You may have seen it on the news, around the country or even right here at the University — pickleball is America’s fastest-growing sport. Its popularity has been undeniable even in Charlottesville. The Pickleball Club at U.Va. officially started in 2021 and has grown tremendously since then, boasting 650 members and a 24-person tournament team.
First of all, what even is pickleball? It is essentially a combination of tennis, ping pong and badminton. The courts are smaller than tennis courts, and pickleball uses shorter nets with two people on each side. Players have paddles and aim to pass a wiffle ball back and forth to score points.
Pickleball’s massive jump in popularity comes from several places — is a sport that does not really feel like a sport. It is described as an activity where you have so much fun you even forget you are sweating.
“I joined pickleball because it is fun, easy to pick up, and [gives me] time to spend with friends outside,” Josephine Genereux, club member and first-year College student, said. “The sport is competitive, fun and social. I played tennis for a while and pickleball is similar. It’s my favorite time of the week!”
When asked why she kept coming back to practices, Genereux pointed to the community.
“Arriving and hearing the music blaring and shouts from the courts always makes me happy,” Genereux said. “It has become a part of my friends and I’s weekly routine and something to look forward to each week.”
Pickleball saw a boom in popularity after the COVID-19 shutdown, especially at the University. Just as classes and other activities were canceled, pickleball became a fun and engaging way to stay active and get outside while socializing with friends in a safe and socially distant environment.
In Charlottesville, pickleball brings together some of University students’ favorite things— hanging out with friends and getting competitive. The club brings people together, creating a fun sense of community with practices four times a week. Getting outside with a big group and playing a fun sport while listening to music helps students get a break from libraries and stress. The club itself is also low-stress — attendance is never taken, there are no cuts and players can decide what level of intensity they want to play at.
“We have differentiated ourselves from other club sports by allowing anybody to join the general club regardless of skill,” Conor Burns, vice president and first-year Commerce student, said.
Although there is no formal coaching, there is a strong element of self-motivation throughout the club. Practices are often just club members informally playing against each other for fun and to get better, while there are also try-outs every semester to compete on the more intense travel team.
The team does more than just hang out on Snyder courts, however. In December 2022, only two years after the club's founding, the team finished fifth at the Collegiate National Championships. They were also voted “most spirited team.” This year, the team hosted the first-ever University and Charlottesville Pickleball Tournament. The tournament took place Feb. 25 and 26, and included students, faculty and even Charlottesville residents, bringing together a whole community of picklers.
Burns and many others see a bright future for the Pickleball Club.
“There is a lot of growth for the club in the future,” Burns said. “Ultimately, playing in more tournaments is the biggest thing. We want to proactively host tournaments for the community and different schools every semester.”
The club has already started to accomplish this goal, with the February tournament and the upcoming East Coast Invitational, which includes James Madison University, Maryland, North Carolina and Virginia Tech.
For the tournament team, club leadership plans to add a permanent coach to help with practice, player development and tournament coordination. Burns also mentioned working with pickleball companies to gain sponsorships to help with equipment and merchandise. Finally, he is hoping for the installation of permanent pickleball courts “since most people play pickleball, not tennis, on the Snyder courts.”
Burns sees potential to grow the club even more with special events such as “learn-how-to play days” or practices where members are encouraged to bring a friend that is not in the club.
“We know there are more pickleball players within U.Va. and believe with the right approach, the size of the club will grow immensely,” Burns said.
Pickleball has brought a sense of fun and excitement to Grounds. On a typical Monday night, with bright lights on Snyder Courts and pop music and laughs permeating the air — pickleball practice is in session.