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The City Journals

Pickleball: The Great Equalizer and The Great Obsession

Jun 29, 2016 10:21AM ● By Sarah Almond

Advanced pickleball players volley during their final Friday match. Residents around the Holladay community are encouraged to drop by and try out the sport Monday through Friday from 8 a.m. until 11:30 am. —Sarah Almond

By Sarah Almond | [email protected]


I began working for “My City Journals” shortly after moving to Utah in June 2015. After writing about different sports around the community for nearly a year, I noticed one sport in particular that kept rising to my attention. It wasn’t the success of a high school football team; it wasn’t the growing popularity of road biking; it was pickleball.

 “Pickleball is a game that everyone can play,” John Tateoka, the recreation program coordinator at the Holladay Lions Recreation Center, said. “You could be a small kid or you could be 80 or 90 years old, and you will enjoy it.”

 Dave McIsaac, a regular pickleball participant at the Holladay Lions Recreation Center, elaborated on reasons behind the growing popularity of the sport.

 “It’s fairly easy to play,” he said. “You may not go out and play with the stronger guys right away, but you can start having fun playing it pretty quick. It’s not like golf or tennis where you have to take lessons and things to get better; with pickleball you can just bring some friends and all get better at the same time.”

 Since the Holladay Lions Recreation Center established designated pickleball courts more than three years ago, Tateoka and other program coordinators at the center have seen a significant rise in popularity and participation.

 “We run pickleball pretty much every day of the week except for Saturdays,” Tateoka said. “And we typically have about 60 to 80 people show up on these drop-in days.”

 With six courts total at the Holladay Lions Recreation Center, Tateoka says it’s not uncommon to have eight teams waiting for their turn to play.

 “That’s 32 people waiting to play, with around 30 already playing,” Tateoka said. “So the sport is definitely growing.”

 Member of the USA Pickleball Association (USAPA) Mike Nielsen quotes CBS Sports when saying that there are currently two million people currently playing pickleball nationwide; by 2020 this number is predicted to quadruple to nearly eight million players across the U.S.

 “It has the fun of tennis without the pain,” Nielsen said. “But it’s still very fast; very quick. It’s an easy sport to learn, but it’s pretty difficult to master because of all the rules.”

 Nielsen, who credits the growth to the sport’s fun yet competitive nature, affectionately refers to pickleball as “the great equalizer” because of the athletic presuppositions that the sport contradicts.

 “In pickleball, a small person has an advantage over a larger person,” Nielsen said. “I did a tournament over Thanksgiving and the women’s teams beat everybody. So it’s really the great equalizer.”

 With recreation centers in Sandy, Murray, South Jordan, Millcreek, Cottonwood Heights and other nearby communities also offering drop-in pickleball opportunities, residents all over the Salt Lake Valley are participating and promoting the sport.

 “I think the draw is the popularity of the people,” Tateoka said. “I kind of relate it to golfing: if the golf course is busy, other people are going to realize that it’s a great course and come out to play. It’s the same with pickleball.”

 Tateoka says that many pickleball participants at the Holladay Lions Recreation Center said they heard about the sport via word-of-mouth.

 “Some of my old tennis players started playing it [pickleball], and they told me about it,” McIsaac said. “Two years ago I’d never even heard of it and now I play all the time.”

 McIsaac, a former tennis aficionado, was drawn to the sport’s active, low intensity after having surgeries on both his knees and hips. Regardless of his experience on the tennis court, however, McIsaac vows that pickleball is an easy-to-learn game that virtually anyone can play.

 “Even if you have never played anything like tennis or racquetball, it’s an easier game to pick up and at least play and get something out of,” McIsaac said. “You may not be the best right away, but it’s easier to play and get up to speed rather than other sports.”

 Seeing as the Holladay Lions Recreation Center doesn’t have instructed pickleball classes or hired coaches to give pointers, most participants are self-taught.

 “We do have ranked players who do come play here,” Tateoka said. “We have two of the Top 10 pickleball athletes in the nation who practice and drop in and play here. They do teach sometimes — I know they have done some lessons — but most people pick it up on their own.”

 For more information on how you can get involved with pickleball, visit or stop by the Holladay Lions Recreation Center at 1661 East Murray Holladay Road.  λ