neighbors haven’t put up a stink. But it’s probably best for their reputation as it would look like entitled rich people complaining.
If a pickleball court suddenly gets drawn or built near your home, your home’s value might decline by 5% – 15%. Some people will simply refuse to buy a home that’s close to so much noise. It’s kind of like how some people simply will not buy a home that has experienced a death or suicide.
3) Human conflict
Another downside to pickleball is conflict. When interacting with others, it is inevitable you will play with or against someone you don’t like. There will be line-call arguments, bad sportsmanship, people who will ostracize you, partners who will blame you for losing, and more. It comes with the territory of playing pickup pickleball in a public park.
Just the other day I was playing with this guy who blamed me for not putting an overhead away. This is despite him making five errors in the last eight points. It would have been better if he had complimented our opponents about their great defense.
When you play with someone who has low emotional intelligence, it is not a pleasant experience. However, the good thing is you can easily find a new parter for the very next game.
You could join a private club to surround yourself with better-mannered people. However, private clubs cost money and there might not be one around.
4) You might get addicted
By definition, addiction takes loving something too far to the detriment of yourself and to others.
My shoulder has not healed during my time off from tennis because I ended up playing 8-10 hours of pickleball a week for two months. Now I’m even experiencing snapping hips on occasion.
When my 5.5-year-old didn’t want to go outside to ride a bike after opening a present, I didn’t put up a fight. Instead, I went to play pickleball without feeling much dad guilt. I tried! Before my addiction, I would have reasoned with him to come outside and play before the rain.
When I was injured in the past, I would spend more time writing Financial Samurai newsletters. I might have even sent more media outreach or business development e-mails. Now, even with an injury, I just go play with my left hand to save my right shoulder! Money be damned!
I’m assuming my pickleball addiction will eventually fade. But maybe not for a while as my next step is to play tournaments.
The Battle Between Pickleball and Tennis
Due to the growing popularity of both tennis and pickleball, there is a growing battle for court space. Even though four times more people can play pickleball in the space covered by one tennis court, I don’t think tennis courts should be removed for pickleball courts.
The ideal solution is to build more pickleball and tennis courts. It’s a similar idea to building more homes and making the permit process easier if the city wants more affordable housing. Of course, building more of both courts is easier said than done given they cost money and take time.
Hence, the second-best solution is to paint pickleball court lines on existing tennis and volleyball courts. Then have dedicated times for each sport, including reservations. Everybody makes a compromise.
For tennis players who are dissatisfied with the growth of pickleball, I say give the sport a try! You might be surprised at how much you enjoy the sport.
Below is a picture of the ultimate compromise: four dedicated Pickleball courts and one dedicated tennis court.
The community aspect of pickleball is my favorite part of the sport. Yes, you will encounter the occasional arrogant player who is overly competitive. But for the most part, the vast majority of people I’ve met playing pickleball have been great.
My hope is that pickleball sportsmanship continues to be top-notch. This means:
- Welcoming players of all skill levels who would like to play.
- Calling balls correctly and replaying a point if there is conflict.
- Providing tips, strategies, and rule clarification when asked.
- Not blaming your partner when they make a mistake, but encouraging them instead.
- Try to split the teams as evenly as possible to make the games closer.
- Being a gracious winner and loser.
At the end of the day, 99.99% of recreational athletes are not going pro. We’re just playing to have fun, get some exercise, and meet some new people. Hence, the nicer we can treat each other, the better.
Personally, I plan to play pickleball until I die. I’m thrilled to have found a low-impact sport I can play in my 50s and beyond. My only regret is not trying the sport sooner. Long live pickleball!
Head Radical Elite – An excellent beginner-to-intermediate paddle for under $60. Paddles prices go up to $250. I’ve got the neon green version. You can check out Engage, Joola, and Selkirk paddles once you get better.
Franklin Balls – The balls used in official tournaments. Each ball should last you at least five games, if not much longer. Mark your ball so you don’t lose it.
Primetime Pickleball – Great instructional videos on Youtube for beginners.
Enhance Pickleball – More great instructional videos on Youtube as you get more advanced.
Scoring system: There are three numbers to say before every serve. The first number is your team’s score, the second number is the opponent’s team score, and the third number is either a 1 or a 2, indicating the server in doubles. Games are to 11 and you must win by two.
You can only win a point when you are serving. A sideout is when the ball goes to the other team to serve. The starting team only gets to have one server, therefore, the server would say, “0,0,2” or “0,0, start.”
Readers, any pickleball players out there? What are some other great activities you can do with your significant other with dissimilar athletic skills? Are there any more upsides or downsides to pickleball I haven’t mentioned?
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Featured image credit: Margaritaville USA Pickleball National Championships, Indian Wells Tennis Garden