Pickleball Now Fully Legit as Sport’s First Major League Launches

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Yesterday brought about the announcement of Major League Pickleball, a development that truly legitimizes a sport which has seen explosive growth in recent years. According to The Economist, Pickleball, a combination of tennis, badminton and ping pong, is now the fastest growing sport in America.

Major League Pickleball (MLP) officially launched on Tuesday with a ceremony at Dreamland – Dripping Springs, Texas. MLP will see the world’s-best 32 professional pickleball players (16 women and 16 men) compete in a livestreamed competition over four days at Dreamland, Nov. 5-8.

Eight teams of two will compete for the Pritchard Cup, named after Joel Pritchard, the man who founded the sport.

Now it’s mainstream, so much so that athletes are truly training for it. You got to be light on your feet, nifty, nimble and agile to succeed in this sport, and Zwift is an app that helps people maximize their treadmill workouts. Equipment such as these machines help build up both the stamina and the speed that’s a prerequisite to be a stellar pickleball player. Zwift, like Peloton, brings a social media component to the table.

You can certainly attribute virtual socialization, or interactivity through screens, as part of the reason for the Pelo craze. Nordic Track has employed this concept too. Zwift offers the opportunity to interact with friends, race against other people, and provide other fun experiences.

While all treadmills offer some kind of varied workouts, probably the best option for Pickleball training is the “Run-Walk” workout option.

This consists of running/sprinting for a minute (6.0 or higher mph), and then walking for a minute (3.0-4.5 mph), and repeating the pattern. For pickleball, cardio fitness is important, for the same reasons as in tennis- rallies can often involve a lot of sprinting back and forth. 

Over the course of a match, it really adds up, so conditioning can make all the difference in a match-up where both players are more or less equally skilled.

The world’s best at this sport are truly chomping at the bit to get this league going.

“Major League Pickleball is going to be excellent for our sport,” said professional pickleball player Irina Tereschenko.

“MLP is bringing a new format, a team event that will bring people together, and a Draft that I expect to be epic. I’m also very pleased to see the team owners are all pickleball fans, and avid players who want to help grow the sport.

“Overall, I think this is going to be huge; I know I can’t wait for season one to start, and that’s how a lot of my fellow pros are feeling.”

The pickleball pros will compete in a competition similar to the Ryder Cup, where all players on each team receive equal prize money, with the potential to win over $150,000 on the line. In addition to the cash payments, players will receive an equity stake in the league’s inaugural season, and an ownership stake in the future value of MLP.

From 2019 to 2020, there was a 21.3% increase in pickleball participants (according to the Sports and Fitness Industry Association reports), with ramped up growth continuing over the course of 2020 and 2021, partially aided by the covid-19 pandemic. With gyms closed and then re-opened only with restrictions, people took their physical activity outside, and pickleball equipment flew off of store shelves.

Ben Johns, the world’s No. 1  men’s professional pickleball player is excited about the arrival of Major League Pickleball.

“MLP is going to change the face of our sport,” he said.

“This innovative team format is going to bring new people into our sport, and what the MLP team is putting into building the brand will help grow awareness of the pros who are already playing the game at such an incredible level – fundamentally, that is huge for the players.

“This is a career for many of us, and now we have a new, exciting platform to showcase who we are and what we do.”

Just like Starbucks, Microsoft and Nike, the sport was born in Pacific Northwest. In started in Washington state, in 1965, as a group of fathers threw together wooden paddles, a badminton net, and a perforated plastic ball to hit around in the driveway.

As for the sport’s name and meaning, there are competing theories and urban legends, with the best one centering around a dog named Pickle. Legend has it that he kept taking the ball and running away with it.

Citing that Economist article, “In the five years to the end of 2019, pickleball participation grew by more than 7%, while Americans’ overall activity level stayed flat.”

Trends like this indicate that this is a sport to really keep in an eye on in 2022, 2023 and beyond.

Paul M. Banks runs The Sports Bank, partnered with News NowBanks, the author of “Transatlantic Passage: How the English Premier League Redefined Soccer in America” and “No, I Can’t Get You Free Tickets: Lessons Learned From a Life in the Sports Media Industry,” has regularly appeared in WGNSports Illustrated and the Chicago Tribune.

Follow him on Twitter and Instagram.

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