Pickleball is America’s fastest growing sport. These people hate it


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Pop. Pop. Pop. Pop.

The sound and disruption of Pickleball, America’s fastest growing sport, is driving some neighbors, tennis players, parents of young children and others insane.

Homeowner groups and residents in dozens of cities have rallied to restrict pickleball play and block the development of new squares. They petition, file lawsuits, and speak out at council and town hall meetings to slow the audible spread of the pickleball craze across the country.

According to the Sports & Fitness Industry Association, a trade group, pickleball players grew 159% in three years to 8.9 million in 2022.

Rapid expansion has left public parks and recreation areas with dilemmas that must balance competing interests with often limited space and funds. Retirement communities and country clubs also face the challenge of making room for people to enjoy the game, a scaled-down version of tennis with a smaller court, without upsetting others.

Pickleball is America's fastest growing sport.  It drives some people insane.

Pickleball can be noisier than tennis because the game can fit more players into the same area as a tennis court. Hits during a pickleball rally are also more common than tennis. And it’s a more social sport, so games tend to be louder and players joke during and after points.

Rob Mastroianni, a resident of Falmouth, Massachusetts, sold his home and moved after the city’s recreation department built pickleball courts 350 feet from his home in a residential area.

“It’s percussive pop. It permeates the air and carries,” he said.

He and a group of neighbors eventually filed a lawsuit against the city’s appeals commission last year, alleging that the Pickleball courts violated city ordinances that ban “harmful and obnoxious noise levels on a daily basis.” Her suit said the noise from the game was “considerably noticeable [their] quiet and peaceful enjoyment of their respective homes.” (They have obtained a restraining order and the courts are currently closed.)

“It’s hard to play Pickleball,” Mastroianni said. “But at the end of the day it led to mental and physical health issues as the neighbors bumped into each other.”

“The constant banging 12 hours a day, 7 days a week is borderline torture,” wrote a resident who lives next to a park in Vienna, Virginia, to the city parks department. “We can no longer use our outdoor area and we can’t open our windows because of pickleball.” The city voted last month to limit pickleball in local courts from seven to three days a week.

Some tennis players are also frustrated with Pickleball taking over the tennis courts. The tennis industry has taken note and is working with parks, recreation departments and other facilities to ensure pickleball doesn’t also slow tennis’s popularity. According to the United States Tennis Association (USTA), the number of tennis players increased by 33% between 2019 and 2022.

“I say, if Pickleball is so popular, they should build their own courts :)”, says tennis star Martina Navratilova tweeted last year.

USTA, the governing body for US tennis, has issued guidelines with best practices to ensure the two sports can coexist and keep up with demand.

“In an ideal world, tennis and pickleball have their own spaces,” said Craig Morris, USTA’s chief executive of community tennis.

And some parents are pushing back because their kids have less space to play at the park as pickleball crowds grow.

“Players now endlessly swarm the playground every day,” reads a petition in New York City to ban pickleball at a local playground, with more than 3,000 signatures. “The children have been squeezed out and many have stopped going there altogether.”

Pickleball, which combines elements of tennis, badminton and table tennis, started in 1965 but has only recently taken off.

It originally gained a following in senior communities, where it was popular for its social aspect and exercise benefits. The ball moves slower than tennis and the court is half the size, making it easier to play. It is also accessible to a wide range of ages and the rules are simple.

The game grew in popularity during the Covid-19 pandemic as people sought safe, socially distanced ways to get outside. Celebrity supporters like Tom Brady and increased media attention have also fueled the sport’s rise, and gyms and parks have built new spaces to meet the demand.

The game can be played in singles or doubles, indoors or outdoors on a 20 x 44 foot court – about the size of a badminton court – and lasts until a side reaches 11 points. Many people play on tennis courts that have been modified with lower nets and extra lines.

As the sport has grown, so has the number of playgrounds.

According to USA Pickleball, the sport’s national governing body, there were 11,000 pickleball venues at the end of 2022, an increase of about 130 new venues each month.

Players use a perforated plastic ball, which is slightly heavier than a wiffle ball, and wooden or composite bats, which are about twice the size of table tennis bats.

Pickleball players love the “pop” of their picks as they smash the plastic ball, but the same sound can be annoying to others.

“Cities shouldn’t just convert tennis courts to pickleball. If they do that without paying attention to noise, they’re likely to have unhappy people,” said Bob Unetich, an engineer by training who founded Pickleball Sound Mitigation, a consulting firm that helps communities, country clubs and angry neighbors reduce noise advises the game. Unetich, a trained pickleball umpire and avid gamer, has advised over 100 clients.

People play pickleball at the former Allendale Park tennis courts in Pasadena, California, in 2022.

When multiple games are running simultaneously, there can be multiple “pops” every second, Unetich said. Cheap pickleball paddles and balls are often the loudest.

The “pitch” of pickleball hits is also more annoying to people than a stringed tennis racket colliding with a soft tennis ball, he said. Tennis and some other common sports sounds are usually deeper than pickleball.

New and existing pickleball sites need to consider background noise, Unitech said.

If pitches are built near houses, they should block noise with barriers, force the use of quieter racquets and balls, or limit playing hours, he said.

“I’m a pickleball proponent, but when it’s right across from people’s houses, it’s quite a problem,” he said. “The right solution is often to put the dish somewhere else.”

Pop. Pop. Pop. Pop.

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