Here’s a question for you: What is the fastest growing sport in Canada?
Ask anyone enthusiastic about their own little-known recreational outlet and they’ll likely state that it’s theirs in a jovial attempt to initiate more players into their ranks.
In the case of pickleball, however, major American news stations picked up on the sport in mid-March of 2014 with the claim, and since then the paddle-based sport has grown with steady attention across a global audience.
“It’s the fastest growing sport in North America,” states Stewart Young, who's with Midland-area pickleball players group.
Young, 65, and his wife Allanah moved to Midland full-time last year upon retirement. A former tennis player since his youth, Young was glad to become immersed into the similarly-inclined activity.
“It’s a welcoming sport. People at all levels are welcome, and everybody finds a place to play. People split off and find groups they’re comfortable playing with.”
Pickleball is its own unique paddle sport, having been invented in Washington State during the summer of 1965 by a group of friends who couldn’t find their badminton equipment. Improvising from things around the yard, they cobbled together some do-it-yourself paddles, a makeshift ball, lowered the net and made a day of it.
The circular holes of the pickleball itself differ from a whiffle ball’s oblong perforations, and the pickleball has a little more weight to it as well. Likewise, the standard paddle resembles an enlarged version of a ping-pong paddle, ranging from inexpensive wood for beginners to the pricey carbon-fibre models. Add in an underhand serve and a double-bounce rule to keep things slow, and the pickleball rules are set to go.
“The courts are busy, seven days a week,” Young notes. “A typical week— with COVID we’re still playing singles so we have less players— we have about 15 players versus 30-plus last year, running from 8 o’clock in the morning through to 11.
"They’re starting to show it on television now,” he adds, referring to an April 2019 story where U.S. Open tennis stars joined in for some pickleball action.
As for playing costs, the Midland Area Pickleball Club requires an annual membership fee to play on indoor courts at the North Simcoe Sports and Recreation Centre as well as Tay Shores Public School in Victoria Harbour. Renovated outdoor tennis courts around the municipalities are free to enjoy.
For Midland’s Tiffin Park, “players raised the money to renovate the courts,” says Young, “where in Penetanguishene, the town paid for the cost of that. It shows you that there’s a commitment to the sport that people reached into their pockets and came up with the cost of the court renovation.”
The dedicated group of athletes, mostly the age 65+ demographic, are filled with people who enjoyed playing tennis in their earlier years. The lower-impact gameplay of pickleball allows for a fully-ranged workout as with other racquet-type sports.
However, pickleball has suffered during the coronavirus pandemic just like all other group sporting activities.
“Midland’s being a little slower— and I’m not criticizing them for that at all. They’re being conservative because they’re thinking of everyone’s health, they’re being cautious and I think that’s fair game.
“They’re following provincial regulations, so they’re not allowing team sports, they haven’t allowed doubles play; it’s only been singles play. Typically with pickleball, there’s so many people who want to play that you almost always play doubles. So with COVID-19 regulations, we’ve been limited to playing singles. It’s ticked a lot of people off, wanting to play doubles, but I think it’s been a wise move."
For a game still in its relative infancy, there is quite a bit of momentum in its popularity to be appreciated, and there’s nothing underhanded about that.
For more information about the local club, click here.