The rise of pickleball and padel

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https://www.bbc.com/sport/tennis/63502926

It’s a long read but interesting article nonetheless about the rise of pickleball and padel.

Here’s hoping ITTF understands *SPIN* being the key differentiator in table tennis and taking care to move our sport forward accordingly - keeping all types of styles relevant not just the double inverted attacking meta that dominates today’s game.

It’s the battles between attack vs defense that I most look forward to and makes our game special, otherwise why not just take up pickleball instead right?

Copy and pasted below, I hope I’m not in violation of any policies.

Venice Beach, Los Angeles.

The bohemian 'burb where seminal rock band The Doors lit their fire in the 1960s. Home to the bodybuilding boardwalk where Arnold Schwarzenegger began lifting his way towards superstardom in the 1970s.

It is an area which has always been seen as radical and unruly.

Now, nestled next to the Arnie-inspired weightlifters at Muscle Beach, among the thrift shops from where whiffs of incense and weed drift over, it is one of the places where you can often see the sporting craze creating a stir across the United States.

Pickleball.

Long seen as a leisurely recreation for older people, this hybrid of racquet sports boomed during the coronavirus pandemic and is the latest string-sibling to emerge from tennis' shadow.

Pickleball is the fastest-growing sporting activity in the US and the scenes of busy courts at Venice Beach - which have been predominantly used since the 1960s for paddle, another short-form game adapted from tennis - are being replicated across the nation.

"The tennis court is way too big and there's way too much ground to cover," says former Wimbledon junior champion Noah Rubin, who has switched from tennis' ATP Tour to take "a deep dive" into pickleball.

"I came across the pickleball court and, like so many others across the States, it clicked for me."

Combining elements of tennis, badminton and ping-pong, pickleball is played on a badminton-sized open court and with a lower net than tennis.

Players use solid paddles to hit a perforated and hollow ball, with the physics of the equipment limiting them to how hard and far they can whack it.

The smaller court means there is less running and more emphasis on hand skills.

One of pickleball's main marketing strands is stressing its fun and social benefits.

"You can play anywhere, you just need to throw down lines. It's a sport a nine-year-old can play or a 99-year-old can play," Rubin tells BBC Sport.

"There is nothing else like it. Pickleball is the most effortlessly accessible sport I've ever seen."

Almost five million people in the US played pickleball in 2021, according to research by the Sports and Fitness Industry Association (SFIA).

Over the past five years, the SFIA calculates the number of players has had an annual average growth of 11.5%.

Tennis, which has about 22.6 million players in the US, has seen an annual average growth of 4.9%.

"It is almost a cliche at this point that the pandemic did not so much create trends as much as accelerated them," says Tom Cove, president of the SFIA.

"Pickleball has grown in popularity for the past five years and did not miss a beat during the pandemic.

"Pickleball's growth trajectory gives every indication it will be a significant part of the American sport landscape for the foreseeable future."

[h3]From Eva Longoria to LeBron James - tapping into the power of celebrity[/h3]

Pickleball is not just growing rapidly as a participation sport.

Tapping into the power of celebrity and using smart social media strategies have been key in growing it as a consumer sport.

The biggest, richest and most high-profile professional league - Major League Pickleball (MLP) - has been expanded to 24 teams and many are backed by A-list ownership groups.

Four-time Grand Slam tennis champion Naomi Osaka and Wimbledon runner-up Nick Kyrgios have invested in a new Miami-based team alongside NFL superstar Patrick Mahomes.

Another expansion consortium includes legendary NFL quarterback Tom Brady and four-time tennis major champion Kim Clijsters, while basketball superstars LeBron James and Kevin Durant, plus actress Eva Longoria and supermodel Heidi Klum, are also putting in money.

There will be six events across the US for the mixed-gender teams and the prize money pot has increased to $5m (£4.1m).

The commercial growth is also enticing professional tennis players to switch over.

Recently retired American Sam Querrey, who notably beat Andy Murray to reach the 2017 Wimbledon semi-finals, is the biggest-name convert and will play in the 2023 MLP.

Rubin, set to compete in his first professional tournament at an Association of Pickleball Professionals event in Florida this week, started playing after becoming disillusioned with the grind of the ATP Tour.

"I was slowing down, I was exhausted with my mental and physical wellbeing, I needed to take a real break from tennis," says the 26-year-old American.

"My first feeling towards pickleball was jealousy. I thought 'why is this new sport taking over a century-old sport that I've dedicated my life to?'

"Then I took a deep dive into what pickleball is and I saw incredible marketing capabilities.

"The sport allows a diverse range of people to be part of it at every level, allows the fans to get rowdy and have fun, while also allowing the professional players to have a brand. There are fewer restrictions.

