Have you ever heard of pickleball? It’s a sport that was invented more than 50 years ago and that has become a favorite with retirees and some celebrities in the past decade.
In American life, three sports play an outsize role: football, basketball and baseball. Around the world, soccer dominates. Are there other fun or thrilling or sports — like pickleball — that either should be played and appreciated more often or should be more widely watched on TV?
In “Pickleball Is Ready for Prime Time,” Todd Plummer writes about the growing popularity of the sport during the coronavirus pandemic:
There’s a moment in the most recent season of “Curb Your Enthusiasm” when the character Hal Berman (Rob Morrow), seeking support for his ill father, tells Larry David that the point of country clubs is to feel a sense of togetherness in a time of need.
“I joined for the golf,” Mr. David, who plays himself on the show, counters plainly. “And you know what? I’m enjoying pickleball, too.”
Invented in the summer of 1965 on Bainbridge Island, Wash., pickleball is played with a Wiffle ball and is a cross between tennis, badminton and Ping-Pong. It has long enjoyed a cult following on the fringes of American sporting life.
Over the last decade, however, it’s grown in popularity as a racket sport with a lower barrier to entry than tennis that offers recreation without the years of fine-tuning it might take to play competitively. The nets are lower than in tennis and the courts are roughly one-fourth the size, so there’s less sprinting involved, and it has become a favorite with retirees and some celebrities.
The actor Matthew Perry, who before his starring role on “Friends” had been a nationally ranked junior tennis player in Canada, picked up pickleball during the pandemic. “I don’t move around as well as I used to, but I saw my friend Amanda Peet talking about pickleball on a talk show and I was like, ‘I have to try this,’” he said. He now plays several times a week.
The U.S.A. Pickleball Association estimates that more than 4.8 million Americans played pickleball in 2021. And as it expands, there are more opportunities to engage with the sport.
Students, read the entire article, and then tell us:
What other sport do you think should be more popular? Why do you think it is underrated or overlooked? What qualities make the game fun and compelling? If you had to design an advertisement to promote your sport to the public, what would be your tagline or slogan?
What sports and recreational games have you been playing during the pandemic? Have you started any new ones? Has it been difficult to be physically active the past two years?
Have you ever played pickleball? If so, was it enjoyable? Challenging? If not, does reading the article make the sport sound fun or intriguing? Do you think you might want to play it in the future? Why or why not?
The article says that pickleball was previously confined to retirement communities and the fringes of American sporting life. Do you think it will continue to catch on and become mainstream? Will it ever rival basketball, tennis or golf in popularity?
The article describes pickleball as “a cross between tennis, badminton and Ping-Pong.” Now it’s your turn: Propose a new sport or a mash-up of old ones. What would be the goal of the game, the equipment needed to play and the number of players required? Make an elevator pitch to sports aficionados or sports companies on why they should play or invest in your new game.
Students 13 and older in the United States and Britain, and 16 and older elsewhere, are invited to comment. All comments are moderated by the Learning Network staff, but please keep in mind that once your comment is accepted, it will be made public.