By Abby Bustin
Pickleball, one of the fastest growing sports in America, is expanding in Chicago, but with new players and new courts, this has some wondering: what is pickleball, and why are so many people playing? Medill Reports’ Abby Bustin set out to discover the history, rules and future of the game.
Abby Bustin: WELCOME TO MEDILL NEWSMAKERS. I’M ABBY BUSTIN.
ONE OF THE FASTEST GROWING SPORTS IN AMERICA IS EXPANDING IN CHICAGO.
BY 2025 CHICAGO’S PICKLEBALL PLAYERS WILL HAVE 50 NEW COURTS TO PLAY ON.
NOW, YOU MIGHT BE ASKING, WHAT IS PICKLEBALL AND WHY ARE SO MANY PEOPLE PLAYING THIS SPORT? WELL, LET ME EXPLAIN.
IT ALL STARTED IN 1965, WHEN U.S. HOUSE OF REP. JOEL PRITCHARD, BUSINESSMAN BILL BELL AND HANDYMAN BARNEY MCCALLUM WERE LOOKING FOR A GAME THE WHOLE FAMILY COULD PLAY. THEY HAD AN OLD BADMINTON COURT, SOME PING-PONG PADDLES AND A WIFFLE-LIKE BALL, SO THEY THREW IT ALL TOGETHER OVER A WEEKEND … AND BAM!
PICKLEBALL WAS BORN, AND BY 1990 PICKLEBALL HAD SPREAD TO ALL 50 STATES.
Ernie Medina: When the temporary net was made, then all of the sudden you see it start increasing because now you can play it in a parking lot or driveway or a tennis court — and you didn’t need anything special; you know, I mean, you had the net. So from that point, it really took off.
Bustin: TODAY, MILLIONS PLAY PICKLEBALL AROUND THE WORLD. THE ASSOCIATION OF PICKLEBALL PROFESSIONALS REPORTED THAT MORE THAN 36 MILLION PEOPLE PLAYED PICKLEBALL IN 2022.
THIS WAS IN THE U.S. ALONE!
ONE REASON FOR THE LARGE POPULARITY?
WELL IT TURNS OUT THE RULES ARE QUITE SIMPLE.
I HIT THE COURT WITH CERTIFIED PICKLEBALL COACH JOHNNY MCKERR, AKA PICKLEBALL JOHNNY, TO SEE WHAT THIS GAME IS ALL ABOUT.
PICKLEBALL, A GAME EVERYONE CAN PLAY — KIDS, PARENTS AND EVEN GRANDPARENTS.
ALL IT TAKES IS A PADDLE, NET, PLASTIC BALL AND A FEW FRIENDS.
Johnny McKerr: Generally speaking, this game is played in doubles so that means two against two. But you could also play in singles. But I wouldn’t recommend you play in singles unless you really play a lot because it’s very demanding physically.
The games are up to 11, and each point is a point. Now, what makes it unique is that when you play pickleball, generally, you only score when you win a point when you are serving. Then there are a couple other rules, but it is very similar to tennis.
Rajat Sinha: One of the things that I love about this sport is that a very big age group can play it. I see people who are maybe 70 years old playing with people who are 18 or 17 in this club, so there is a lot of age mixture, and there’s a lot of diversity too because of that. That makes the sport more unique than any other sport.
Nick Padgett: I do it for the exercise. I do it for the fun, the competitiveness.Yeah, it’s a great game. It’s easy to learn, and yeah, I just enjoy it.
Bustin: BUT ONE OF THE BEST THINGS ABOUT PICKLEBALL IS ITS COURTS.
A PICKLEBALL COURT CAN BE SET UP ANYWHERE!
YOUR DRIVEWAY! THE GYM ! OR EVEN A DESIGNATED PICKLEBALL COURT!
A TYPICAL COURT HAS TWO SIDES DIVIDED BY A NET.
THERE ARE FOUR LINES, THE BASE LINES, THE SIDELINES, THE CENTER LINES AND THE NON-VOLLEY ZONE LINES, WHICH OUTLINE WHAT IS KNOWN AS THE “KITCHEN”
THINK OF IT AS THE FLOOR LAVA YOU COULDN’T STEP ON AS A KID!
McKerr: What I see more than anything is it’s a very rich community. People are getting together. Older people and younger people are getting together. People are mixing; it’s very inclusive. So people that are great athletes could play with people who are not great athletes. It’s a sport that is very easy to manage and very easy to learn.
Bustin: NOW THAT WE KNOW HOW TO PLAY, LET’S DIVE INTO THE BENEFITS OF THE GAME.
USA PICKLEBALL BOARD MEMBER ERNIE MEDINA SAYS THE SPORT HAS SO MUCH TO OFFER.
THE IDEA BEHIND MOST SPORTS IS COMPETITION AND PHYSICAL EXERCISE.
PICKLEBALL HAS BOTH!
BUT MEDINA SAYS THIS PADDLE SPORT HAS MENTAL HEALTH BENEFITS TOO.
THERE ARE FIVE CHARACTERISTICS THAT MAKE A SPORT GOOD FOR THE BRAIN, MEDINA SAYS.
ONE, THE SPORT CAN BE PLAYED OUTSIDE.
TWO, YOUR CARDIOVASCULAR SYSTEM CAN BE ELEVATED, AKA YOUR HEART RATE CAN GO UP.
THREE, YOU HAVE TO USE YOUR BRAIN IN ORDER TO PLAY THE GAME.
FOUR, THE GAME HAS A SOCIAL ASPECT.
AND FIVE, IT CREATES A HEALTHY ADDICTION.
Medina: When you think about pickleball, pickleball checks off all five of those boxes. Now, I’m not saying that other sports don’t do that, but pickleball fits all of those five really nicely. So from a mental health standpoint, pickleball is huge.
Bustin: WITH OVER 80 MEMBER COUNTRIES AND COUNTING REPRESENTED IN THE INTERNATIONAL FEDERATION OF PICKLEBALL SPANNING ACROSS AT LEAST FIVE CONTINENTS,THERE IS NO DOUBT THE GAME HAS TAKEN THE WORLD BY STORM, AND MEDINA SAYS HE BELIEVES IT’S ONLY A MATTER OF TIME BEFORE PICKLEBALL IS SEEN IN THE BIGGEST INTERNATIONAL SPORTING EVENT: THE OLYMPICS.
Medina: You know, every year they are saying this many thousands of courts are being built, and I just think this thing is exploding. I keep seeing this growing because there’s so many people playing than we even have courts facilities for. So I just see it growing, especially in areas that may not even have a pickleball presence yet.
Bustin: BUT ON A LOCAL SCALE, PICKLEBALL IS PICKING UP HERE IN CHICAGO.
THE CHICAGO PARK DISTRICT IS SET TO BUILD 50 NEW PICKLEBALL COURTS BY 2025. BUT 16 OF THOSE COURTS MIGHT BE COMPLETE BY THIS FALL.
THE COURTS WILL BE IN GRANT PARK AT THE CORNER OF COLUMBUS DRIVE AND EAST NINTH STREET, JUST SOUTH OF BUCKINGHAM FOUNTAIN.
THE NEW ADDITIONS ARE EXPECTED TO HELP BALANCE PICKLEBALL’S GROWING DEMAND IN THE CITY.
FOR MEDILL NEWSMAKERS, I’M ABBY BUSTIN.
Abby Bustin is a video & broadcast graduate student at Medill. You can connect with her on her website abbybustin.squarespace.com