"I think tennis' restrictions are a struggle for the next generation to understand and a barrier to them playing."

[h3]The 'war' escalates but racquet sports 'can co-exist'[/h3]

Many people in the tennis community, fearing their sport is wrongly being painted as stuffy and out of date, feel threatened by pickleball's arrival.

There has been a backlash.

"I will never turn a TV on to watch pickleball. I would rather watch paint dry," tweeted Rennae Stubbs, the Australian doubles legend who was part of Serena Williams' coaching team at last year's US Open.

"Why all these tennis players think pickleball is worth investing in and not the game that made them all the [dollars] is beyond me."

Stubbs' views echoed the deep concern among some tennis communities that pickleballers are taking over their space.

A playground in New York City recently banned pickleball after what local media described as "months of conflict" between players and local parents.

The parents said their children were being driven away from the Seravalli Playground in West Village and forced action.

It is one example of a turf war in the US which the Guardian recently said is "escalating".

"Inclusive and diverse tennis communities are getting smeared as stuffy and conservative so that their courts can be ripped up and replaced," said Club Leftist Tennis, a Brooklyn-based group.

In Europe, similar discussions are taking place around padel.

Often simplified as a mash-up of tennis and squash, padel is played with a perforated bat on an enclosed court.

The bat is smaller than a tennis racquet but weighs slightly more, while the ball has a lower pressure and slower bounce. The court is also smaller and about a third of a tennis court.

Like pickleball, there is more emphasis on technical skills than physicality. It also attracts a celebrity clientele, particularly among retired footballers.

Former England captain David Beckham recently declared his "love" for padel, France legend Zinedine Zidane had courts built at his football centre, while their old Real Madrid team-mate Ronaldo recently competed in a 'Legends' event during the World Cup in Qatar.

Even greater affirmation came from another superstar this week. Tennis legend Roger Federer, who retired from the sport last year, posted a series of photos and videos of him playing padel with his former coach Severin Luthi.

Padel, developing into its modern guise in Mexico in 1969, is particularly popular in Spain and the nation has 20,000 courts, while tennis champions Rafael Nadal and Juan Carlos Ferrero have long incorporated it into their world-renowned academies.

In the UK, it is also starting to boom.

More than 200 courts have been built to serve about 90,000 active players with the Lawn Tennis Association believing padel can be a gateway into tennis, as well as continuing to grow in its own right.

Ferrero, who now coaches world men's tennis number one Carlos Alcaraz, agrees there is space in the racquet sport ecosystem for all the variants to thrive.

"I think they can coexist and make the other one improve," the 2003 French Open champion told BBC Sport.

"At my academy I see people going from tennis to padel, and also to start padel and then try tennis, and others that enjoy both.

"They are similar sports but their differences allow the athletes to find what adjusts better for their joy in each moment."

 
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From my point of view I don't see the appeal of Pickleball. There's almost no spin. There's no overheads, very little pace and mostly about drop shots. As stated before "I'd rather watch paint dry"! I can see it is very popular among the senior crowd since it's very easy on the body but for me it really helps to induce nap time.
 
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The lack of spin does give it a lower barrier of entry, though I don't understand the "most effortlessly accessible sport" part. You still need a court, a net, paddles and balls. Soccer just needs a ball and some space.
 
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It's funny how some "people" try to re-invent the wheel with "new" sports. I agree that since the introduction of the P ball TT has become way more physical, and not that much anympore about the spin first as it used to be with the 38mm cell ball. In that era there were indeed many more different styles. But it's still way more relevant than jumping to the net like *pickleball* (where are the pickles by the way hahaha) and waiting for the opponents to make an error forcing them to open the center of their side. I do not agree with the new rules in TT, specially the expedite system, but at least rallies between attackers or attackers vs blockers or attackers vs counter attackers are more full of surprises, seriously I'd start to yawn and even sleep watching a pickleball game for too long !

Pickleball is like tic-tac-toe to me, it's alsmost impossible to win a point until your oppponent makes an unforced error. Padel is way more interesting, it mixes squash and tennis with less physicality but way more variations than pickleball.
 
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I was the pickle ball champion in 8th grade. even beating the teachers. It's a fun sport to play, but table tennis is a million times more enthralling for me.

I heard a quote saying something like: pickle ball is easier for a group of friends to pick up and start playing and having fun. Table tennis takes more skill and is more difficult to compete in. I agree with this.

Edit: seeing people who have never played table tennis try to play on the tables we have set up at our local shopping mall is hilarious. Likewise, they are completely impressed by seeing me and my buddies do a simple loop. often times we get asked if we are pros (i'm just in the median of players at my own club lol)
 
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From my point of view I don't see the appeal of Pickleball. There's almost no spin. There's no overheads, very little pace and mostly about drop shots. As stated before "I'd rather watch paint dry"! I can see it is very popular among the senior crowd since it's very easy on the body but for me it really helps to induce nap time.

