These top pickleball influencers are helping the sport’s growth in popularity
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Given that the sport dates to 1965, it’s not surprising that it’s seen growth to some 4.5 million players in the U.S.
What is surprising is its recent renaissance. As The Atlantic reports, athletes like Kevin Love, Drew Brees, and Kevin Durant have spent money towards ownership stakes in pickleball teams. Tom Brady is investing in a pickleball expansion team. LRMR, which has LeBron James as a co-founder, has also made pickleball investments.
“It is America’s fastest-growing sport,” notes The Atlantic, calling it an “antidote to loneliness and boredom,” growing even before COVID-19 made lonely and bored people of us all.
Some have even suggested pickleball might end up an Olympic-sanctioned sport.
Today, top creators—not just Tom Brady—are picking up the scent of pickled cucumbers. And that’s having a unique effect. For the first time, you and I might be able to watch a new American pastime sport growing up in the age of influencers and social media—because of influencers and social media.
While it might seem like pickleball is a come-and-go trend, more akin to cold bucket challenges and “is it real or cake?” videos, pickleball is a trend with staying power. In the world of viral hits and short-lived fads, that’s unique to both sports and TikTok.
Still confused about how it’s all going down? Here’s everything you need to know.
The top celebrities, advocates, and creators in the Pickleball space
Though the descriptions above might make pickleball sound like a slow-growing sport, it’s catching on like fire. Despite being around since the ’60s, pickleball saw growth of about one-third between 2019-2021 thanks to the boom of influencers and celebrity investments.
The question is: where’s the boom coming from?
For starters, investors like pickleball because it has broad appeal. A quick primer, if you don’t know: pickleball is like tennis, but with a lower barrier to entry. Says the New York Times:
The nets are lower than in tennis and the courts are roughly one-fourth the size, so there’s less sprinting involved, and it has become a favorite with retirees and some celebrities.
Influencers have no trouble showing off these features on Instagram and TikTok. COVID-19 threw some fire on it, too. Pickleball is a cross-generational sport—and doesn’t require you to touch anyone.
Throw the celebrity pickleball league investments on top, and you’ve got a recipe for the first major sport rise of the TikTok era. A few key pickleball celebrities and evangelists are also behind the craze.
In fact, the #pickleball tag on TikTok has more than 332 million views while #pickleballtiktok adds another 175 million view.
Even the Holderness Family has gotten into the act, creating content about pickleball.
Here are some of the other names you might have noticed smashing down pickleball content.
The singer-songwriter isn’t exactly a pickleball-only influencer. She’s more famous for her crossover country hits like 80s Mercedes than her crossover pickleball shots.
But she has brought a lot of attention to the sport. She touted her obsession on a recent episode of Jimmy Kimmel Live!
“Pickleball is life,” Morris said. She explained that it was an ideal sport for a touring musician: “We picked it up on the road…we would just set up courts outside the tour bus and play each other. It was kind of like a team-bonding thing, and then everyone got really into it.”
To cement her evangelization of the sport, Morris even appeared on the cover of Pickleball Magazine.
But Morris isn’t the only celebrity-slash-pickleball influencer who has helped promote the sport. You can see the Kardashians playing it on Keeping Up with the Kardashians, or Barry Sanders and Jamie Foxx promoting it in ads. Throw Tom Brady into the mix, and you have a recipe for a genuine, everyone-is-doing-it phenomenon.
But given the modern social media environment, it’s not just big-name celebrities who’ve earned pickleball its meteoric rise. Here are some of the lesser-known influencers who are helping build the sport:
Sydney Steinaker is a model-slash-athlete who’s been documenting her attempts to take her pickleball ambitions to the pro level.
“People are like, ‘why are you playing a game named after a fermented cucumber?’” Steinaker told the Big Ideas Big Moves podcast. “I get so many questions, and honestly, that’s how I was when I first heard of the sport.”
Steinaker admits she initially thought pickleball was always “for older people.” Why play pickleball when you could just play tennis? “It just [seemed] like lazy tennis,” said Steinaker.
But Steinaker’s mom was dating a man who had an enthusiasm for pickleball—even to the point of joining tournaments. Once Steinaker had enough glimpses of younger, professional pickleballers playing, she saw the possibilities.
When her soon-to-be stepdad recruited Sydney for some help with his pickleball training, Steinaker couldn’t resist getting into the sport herself. And now she’s one of its staunchest advocates. Her pickleball-themed TikTok account now has over 50,000 followers and 2.6 million likes.
Michelle Stroyek, the “Pickle Yogi”
With four thousand followers on Instagram and frequent tips—loose grip on the paddle, aim for the opponent’s backhand, pivot your back foot for more power—Michelle Stroyek is one of the most popular influencers exclusively dedicated to pickleball.
She also owns a line of rackets in both pickleball and tennis, which is a common theme with influencers. Some popular “pickleball” channels, like Tennis with Tyler, are actually more about that other paddle-heavy sport.
The Pickle Yogi is almost exclusively pickleball content, however, putting her up there with the Sydney Steinakers of the world as pioneering influencers in what most might consider a niche sport.
Maddie Perry / “Pickleball Boy”
TV personality Maddie Perry isn’t a strict pickleball influencer, but she might be the quote-unquote influencer who gets the hashtag fired up the most without realizing it. A search on Storyclash shows she’s mentioned pickleball more than anyone else on the platform over the past thirty days.
But it’s less thanks to her interest in pickleball than it is in a relationship with a man she dubs “pickleball boy.” One could argue that by driving up the mentions on Maddie’s TikTok, this mysterious “pickleball boy” may be doing as much to popularize the sport as anyone else on TikTok.
Okay, Maddie Perry doesn’t really count. In stark contrast to Perry’s secondhand (or is it thirdhand?) attention to pickleball, we have Jennifer Lucore. She’s a 17-time USA Pickleball Association champion, author of “The History of Pickleball,” and a reputation for being the “first lady” of the sport.
As such, she’s been making the rounds educating people about what pickleball is and how long it’s been around.
“It’s for all ages,” she told a CBS Chicago newscast. “The grandparents can play with the grandkids, because as long as you’re all equal skill on the court, it’s so darn fun.”
A sport ready for the spotlight
It’s easy to dismiss pickleball as the latest crazy. But would a craze really have endured since the 1960s? It’s a lighter, more accessible form of tennis with a growing number of celebrities and influencers getting involved.
Don’t be surprised if one day, thanks to digital media, a child tells you they want to grow up and be an Olympic pickleball player. That day may not be as far away as you think.