Pickleball grew in 2021 to 4.8 million players in the U.S. according to the Sports & Fitness Industry Association’s 2022 Topline Participation Report.
That equaled a two-year growth rate of 39.3% which supports the fact pickleball is the fastest growing sport in the U.S.
Where did this growing sport come from? According to USA Pickleball, the sport was invented in 1965 on Bainbridge Island by three dads — Joel Pritchard, Bill Bell and Barney McCallum — whose kids were bored with their usual summertime activities.
While the sport has been around for quite some time, it has evolved from original handmade equipment and simple rules into a popular sport throughout the U.S. and Canada.
If your rec center hasn’t been paying attention to pickleball, now is the time. As such, Carolyn Cornelison, the assistant director for Recreation and Intramural Sports at Agnes Scott College, shared about their pickleball program below.
Campus Rec Magazine: Why do you all offer pickleball and what does that offering look like?
Carolyn Cornelison: I brought pickleball to Agnes Scott in 2015 because I knew it was fun, easy to learn and quirky. I purchased the nets that could be used for both badminton and pickleball. It was first introduced to my Physical Education (PE) badminton and tennis classes as a day to learn something new. Many of our students enjoyed it.
We also started offering a weekly drop in to the gym to play at noon once a week for students, faculty and staff. We currently still offer drop in pickleball weekly but out on the tennis court. Each semester the badminton and tennis classes play several times a semester. I am going to the curriculum committee this summer to get pickleball approved as a PE credit.
CRM: What has been the response to pickleball on your campus?
CC: Anyone who tries it, loves it. We are a small women’s college — 900-plus students — with a rigorous academic curriculum. Most of our students tell me they don’t play sports and I assure them it is a game —giant ping pong.
We have seen a gradual increase in the number of students asking about it and wanting to try it. We have a dozen or more staff that play and this works well with introducing our students to staff they may never see. For example, our Information Tech staff may meet a neuroscience student.
CRM: What advice would you give to other professionals looking to offer pickleball on their campus?
CC: Just do it. Find a place in any open area and start showing students what the equipment and game looks like. Introduce it to student groups as a fun social event. We are offering it as part of our Wellness month to faculty and staff while providing popsicles. We include it as part of our equipment check out service. Dropping the tennis net down two inches by moving the strap over and playing within the service lines is a good way to start with a court. We now use throw down lines for play.
Be sure and emphasize the sportsmanship and social aspect of the game while watching that the super competitive — i.e. tennis/racket sports enthusiasts — don’t scare students away. Offer clinics so they can learn the sport at different levels. I introduce all games to my students by carrying the equipment around with me all day. I promote it in the student center and dining hall by making announcements.
Introduce it to all of your staff first. The buzz of pickleball is word of mouth. Good luck and have fun.