The appeal is that it is very easy to learn the technique and strategy and start hitting balls, which translates to having fun. Tennis or table tennis takes a lot longer to learn to actually start having consistently decent rallies and thus having fun.

With the current equipment, the slight spin is a necessary and important part of the game. Of course not as much as modern tennis; I would say it is similar to spin levels in old school tennis (wooden racquet era with continental grip forehand).

There are overheads, and offensive or defensive topspin lobbing is an effective strategy. Doubles pickleball is about getting to the net with a dropshot, and then the fun begins with a speedup and then fast paced close to the net badminton like firefight. Then, sometimes the loosing side backs up and has a chance for fun badminton like defense and possibly resetting to a neutral position.

I agree that currently it is not a great spectator sport, because spectators want fast balls immediately, whereas pickleball only offers fast ball exchanges during the kitchen firefight. But if you play pickleball, watching pickleball is really entertaining, because you play and understand the sport.

 
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The lack of spin does give it a lower barrier of entry, though I don't understand the "most effortlessly accessible sport" part. You still need a court, a net, paddles and balls. Soccer just needs a ball and some space.

Lack of spin does not give it a lower barrier of entry, rather inclusion of spin in table tennis gives it a higher barrier of entry. In tennis and tennis style sports, the incoming spin has a small effect on your stroke, and the topspin you put on your shot helps you control the ball more.

Compared to tennis (better comparison), it is the slow speed of the ball, easy to learn stroke mechanics of a paddle, and the inclusion of the non-volley zone that allows for dinking which gives it a lower barrier of entry to tennis.

It is not the most accessible sport in the sense that there are cheaper, less equipment, smaller space sports like cornhole. Perhaps it would be more precise to say it is the most accessible tennis derivative sport. Also, being the size of a badminton court, you can put 4 pickleball courts on the size of one tennis court. Nets are about $100, a ball is about $1, and a decent paddle is $100-$200 (the worst part of the sport currently. paddles ought to be no more than $50).

 
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> It's funny how some "people" try to re-invent the wheel with "new" sports.

As for inventing new sports, its no different than inventing new equipment; to create a different game with different mechanics. Imagine people being content with hard bat table tennis or wooden racquet tennis because those were the "right way to play those sports and trying something different would be stupid". Pickleball offers a type of badminton style tennis mixed gameplay which is unique and fun. Now you might say, just play badminton. But in America tennis is by far the more established sport (places to play, far more people knowing tennis technique, far more players), so a tennis style derivative is easier to popularize and establish itself.

> Pickleball is like tic-tac-toe to me, it's alsmost impossible to win a point until your oppponent makes an unforced error. Padel is way more interesting, it mixes squash and tennis with less physicality but way more variations than pickleball.

That's not true, you will start losing at the intermediate level if you don't start initiating attacks (speed ups).

 
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In my experience I think table tennis is as easy as pickleball for a group of friends to pick up and start having fun. Of course, the play will look nothing like "real" table tennis.

Table tennis does take alot more skill to get to a "confident with all aspects of the game" level.

Table tennis is definitely more difficult to compete in the sense that there is a higher skill ceiling in table tennis (Ma long, FZD, etc). But in terms of winning a pro event, pickleball is currently harder than table tennis, because there are three dominant players that pretty much win everything currently, and there are no lower level pro events like in table tennis with Contender or Feeder events to win. Even former top ranked pro tennis players like Sam Querry currently stand no chance in the pro tournament (unless he trains to get better).

 
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I have tried Pickleball and actually found it fun. It appeals to me because I used to play tennis before playing table tennis, but because I had injuries, I had to stop. Pickleball reminds me of tennis and how much fun I had and is on a lot smaller scale, with less stress on the body and smaller chance of injuries. Table tennis is still my goto.
 
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I have tried Pickleball and actually found it fun. It appeals to me because I used to play tennis before playing table tennis, but because I had injuries, I had to stop. Pickleball reminds me of tennis and how much fun I had and is on a lot smaller scale, with less stress on the body and smaller chance of injuries. Table tennis is still my goto.

Cool beans. Since you played tennis do you play a lot of singles pickleball? I play with some former D1 tennis players in the area and it is always a blast (and more exercise than doubles).

 
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Everything about Pickleball screams Boomer with a capital B. Not to complain, just that its appeal slants towards a very specific demographics. It was probably designed by Boomers for Boomers. I swear I will probably take up Pickleball once I reach Boomerhood.

p/s Joola USA is very clever. They have a Pickleball division. They know that the older TT players will gravitate towards PBall.
 
