Having more than 4.8 million participants nationwide, and a growth of 39.3% over the last two years, pickleball is the fastest-growing sport in America for two years running, according to The Sports & Fitness Industry Association.
It is because of this growth that “navigating the pickleball craze” was the latest topic for our Thought Leader’s panel. One key discussion point: Why is the sport so popular?
“If you cut to the chase, it’s super fun,” said Eric Schmitz, the president of California Athletic Clubs and a panelist. “So many different types of people can quickly have fun and be together. Pickleball doesn’t have quite the learning curve of tennis. But if you think of all the things the sport offers, literally just having fun is the biggest one.”
Another driver in the pickleball craze? The inclusive environment.
“The pickleball community has been super welcoming of new people, and that’s not always the case with a lot of things,” said Janet Warner, the executive director of fitness services at The Alaska Club, during the panel. “I think that welcoming environment and community — the ability to be a part of a club — is meeting a lot of needs.”
While pickleball is a great offering for attracting and retaining members, it also comes with challenges.
Some facilities — including some on the panel — are adding the offering by converting tennis courts into pickleball courts. However, panelists warned tennis players feel threatened that if you convert the courts to also include pickleball, their courts will be taken away. To combat this, Warner suggested communicating what your schedule is so members know or can look on the website or app. “This is key to managing expectations and preventing frustrations,” she elaborated.
Another pickleball challenge is the noise that comes with it.
The ball hitting the paddle can be noisy, but the main sound hurdle is members getting rowdy over how much fun they are having. While this can be bothersome to members, it can also help get more people involved.
“The sound is a challenge, but it can also be a blessing,” said Andrew Gunberg, the executive director of Cedardale Health & Fitness and a panelist. “The sound of people playing and laughing has attracted people to the courts to go watch and then eventually play.”
There are a few things to consider before adding pickleball, such as:
- What are the possibilities of providing court space regardless of surface?
- How will you work it into your schedule?
- How can you get the community involved?
But the good news is that it doesn’t require a ton of money or work to get the fastest growing sport up and going.
So, it seems time to bring it to your club. “The only thing you can do that’s not right, is not offer it,” said Schmitz.
Learn more by watching the full roundtable below.