Combine tennis with a life-size ping pong table, add a pinch of badminton, and throw in a set of novel rules and scoring, and you have a magic potion capable of throwing the whole world into a frenzy. In 1965 on Bainbridge Island, Washington, a group of neighbors hoping to create something entertaining for their children one afternoon did just that.

Pickleball is America’s fastest-growing sport and has made its way into the lives of millions of people. According to, approximately 36.5 million people in the US have played the sport at least, and that percentage is expected to rise significantly over the next five years. 

And what’s in a name? This one has been passionately contested since its origination. The founding families claim the name to be from one of two places – after one family’s dog, Pickles, or the specific type of boat one of the wives used during her collegiate rowing career. Regardless of the origin, perhaps its endearing name is one of the reasons Pickleball has become so popular! 

Pickleball is a paddle and ball game, and although similar to other racket/paddle games, Pickleball features specific differences. Sharing some similarities with tennis, Pickleball uses a smaller light paddle with a “wiffle-like” ball and requires a quick reaction time, agility, and control.

The Memphis pickleball scene is growing quickly. A couple of its patrons describe the game as more of a way of life than an occasional past-time. 

It’s an understatement to say that Becky Lloyd is an avid pickler. “I would like to play every day but manage to play a few times per week.” She started playing in January of 2020 (multiple games on her first day), then had to abruptly put down her paddle when COVID hit. She picked it back up in April of 2021 and has logged countless games at her primary spots, including Hope Church, First Evangelical Church, and Singleton Community Center. Becky says the game is “like an addiction” and even takes her paddles when she travels, using an app to help her find local courts. She would recommend lessons for beginners and states that some are available at Hope Church on Mondays and Wednesdays. She encourages, “Make sure you incorporate playing with people that are really good so you can continue to get better.” Her theory behind its popularity is, “It’s just so much fun! Every place I’ve ever played is all about fun!” 

Michael Leavitt started playing after his retirement in 2018 as a new way to get exercise. “I was playing golf and working out three times a week at Mobilize Fitness.” Now, he plays Pickleball three times a week, mainly at JCC (Jewish Community Center) and Cameron Brown Park. Michael also finds time to play while traveling and has played in Idaho and Michigan. For Michael, it’s more than just exercise. “I get to get my cardio workout in and spend time with good friends simultaneously.” For those newly interested, he urges, “Just do it! Start taking a few classes, like at JCC, before playing to get the rules and basics down.” He attributes its popularity to affordability, accessibility for all ages, and that it’s a fun way to get exercise. “Between the people you meet in class, open play opportunities around Memphis, and the growing number of clubs,” Michael says, “there’s always a game going on.” 

Pickleball has united people of all backgrounds and experience levels with its friendly and inclusive culture. “It’s not just for old people,” claims Leavitt. The nation’s number one women’s pickleball player Anna Leigh Waters is sixteen, the top three are younger than 30, and the average age of the top ten is younger than 40. Flip the coin, and you have Richard Jackson, 84, of Memphis. He started playing in 2008 when Pickleball had 40 local participants. Jackson now estimates that as many as 3500 locals enjoy the game. Jackson has participated in the National Senior Olympics in Pickleball since its introduction to the games in 2013. 

Like many cities, the Memphis Pickleball scene is exploding, offering many opportunities for everyone to join the fun. You can stay up to speed on the mid-south’s action by getting information about upcoming pop-up events, pickleball parties at local breweries, tournaments, court locations, and resources on the comprehensive Memphis Pickleball Facebook page. 

In addition to the dozens of courts you can choose from around Memphis, there are three new places/groups that will soon be in the circuit: 

  • Pickleball 901 (indoor) 
  • Bluff City Pickleball-Bartlett (indoor) 
  • Pickleball Garden Germantown (indoor and outdoor) 

Although very much still a competitive sport, there’s an air around the court that fosters community and leisure. Its magnetic force in our culture has brought together people from many different experience levels and walks of life to enjoy time together. Despite its feel-good quality, it still comes with a warning, according to Jackson, “You don’t want to start playing because it’s very addicting, it’s like a drug, you just can’t quit!” 

It’s just so much fun! Every place I’ve ever played is all about fun!”

By Amanda Tompkins

Photo by Tindall Stephens

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