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Pickleball continues to grow in popularity across the Ozarks

People play pickleball at a Springfield-Greene County Park Board facility
Springfield-Greene County Park Board
People play pickleball at a Springfield-Greene County Park Board facility.

Local pickleball experts say the sport is beneficial for both mental and physical health.

Pickleball has grown in popularity at a skyrocketing rate in the past few years. Along with the benefits of staying active, there are plenty of other reasons people here in the Ozarks love swinging that paddle.

Ozarks Pickleball Club

One local organization that is committed to growing the game of pickleball and bringing people together that share a love for the game is the Ozarks Pickleball Club. Matt Battaglia is the club’s president.

"Ozarks Pickleball Club is a nonprofit corporation that we formed in early 21, to better organize and promote all the different people that play pickleball in the Springfield area and to better work with the surrounding community government to promote and advocate for Pickleball," said Battaglia.

When it started, he said, the club had about 500 members. Now it’s grown to more
than 3,000, and there are more places to play, too.

"We have just seen so many new players out there over the last couple of years, and that was one of our big goals, was to get more courts available, and so we worked with the Greene County Park Board to expand the courts out there from six to 12. On a nice day it’s not uncommon to see all of those courts full and with people waiting. It’s pretty exciting, but there is actually a lot more room for growth in terms of demands for courts and playtime," said Battaglia.

Pickleball is a sport for any age, skill level

There are many reasons why pickleball has become so popular, he said. But probably the main reason is that pretty much anyone can play the game.

"It’s easy to learn, it’s easily accessible, it’s one of those sports where anybody type, any age, any skill level can play, the barrier to entry is very low, you just need a paddle, a ball and a net and that’s it," said Battaglia. "I’ve played probably about every sport in the book since I was a kid and into my adult life. I was playing basketball, softball and ultimate Frisbee and some other sports. Once I found Pickleball it’s like that’s all I do now, I've kind of given up golfing and all my other hobbies to play pickleball."

Jay Gallivan, a recreation specialist for the Nixa Park Board who is involved in the
pickleball scene in Nixa agrees it’s a game for everyone.

"You don’t have to be super active to be able to do it," he said, "and it’s a good way for seniors to move around and get some exercise, but then there is the competitive element to it."

Physical and mental health benefits

Battaglia and Gallivan said there are both mental and physical health benefits of playing the game.

"Back in the 90’s and early 2000’s it really was viewed as an old person’s game. So, they actually found it was a very good way to keep active without a ton of exertion on their bodies. Because a lot of these players, especially the retirees, will play three four times a week," said Battaglia. "So that’s their primary mode of staying active and alert. I’ve seen studies that say seniors who play pickleball reduce their blood pressure and chance of heart attack. And pickleball is very social, and that’s another aspect of the game that kind of sets it apart from other sports."

"For senior citizens it’s just a way to get out and move around and use their muscles and just be active instead of sitting in their chair," said Gallivan. "For mental health, it’s being able to be out and socialize and be with other people. Most of the time on our courts, you play in tandem so its two on two, so there are four people playing on a court at a time, so you get that social interaction with other people to help with mental health that way."

Economic benefits

Lance Kettering, executive director of The Springfield Sports Commission, said, besides all the benefits the game has for players, it can bring in money to a community.

“The USA Middle States Regional Pickleball Championship is coming to Springfield June 1
through 4, here at the Cooper Tennis Complex in Springfield," he said. "It will have anywhere to 800 to 1,000 competitors for that championship. There are larger tournaments then that we have aspirations to host at some point. You know, really, they could be in the 50s to 100s, and it just grows exceptionally depending on the event.”

He said when people come to Springfield for a tournament, they typically spend around $150 per person, per day.

Since its start in Springfield, pickleball has attracted plenty of fans. The game proves that getting active and working up a sweat doesn’t always have to come at the cost of fun. With professional leagues starting to pop up across the country, many believe that the sky is the limit for the up-and-coming sport.