The sport is pickleball – a hybrid of tennis, ping-pong and badminton that’s played on a court roughly half the size of a singles tennis court. The whiffle-type ball used is lighter than a tennis ball, and players are armed with a shorter, lighter paddle that's only slightly bigger than one used for ping-pong. Pickleball doesn't require as much running back and forth as tennis does, can be played indoors or out, and players claim it's an easy sport to learn with an uncomplicated scoring system.
The ease and simplicity of the sport are, in part, why U.S. pickleball participation among those 6 years and older steadily rose by an annual average of 11.5% from 2016 to 2021, growing from close to 3 million players to nearly 5 million over that span, according to data provided by the Sports & Fitness Industry Association. The sport gained additional momentum as COVID-19 lockdowns encouraged recreational opportunities closer to home, with participation surging by nearly 40% between 2019 and 2021.
In January of last year, The Economist dubbed pickleball "the fastest-growing sport in America," with Vanity Fair reporting in October that Leonardo DiCaprio, Larry David, Melinda Gates, Jamie Foxx, Giuliana Rancic, and Amal and George Clooney all engage in the sport. The same article references Los Angeles-based pickleball pro Matt Manasse’s reputation as the “pickleball coach to the stars," but Manasse insists the sport is appealing far beyond the glitz and glamor of Hollywood.