Pickleball's Growth in 2023: A Glance Backward to Understand the Pathway Ahead
by Jarrett Chirico
In early 2020, a few weeks before covid shut down the world, I stepped on stage in Dallas, TX, at the CMAA National Conference. I was there to speak about racquets, and I was excited! It was the start of unprecedented growth. Tennis, which was flat for over a decade, had finally grown one percent.
Pickleball had just hit thirty percent growth for the third consecutive year, and squash and platform tennis were forging ahead. Something was happening no one had seen before. Despite the growth of every racquet sport, individual racquet sports were dying. We were entering the age of racquets.
I remember when I announced tennis director positions would disappear and be replaced with racquets directors. I stated one racquet sport would ultimately serve and grow all racquet sports. That single sport clubs would vanish in the coming years. I told participants that the golf and tennis model was dead. I predicted pickleball would become the biggest racquet sport in the country. Through pickleball, all other racquet sports would grow. Then covid changed everything.
Clubs that didn’t invest in their facilities shut down. Professionals that didn’t invest in themselves were lost, and the industry changed forever. The few months that felt like forever gave birth to the golden age of racquets. Those who invested, listened, and believed were on the ride of their life. They adapted, and their people adapted with them.
Pickleball just recorded 35 million plus players in 2022 (up from 4.8 million in 2021). This number was unthinkable a few short years ago. On average, there is a thirty percent crossover rate between racquet sports. So out of those 35 million players that played pickleball in 2022, almost ten million tried another racquet sport. That is substantial when understanding growth through racquets.
Out of that ten million, the largest percentage of those people tried tennis due to availability and affordability to get on a court. On average, a director of racquets oversees two to three racquet sports. Some oversee up to five racquet sports. The crossover rate is key in retention and growth across all membership tiers and age demographics. The best directors in the world have a crossover rate of fifty-four percent. Imagine that growth. If you have one hundred people playing pickleball, fifty-four will also play tennis. That is the gift racquets has given us.
Success in any business is about relevancy. The same can be said for life. As leaders, we must continually reinvent ourselves and adapt to the challenges and opportunities ahead. In doing so we create value for ourselves, our businesses, and most importantly, others.
Racquets provides a mirror image of life. Like the grandfather who buys a book about Pokémon cards to stay relevant in their grandchild’s life, we adapt to racquets to stay relevant to our membership. Instead of fighting what is coming, we must prepare and look for it years in advance. That is how we mentor. We learn, we listen, and we lead. It is important to occasionally look back to understand the path forward. Tennis dominated the United States through the ’80s, ’90s, and 2000s. A lot of that had to do with the champions we had. The success tennis had then came down to people. The years that followed, where tennis stayed flat, was also due to people– or lack thereof. Simply put, we ran out of champions. That is when racquets was born. People started to play platform tennis, squash, and soon pickleball. Racquets didn’t need professional stars to grow its popularity, but the players themselves became the stars.
The racquets industry is expected to grow by over 200% in the next five years. In that time, pickleball will break 45 million players directly resulting in tennis reaching an unimaginable milestone of 30 million+. Platform tennis will continue to expand across the north as padel grows nationally. At this same time, the racquets industry will lose thirty percent of its professionals due to an unprepared and complacent industry. The future will demand more of our leaders. It will take a piece of all of us. It is our time to rise to the occasion and meet this demand. This is your right place, right time moment. Leaders will be born, and the foundation will be set. The question is the same that has always been before us…are you up for the challenge?
Selkirk TV is starting "The Future of Pickleball Show" to share the vision and stories of the movers and shakers in this sport we love!
About the Author:
Jarrett Chirico is the Director of Racquets at Royal Oaks Country Club in Dallas, TX. He has an extensive background as both a director and former player, as well as a creator of several esteemed programs in the country
He has directed many top tier tennis and paddle programs in the Northeast and the largest pickleball program in the country retaining over 1,000 people weekly. He is currently one of the best pickleball players in the world and the founder of clay court pickleball.
Jarrett has an extensive background in all aspects of racquet sports management including budgeting and projections; programming; marketing; maintenance; strategic planning; facility design; and pro shop management.
He was awarded Professional Tennis Registry’s (PTR) Professional/Member of the year by Racquet Sports Industry (RSI) magazine and Professional Pickleball Registry’s (PPR) 2020 and 2022 Pro of the year as well as being one of the 2020 and 2022 Champions of Pickleball.
In addition, he holds certifications from the USPTA, PTR, PPR, PPTR and the PPTA as well as being a national pickleball (PPR) clinician and Vice Chairman.
Jarrett is also a published author in numerous professional publications and a keynote speaker nationally. He has spoken at the 2019, 2020 and 2021 International PTR Tennis Symposium, 2020 Racquets and Paddle Show, multiple USPTA and CMAA events and the 2020, 2021 and 2022 national CMAA conferences to name a few