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Everything about Pickleball screams Boomer with a capital B. Not to complain, just that its appeal slants towards a very specific demographics. It was probably designed by Boomers for Boomers. I swear I will probably take up Pickleball once I reach Boomerhood.

p/s Joola USA is very clever. They have a Pickleball division. They know that the older TT players will gravitate towards PBall.

Actually, a fair amount of young people play pickle, and the pros are starting to shift to mostly 20s people as the sport becomes faster and more aggressive.

Nah, you will be playing TT until you die Gozo. In fact, I think older TT players would probably be less inclined to gravitate toward Pball. Also, Joola got into pickleball because they realize that there is a crap ton of money to be made due to popularity growth, nothing to do with table tennis.

 
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Speaking of barriers to entry. The higher the barrier the harder it is to learn obviously but that's what makes the sport interesting, fun and long lasting. How long can you play tic tac toe? It's super easy to learn but you get bored after 3 rounds. Golf takes years to learn and you never stop learning and improving.

Also if you play the sport you are more interested in watching. Before i played golf I would rather watch paint dry than watch a match. Now I understand all the strategy, shot making and hard work that goes into every shot the pros make.
 
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table tennis is a tough sport to master.
You think you doing well with your wins at the clubs, against your mates, against office co-workers
then a kid from Asia, comes and beats you out of no-where.

I spent the past 10 years between both west and east
both comes to a similar conclusion - the margin of error is just so low.
Time and technique is the key

If some one does 10 times more time and develops better technique, you will never be able to catch up.
It all comes to start very young. If you start too late, you will never catch up.

Having said that. I think for TT to be popular, you need to have a TT that is less reliant on time and technique.
otherwise, whats the point to compete?
USATT tournament limited to rating is maybe the best idea to have - play against the same level... but that is old school now.

table tennis live audience in China is dying.
pre covid, if you remove the "army" or "gov" workers that are your "rent a crowd" during the Chinese super league, you have max 1000 people in the audience.
In Germany, where the club culture is very strong, you will get more showing up.

Outside some countries in Europe and China, and a little bit of Japan, live audience is non existence.
So this just shows you, how popular table tennis really is. Its not.

So ITTF needs to do 2 things
1) WTT focus on pro TT
2) another company focus on TT for everyone.

It could be different equipment, different rules, different everything. Maybe yes. Its worth a think.
 
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Pickleball as a sport and organization has done something really important (at least here in the USA) that table tennis (and USATT) has NOT done.

Pickleball has seen a LOT of growth and has become much more desirable, popular and successful. Kudos to pickleball !!!

How many active members has USATT added in the 5 years? 10 years? 20 years? The answer is relatively few, if any at all (especially if you exclude lifetime members that are no longer alive).

How often do you see table tennis matches in the USA on mainstream TV? The answer is NEVER (or almost never).

Of course many members of the table tennis community are happy to bash pickleball and claim that its not interesting. The numbers tell a different story.

Therefore, lets hope that lessons can be learned from pickleball and that table tennis (and USATT) can do better. Maybe hire some pickleball people and benefit from their record of success in truly growing a sport at a fast pace. Lets not be jealous. Lets do better !!!! We all want to see lots of new clubs opening and succeeding and we all want to see table tennis grow as it truly is a great sport.

(by the way, these comments hold true for ITTF and other table tennis organizations).
 
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Pickleball as a sport and organization has done something really important (at least here in the USA) that table tennis (and USATT) has NOT done.

Pickleball has seen a LOT of growth and has become much more desirable, popular and successful. Kudos to pickleball !!!

How many active members has USATT added in the 5 years? 10 years? 20 years? The answer is relatively few, if any at all (especially if you exclude lifetime members that are no longer alive).

How often do you see table tennis matches in the USA on mainstream TV? The answer is NEVER (or almost never).

Of course many members of the table tennis community are happy to bash pickleball and claim that its not interesting. The numbers tell a different story.

Therefore, lets hope that lessons can be learned from pickleball and that table tennis (and USATT) can do better. Maybe hire some pickleball people and benefit from their record of success in truly growing a sport at a fast pace. Lets not be jealous. Lets do better !!!! We all want to see lots of new clubs opening and succeeding and we all want to see table tennis grow as it truly is a great sport.

(by the way, these comments hold true for ITTF and other table tennis organizations).

the thing about table tennis not being popular in the USA is there is very little money in the sport - comparing to baseball, basketball, ect.
it doesn't have anything to do with the sport itself.

 
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the thing about table tennis not being popular in the USA is there is very little money in the sport - comparing to baseball, basketball, ect.
it doesn't have anything to do with the sport itself.

How do you get money in sport?

you need target audience or viewership.

TT viewership has always been a problem for decades

 
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