Pickleball has proven popular with older people in the US and Australia. (Wikimedia Commons: The Villages Florida)
Australians love their sport, but in a crowded market dominated by the likes of footy, soccer, netball and rugby, is there room for one more?
The rules of pickleball
- The rules of pickleball are predominantly the same as tennis or badminton
- Scoring is most similar to badminton — so you can only score a point while serving
- The ball has to be hit three times before it can by volleyed (hit before it bounces)
- You cannot volley the ball while standing in the area closest to the net (called the kitchen)
- Serving must be underarm
How about pickleball?
In the US, where it is often described as the fastest-growing sport, there are reportedly more than 3 million pickleball players.
In Australia, the 2007 census found 3.8 million Aussies played organised sport.
Since pickleball came to Australia just three and a half years ago, the sport has been picked up by about 1,500 people and is growing fast.
But what is pickleball?
Described as a cross between tennis, badminton and table tennis, the sport was created in 1965 by a group of friends in Bainbridge Island, Washington.
Eager to play badminton one afternoon, but unable to find a shuttlecock, they improvised by grabbing some table tennis paddles and a wiffle ball (a plastic perforated baseball), and lowering the net on the badminton court.
Pickleball is played with a perforated plastic yellow ball known as a wiffle ball. (Wikimedia Commons: Stephen James Hall)
The key to the sport’s growing success can be found in that afternoon.
While the inventors — Joel Pritchard, Bill Bell and Barney McCallum — initially thought it would predominantly keep the kids entertained, it proved ideal for young and not-so-young players alike.
Since then it has taken off in the US, with part of its success coming from its all-ages appeal, with its small court and slow-moving ball making it particularly popular in retirement villages.
There is also a growing elite level of the game.
Pickleball Down Under
The sport came to Australia via Gabi Plumm, president of the Pickleball Association of Australia.
She learnt the sport while visiting her son Morgan Evans in the US three-and-a-half years ago.
Evans won the 2016 US Open Pickleball Championships.
“[He] said ‘I think you should do this because it will be easier for you to play than tennis’ which is very true,” Ms Plumm said.
“My first comment was ‘we should be playing this in Australia’.”
Since returning to her home in Cairns, the game has steadily grown as Ms Plumm has spread the word of pickleball.
“It’s not gone crazy but it’s growing quite dramatically,” she said.
“We now have several locations around the country where the game is being played.
“There are two very large groups in Western Australia. There’s a tennis coach who teaches pickleball in Melbourne.
“[There’s] another lot that are just starting up in Warrnambool. In Sydney we have seven groups so they’ve got hundreds of players down there.
“In Brisbane there are I think five different groups playing at least five times a week, likewise on the Gold Coast and Sunshine Coast, and then we’ve got several retirement homes that have got purpose-built pickleball courts for their people.”
Ms Plumm said the simplicity of the game probably explained part of its appeal.
“It’s such an easy game to learn,” she said.
“It is possibly one of the easiest games in the world to learn.
“Within 10 minutes you’re on a court playing with people who have been playing for some time.”
A growing game
Warrnambool sports enthusiast Val Bertrand is helping to spread the word.
Ms Bertrand was so taken by the sport that she has been hosting come-and-try sessions in the sports stadium named in her honour.
Val Bertrand has brought pickleball to Warrnambool after enjoying playing the sport in the US. (ABC South West Victoria: Daniel Miles)
“I went visiting to California last year and my friends there were playing pickleball … and I joined in and I loved it right from the start,” she said.
“I thought I was the only one that knew about it [in Australia], but we have an Australian pickleball association.
“I think it’s got a great future [in Australia] because it’s good for kids, it’s good for hand-eye co-ordination [and] I think it’s good for older people.”
Ms Plumm said more and more of her time was being taken up by pickleball, thanks to growing interest from people like Ms Bertrand.
“Two years ago [I got] maybe one [call] a month or an email,” Ms Plumm said.
“Now I’m getting an email about it or a call about it every other day.
“As long as that goes on happening, it will go on expanding.”
The first national pickleball competition will be played at the PCYC Marrickville in Sydney on October 13–14.