In 1965, several neighbors, looking to keep their kids busy, combined a badminton net, wooden paddles, and a Wiffle ball. One legend tells us that the game’s name came from a dog named Pickles that kept running away with the ball. The problem though is that Pickles might have joined the family three years later.
Still, with other more dubious origin stories ranging from a pickle boat to a pickle jar, we have nothing better.
Now, 58 years later, estimates of the number of regular players range from 3.3 million to 8.9 million people. As a result, we experience pickleball far beyond the court.
There are many reasons that pickleball is one the fastest growing sport in the U.S. While 30 percent of all players were 55 and older, a remaining 50 percent is spread among 18-to-55 year-olds. Asked its benefits, participants and the medical community cite the hand-eye coordination, muscle strength, and cardiovascular benefits. In addition, especially for seniors, it has a crucially-needed social dimension.
Also though, on the minus side, we have the noise. Homeowners complain that nearby pickleball play sounds like a popcorn popper. Called a “ticktock cacophony” by the NY Times, the “pwock” of the paddle inconsistently hitting the plastic ball drives non-players crazy. Some have even gone to court.
Summarized in an academic paper, the injuries were grouped by type and gender. “Slip/Trip/Fall/Dive ” injuries resulted in strains, sprains, contusions, and fractures. By gender, the men had more of the strains and sprains while the women had the fractures. Most obvious though is age:
Our Bottom Line: Externalities
As economists, it all adds up to a slew of externalities. Defined as the impact of an activity or a contract on a bystander, externalities can be positive and negative. Certainly, on the plus side, having fit and happy seniors affects families and the fabric of everyday life. It also takes us to the demand side of an industry where jobs can be created.
However, especially with the injuries hitting the elderly, Medicare surely is absorbing the expense. According to Axios, pickleball injuries cost as much as half a billion dollars annually. Furthermore, knowing that cost need not be money, we have injured seniors needing the time and care of others.
Our emphasis on seniors returns us to where we began. While pickleball began with parents trying to occupy their kids, now, we’ve wound up keeping senior citizens busy.
My sources and more: Starting with some history at The Economist and Pickleball Magazine, we can add the numbers from the Hustle newsletter, Axios, and this academic paper. Then, with a different perspective, the NY Times had the noise.