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Pickleball explodes in popularity, starting turf wars

Pickleball rises in popularity
Inside the rising popularity of pickleball 08:46

Over the past few years, and particularly over the past 12 months, a once little-known sport called pickleball has exploded in popularity, gaining new players from diverse populations and age groups across the United States.  

But with its broad new fan base have come some growing pains for the game, such as players competing for limited recreational space in cities and noise complaints from residents living close to courts.

No "physical prowess" required

While it's only recently come to the forefront of pop culture, pickleball has existed for more than 50 years, according to Carl Schmits of USA Pickleball, the sport's governing body in the U.S.

One reason why so many people have joined the pickleball craze: It's easier to learn compared to sports like tennis, golf and squash. 

Played on a badminton-sized court with a net that's slightly lower than a tennis net, with a plastic ball and solid paddles, pickleball combines elements of other racquet and paddle sports like tennis, badminton and pingpong.

Pickleball courts open at Wollman Rink in Central Park
Fourteen new pickleball courts open at Wollman Rink at the Central Park in New York City, United States on April 10, 2023. Fatih Aktas/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images

"I think one of the reasons why it's become so popular is because it's got a very low barrier to entry," Schmits told CBS News. "It doesn't take a lot of physical prowess to get started. You can play it at your own pace regardless of your fitness level," he added. 

It's also a "social" sport, and a way to build community, Schmits noted.

"Like sweaty chess"

Pickleball and community organizations are working to build new courts to meet the sudden rise in demand.

In New York, CityPickle, which calls pickleball "a sport for everyone," recently installed 14 courts at Manhattan's Wollman Rink in Central Park, making it one of the largest pickleball arenas in the country. 

The sport requires mental focus and agility as well, once players learn the basic rules of the game. 

"There are layers of strategy to the sport," Schmits said. "It becomes a little bit like sweaty chess."

Pro athletes take notice 

Big names in sports have either tried their hand at the game or invested in teams and leagues, further raising its profile. 

Inaugural 2023 Pickleball Slam
Michael Chang and John McEnroe at the Inaugural 2023 Pickleball Slam at the Hard Rock Live at Seminole Hard Rock Hotel & Casino in Hollywood, Florida on April 2nd, 2023. / Getty Images

Basketball phenom LeBron James, Super Bowl champion Tom Brady and tennis hall-of-famer Kim Clijsters have all invested in the sport

And tennis legends John McEnroe, Andre Agassi, Andy Roddick and Michael Chang recently traded their rackets for paddles to compete for a $1 million prize in an exhibition match in Las Vegas. 

Inaugural 2023 Pickleball Slam
Andre Agassi and Andy Roddick at the Inaugural 2023 Pickleball Slam at the Hard Rock Live at Seminole Hard Rock Hotel & Casino in Hollywood, Florida on April 2nd, 2023. / Getty Images

"The last 12 months have been staggering in terms of the number of names that have come into the sport," Schmits said.

Competing for courts 

In New York City, community boards have taken up complaints from parents of school children who say their youngsters now compete for public park space with pickleball players. In Florida, Colorado and elsewhere, residents who live near courts have complained about noise, calling the thwacking sound paddles make when they whack the ball — which measures at around 70 decibels — a nuisance. 

Several cities in Colorado have either put restrictions on or closed courts over noise complaints from nearby homes. 

Schmits said the ideal solution is to create "purpose-built facilities" designed exclusively for pickleball to serve fans. Other solutions include expanding existing facilities and converting or rehabbing underused tennis and basketball courts for pickleball, he said. 

Up next for USA Pickleball is the launching of programs to recruit youth to the sport. 

"For children, we believe there's a number of new programs that we're launching that will continue to feed the lower demographic age groups and continue the sport's growth over time," Schmits said.

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