Pickleball for All

Pickleball – that game with the weird name that blends tennis & ping pong and is played mostly by retirees, right? Not so fast. According to the Sports & Fitness Industry Association, pickleball is the fastest growing sport in America and topped 8.9 million participants in 2023. And it's not just grandma and grandpa hogging the courts these days. In fact, today's average pickleball player is in their mid-30s, with the under-24 demographic showing one of the fastest growth rates. This youth movement is adding energy and excitement to an already fun-filled, sociable sport that people can't help but fall in love with. A single lesson with an experienced player can have you well on your way to becoming the next pickleball pro. That's because the bright colored ball is easy to strike, the court is relatively small (44' x 20'), and the rules of the game are simple.

Whether you're playing singles or doubles, a point begins with an underhand serve that has to bounce on the receiver's end of the court, then the return has to bounce on the server's end of the court. After that, the ball can be struck before or after it bounces. In the midst of a rally, however, a player can't strike the ball without it bouncing first if they're in contact with the non-volley zone ("the kitchen"), an area spanning 7' back from each side of the net. This rule prevents players from standing at the net and simply spiking the ball as a volleyball player would. It also introduces a strategic element into the game, with many rallies played out by players hitting numerous short, soft shots ("dinks") in an effort to outlast their opponents. Mix in an occasional shake-n-bake, Bert or Ernie, or ATP and you're playing like a pro!

Perhaps one of the best things about the sport is how enjoyable it is to play with people of any age, skill, or ability level. Young and old, novice and pro, standing and seated can all come together, four at a time, to play a game of doubles. In fact, a player in a wheelchair can roll onto a court with three standing players with almost no modification to the rules or gameplay. The only significant difference for a seated player is the allowance of an additional bounce of the ball (two bounces instead of one). This easy integration makes for an ideal opportunity for players in wheelchairs to share the game with family and friends on a recreational level or to move in a more competitive direction by entering the world of tournament play.

Two men playing pickleball

Wheelchair pickleball, specifically, is on the cusp of the growth that pickleball as a whole has been experiencing over recent years. More and more seated players are showing up at their local courts, and wheelchair pickleball events are beginning to pop up at tournaments across the country. The sport's governing body, USA Pickleball, has demonstrated its desire to see this area of the sport expand, as evidenced by their recently held Atlantic South Regional tournament in Macon, Georgia. Brackets were included for wheelchair singles, wheelchair doubles, and hybrid doubles (one standing, one seated) with eight players attending from six states across the country. Tournament organizers were adamant about wanting to continue building these events in the future, but also encouraged players in wheelchairs to enter standard tournament brackets if/when wheelchair-specific brackets aren't available, meaning no tournament is off-limits.

For those who may have a love of sport but aren't necessarily able to participate in pickleball on a physical level, there are ample opportunities to become involved in other ways. For instance, USA Pickleball has a superb officiating program to train and educate new referees. As a referee, one can become a vital part of the pickleball community and be involved in the on-court experience regardless of their athletic ability level. Additionally, tournaments across the country require volunteer participation in order to succeed and continue growing the sport. Working as part of a planning team, tournament desk operations, or tournament hospitality are great ways to be around the game and meet many of the wonderful people pickleball draws into its orbit.

Pickleball referees

No matter how one chooses to be a part of the sport, the benefits of pickleball are numerous. Many people get involved in an effort to increase their physical activity level. Others seek out the sport as a way to meet new people. For some, it's as simple as just wanting something new and fun to do. The great thing is that all of the benefits become yours when you decide to pick up a paddle: physical strengthening, cardiovascular health, mental/emotional health, and social engagement. Pickleball makes us better as individuals and strengthens our communities by bringing us together from all walks of life. If you'd like to discover the best way for you to become involved in pickleball, visit USApickleball.org to learn more.

About the Author

Anthony Ryan

Anthony Ryan is an avid pickleball player and the first wheelchair user to become a USA Pickleball-credentialed referee. He resides in Gulf Shores, AL with his wife and twin toddlers. When he isn't playing or refereeing on the pickleball court, he enjoys participating in various other sports, relaxing with his family at the beach, and searching for the perfect slice of pepperoni pizza.

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Date: 2/5/2024 12:00:00 AM

Jamie Elliott
I played in a wc hybrid tournament, Mid South, last yr. He is an amazing player and I’m sure he is helping opening many doors / Gates, for us wc players. I’ve been cin CTA ting many TD’s to get us in to play, aling with getting into Nationals, which was an Exhibition only. We are “rolling along”
2/18/2024 12:31:44 PM
Elaine Cook
Great article written by a wonderful Christain man. You're such an inspiration!!!
2/8/2024 9:32:02 AM
Diana Weaver
I enjoyed reading your article. I'm thankful I had the opportunity to play with you as my pickleball partner in Daphne at Lott park last year. You are a awesome player. Keep up the great work, hope to see again in Daphne
2/7/2024 5:05:16 PM

Latest Comments

4/16/2024 | José Díaz
Invaluable resource! ¡Tu guía sobre el uso de GoFundMe para gastos de movilidad ofrece consejos p...

2/18/2024 | Jamie Elliott
I played in a wc hybrid tournament, Mid South, last yr. He is an amazing player and I’m sure he i...

2/8/2024 | Elaine Cook
Great article written by a wonderful Christain man. You're such an inspiration!!!

2/7/2024 | Diana Weaver
I enjoyed reading your article. I'm thankful I had the opportunity to play with you as my pi...

1/10/2024 | Mary Goldberg
Thanks to Tyler for sharing the awesome opportunities! As the MRT Program Director, I'm always ha...

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