Americans Are More Active, Thanks in Large Part to Pickleball

Tackle football participation, however, is down significantly in recent years.

People play pickleball at the Arroyo Seco Racquet Club in South Pasadena
The pickleball craze continues well after the pandemic.
MediaNews Group via Getty Images

The pickleball craze isn’t going away, even as society continues to put the pandemic in its rearview mirror. And that’s a really good thing. A study released this week by the Sports & Fitness Industry Association (SFIA), a global trade group, said that pickleball participation in the United States grew 51.8% between 2022 and 2023. It’s been the fastest-growing sport in America for three consecutive years with participation increasing 223.5% across that time period.

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If for some reason you’re one of the many pickleball haters out there, the SFIA study showed that alongside the sport’s growth, there’s also been a notable increase in overall activity participation, which of course means people are getting healthier. Last year, with pickleball leading the charge, 78.8% of Americans engaged in some activity one or more times, which was a 2.2% increase from 2022.

“The number of people that have participated in an activity has increased every single year for a milestone 10 years, growing by 5 million in 2023,” the SFIA report said.

Tom Cove, President & CEO of the organization, said in a statement accompanying the study that its data is “positive for the country and for our industry.” He added that the increase in activity on the part of Americans is not surprising because U.S. citizens “are valuing and pursuing active lifestyles post-pandemic.”

As Sportico pointed out in its coverage of the study (which includes some truly terrific graphs), nearly as many Americans (13.6 million) played pickleball last year as they did baseball (16.7 million) and outdoor soccer (14.1 million). The publication observed that individual sport activity participation, which jumped dramatically during the pandemic, still continues to grow. After a precipitous dip in team sport participation across the pandemic years, however, many of them saw an uptick in 2023. “Indoor soccer and team swimming led the way with increases of 6% each, and flag football was next at 4%,” Sportico wrote.

Among all the data points showing participation-rate boosts in certain sport activities, there are some that show stark declines. Between 2015 and 2023, participation in contact sports like tackle football and ice hockey have decreased by 31% and 22%, respectively.

It remains to be seen what kind of impact that will have on the popularity of those sports’ professional leagues, but more importantly, in a country where obesity rates also continue to grow, it’s great to see more people getting off their couches and hitting courts of some kind — even if to some, they look corny doing it.

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