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‘Move over’ tennis! New England author explains why pickleball is America’s fastest growing sport

People play pickleball at a public court in Brooklyn, New York on September 16, 2022. - A game that's easy to pick up and more accessible than tennis, pickleball is all the rage in New York, as the sport snags investors and grows increasingly professionalized across the United States.
Ed Jones
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AFP/Getty Images
People play pickleball at a public court in Brooklyn, New York on September 16, 2022. - A game that's easy to pick up and more accessible than tennis, pickleball is all the rage in New York, as the sport snags investors and grows increasingly professionalized across the United States.

With over 48 million Americans reporting playing at least once in 2022, pickleball has now been America’s fastest growing sport for 5 years in a row. Courts are popping up everywhere, including the repurposing this summer of Connecticut's Stamford Town Center into “Pickleball America,” the nation's largest pickleball complex.

Longtime Guilford, Conn. resident Patrick Smith has written a new book called “Pickleball! The cCurious hHistory of Ppickleball.” He has a theory on why Pickleball is so popular.

“People are realizing that this is a very sustainable game as they move into their later adulthood,” Smith said. "Now the range of players in age of course now is from preschool kids almost to their grandparents, who are playing with them across the court.”

In 2022, the number of people who said they played the sport eight or more times in the last year increased 85% from the year before. That increasing popularity has attracted rich investors. Celebrities like Drake and Tom Brady have invested in Major League Pickleball teams. Smith said the benefits of Pickleball’s new higher profile outweigh any negatives.

“A lot of people play golf, and they're not all Tiger Woods,” Smith said. “There are a lot of people playing pickleball who are never going to make it onto the competitive circuit. I think it's [attention from celebrity investors] good for the sport to the extent that it will become more and more popular.”

Of course, Pickleball is not popular with everyone. Residents living near Pickleball courts have complained about the noise made from racquets hitting the sport’s plastic balls. And, tennis players lament that their courts are increasingly being turned into pickleball courts.

“There are going to be more and more pickleball courts built than there are tennis courts,” Smith said. And so it's a reasonable argument on the part of the tennis players to want to maintain the status that they have had for decades. But at the same time, time moves on, the sport moves on, and maybe it's time [for tennis] to move over.”

John Henry Smith is Connecticut Public’s host of All Things Considered, its flagship afternoon news program. He's proud to be a part of the team that won a regional Emmy Award for The Vote: A Connecticut Conversation. In his 21st year as a professional broadcaster, he’s covered both news and sports.