The Unstoppable Force of Pickleball

by Jeff Weiss

In 2019 I wrote a piece on the growing popularity of pickleball with Active Agers.  Back then there were approximately 2.8 million pickleball players in the US alone, with 75% of “core” players aged 55 and over. It is a great activity for Active Agers who either still play tennis or who can’t play anymore due to mobility issues, as well as for those who just want to get some exercise, socialize and have fun.

Almost three years later it is estimated that more than 4.2 million Americans are playing pickleball, making it the fastest growing activity in the country. It’s no wonder that Vanity Fair  published an article titled, “How Pickleball Won Over Everyone From Leonardo DiCaprio to Your Grandparents.”

Besides DiCaprio, pickleball is being enjoyed by a wide variety of celebrities including Jamie Foxx, Owen Wilson, Larry David and Melinda Gates – the latter two are prime examples of Active Agers, at the ages of 74 and 57 respectively. Pickleball courts are popping up at clubs and private homes across the country. Even the Kardashians got in on the craze.

Fast forward another two years and it is estimated that a whopping 35 million people will be playing pickleball across the country. It continues to grow at an incredible pace and there are even talks about it becoming an Olympic sport at some point. And while the sport is now being played by people of all ages, its growth continues to be driven by older adults, many of whom have never held a racket in their hands before.  This is not surprising as it is a fun, social and  inclusive activity that is easy to learn and relatively cheap to play. And while it is resulting in an influx of injuries to those who play, the physical nature of it will help older adults stay healthier and happier longer.

In a recent trip to Hilton Head, SC, I had the opportunity to play pickleball at Palmetto Dunes. While they are considered one of the top tennis centers in the country, make no mistake, pickleball now rules at this resort. They have 24 dedicated pickleball courts with a wide variety of programs offered throughout the day.

My wife and I registered for the morning round robin and it was a good thing that we did so in advance instead of just showing up. All 96 available spots had been accounted for well in advance and everyone showed up on time in fear of getting bumped off by someone waiting in the wings. This crowd was ready to go.

I looked around to assess the players and I didn’t see one person under the age of 50.  The split between men and women was fairly even and there were individuals of all shapes and sizes.  Yet we all had one thing in common — we were all highly competitive and no one wanted to lose, regardless of their experience and playing ability.

We played several games over a 90-minute span and I must admit that I was pleasantly surprised by the high quality of play from everyone who was there. Sure there were some people who played at a higher level, but no one looked out of place either. It was a fun experience and we got to meet many new people who all shared a joy for this relatively new activity.

With approximately a third of Active Agers either playing or wanting to play pickleball in the future, some of the major sports brands like Adidas, Wilson and Head are finally leaning into the sport and selling paddles, shoes and attire that not only help people to play better but also to look good on the court.

If you are interested in exploring how you can take advantage of opportunities related specifically to pickleball or how to uncover unmet needs that can make your products or services more usable, desirable and marketable to older adults, contact me to schedule an initial exploratory call.

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