MIAMI — Pop. Pop. Pop. Pop.
Sound and interference from pickleAmerica’s fastest growing sport, is driving some neighbors, tennis players, parents of young children and others crazy.
Home Owners Groups i local population in dozens of towns and cities they came together to restrict the game of pickleball and block the development of new courts. They’re circulating petitions, filing lawsuits and speaking at council meetings and town halls to slow the sonic spread of the cucumber craze across the country.
The number of people pickleball play has grown 159% in three years to 8.9 million in 2022, according to the Sports & Fitness Industry Association trade group.
The rapid expansion has created dilemmas for public parks and recreation departments, which must balance competing interests with often limited space and resources. Retirement communities and country clubs also face the challenge of building spaces for people to enjoy the game, a scaled-down version of tennis with a smaller court, without the hostility of others.
Pickleball can be noisier than tennis because the game can accommodate more players in the same space as a tennis court. Hits during pickleball rallies are also more common than tennis. And it’s a more social sport, so games tend to be louder with players joking around during and after points.
Rob Mastroianni, a resident of Falmouth, Massachusetts, sold his house and moved after the city’s recreation department built pickleball courts 350 meters from your house in a residential area.
“It’s a percussive pop. It cuts through the air and carries,” he said.
He and a group of neighbors eventually filed suit against the city’s Board of Appeals last year, claiming the pileball courts violated city ordinances that prohibit “daily harmful and nuisance noise levels.” Their suit said noise from the game “had a significant impact [their] quiet and peaceful enjoyment of their homes.” (They were granted a temporary restraining order and the courts are currently closed.)
“It’s hard to be against pickleball,” Mastroianni said. “But at the end of the day it created mental and physical problems with neighbors clashing.”
“Constant popping 12 hours a day 7 days a week is borderline torture,” wrote one resident who lives next to a park in Vienna, Virginia, to the city’s parks department. “We can’t use our outdoor space anymore because of the cucumbers and we can’t open the windows.” City voted to limit pickleball from seven to three days a week in local courts last month.
Some tennis players are also frustrated that pickleball is taking over the tennis courts. The tennis industry has taken notice and is working with parks and recreation departments and other facilities to make sure pickleball doesn’t slow the popularity of tennis. The number of tennis players will grow 33% between 2019 and 2022, according to the United States Tennis Association (USTA).
“I say if pickleball is so popular, let them build their own courts :)” tennis great Martina Navratilova chirped last year.
The USTA, the governing body for American tennis, has announced directing with best practices to ensure the two sports can coexist and keep up with the demand for each.
“In an ideal world, tennis and pickleball would have their own facilities,” said Craig Morris, USTA executive director of community tennis.
And some parents balk because their children have less and less space to play in the park as the crowd of pickerel players grows.
“Players are now endlessly swarming the playground every day,” said a petition in New York to ban pickleball at a local playground with more than 3,000 signatures. “The children were pushed out and many stopped going altogether.”
Booming during a pandemic
Pickleball, which combines elements of tennis, badminton and table tennis, started in 1965 but only recently took off.
He originally won a following in the retirement communities where he was loved for its social aspect and the benefits of exercise. The ball travels slower than in tennis, and the court is half the size, making it easier to play. It’s also accessible to a wide range of ages, and the rules are simple.
The game became more popular during the Covid-19 pandemic as people looked for safe, socially distanced ways to exercise outside. Celebrity endorsers such as Tom Brady and increased media attention also fueled the sport’s rise, and gyms and parks built new courts to meet the demand.
The game can be played singles or doubles, indoors or outdoors on a 20-foot by 44-foot court — about the size of a badminton court — and lasts until one side scores 11 points. Many people play on tennis courts that have been modified with lower nets and additional lines.
As the sport grew, so did the number of places to play.
At the end of 2022, there were 11,000 places to play Pickleball, an increase of about 130 new locations per month, according to USA Pickleball, the sport’s national governing body.
‘Dampening the Sound of Pickleball’
Players use a plastic perforated ball, slightly heavier than a catch ball, and wooden or composite paddles that are about twice the size of table tennis paddles.
Pickleball players love the “pop” of their paddles smashing the plastic ball, but that same sound can bother others.
“Cities shouldn’t just turn tennis courts into pickleball. If they do that regardless of the sound, they’re probably going to have unhappy people,” said Bob Unetich, an engineer by training who started Pickleball Sound Mitigation, a consulting firm that advises municipalities, country clubs and upset neighbors on reducing game-related noise. Unetich, who is a trained referee and avid player, has advised more than 100 clients.
If several games are going on at the same time, multiple “pop” sounds can occur every second, Unetich said. Cheap paddles and balls are often the loudest.
The “pitch” of pickleball hits also bothers people more than a stringed tennis racket colliding with a soft tennis ball, he said. The sounds of tennis and some other common sports tend to be lower than the sound of pickleball.
New and existing pickleball venues must consider background noise, Unitech said.
If courts are built near homes, they should block sound with barriers, mandate the use of quieter paddles and balls or limit playing hours, he said.
“I’m a proponent of pickleball, but if it’s right across the street from people’s homes, that’s quite a problem,” he said. “The real solution is often to move the court somewhere else.”
Pop. Pop. Pop. Pop.