ST. LOUIS COUNTY, Mo. — The parking lot is often filled at the Missouri Pickleball Club at Gravois Bluffs.
What you can see inside this building is arguably America's fastest-growing sport
Pickleball. Awfully popular and awkwardly named
“So there was a family on vacation back in the 70's and they had a dog named Pickles,” pickleball professional John Kleinschmidt said of the origin of the name.
“Who would retrieve the balls when they first started,” added Bobby Thompson, one of St. Louis’ first Pickleball players.
And now it's a sport with over 30,000 people playing in the area on close to 300 courts. Across the country, there are more than 4 million, and over 5 million in the world.
One of the reasons for its popularity is its accessibility for all ages.
“We had groups from 8 years old to 80 years old.” Kleinschmidt said
Then there's instant mediocrity angle of it. Although it takes a while to be great- you can compete right away.
Kleinschmidt, who is in sales with Frito Lay, is a 52-year-old professional pickleball player who describes it this way.
“We consider this game to be a large version of ping pong standing on a ping pong table,” he said.
Unlike in tennis or baseball, hitting the ball with power isn’t always the best option.
“You are not going to win if you hit the ball hard,” Kleinschmidt said.
The court is 44 feet long by 20 feet wide, but the games are won in the place called the kitchen, which is 7 feet from the net. It's where you pl0ay the dink game.
And players like 48-year-old Josh Stephens who comes all the way from Cape Girardeau take it seriously
“It's addictive,” he said.
Thompson, 64, started playing 10 years ago. And this sport checks all the boxes.
“Health, great exercise, but what I think people miss thinking about is the social aspect,” he said.
There are a lot of sports like racquetball that were hot and then faded fast. So, what about pickleball long-term?
“I think it's just the beginning stages throughout the whole country,” Kleinschmidt said, “even in the world”