men playing tennis one holding racquet to serve
Photo Credit: J. Schiemann

You’ve probably noticed how racquet sports are cropping up everywhere, from local parks to international arenas. This isn’t just a passing trend; it’s a global phenomenon among adult athletes. What’s driving this surge, and where could it be headed next? Keep reading to find out.

Tennis has seen a 33 percent participation spike since 2020. Pickleball, with its quirky name and easy learning curve, is hotter than ever.

Meanwhile, padel is swiftly gaining traction, and even traditional games like badminton and table tennis are drawing in Millennials and Gen Z. Squash, often overlooked, is quietly building a dedicated following.

Key Takeaways

Racquet and Paddle Sports are experiencing a boom

Driven by a blend of historical legacy and modern appeal, racquet and paddle sports are experiencing an unprecedented boom worldwide. Ironically, while sports like tennis have long-held reputations as country club sports, its roots are quite different.

The Quick History Of Racquet Sports

Racquet sports were born centuries ago in European prisons, but instead of racquets, prisoners used their palms. Lack of originality notwithstanding, these early “racquet” games were coined Palm. By the 1500s, actual racquets were in use.

And by 1877, the first Wimbledon had its debut.

The Current State Of Racquet Sports

Today, racquet sports encompass a variety of games played with racquets or paddles, including tennis, padel, squash, pickleball, badminton, and table tennis (or ping pong). The industry is massive, valued at $9 billion, with expected growth of $500 million by 2026.

This surge is driven by the increasing popularity of these sports across diverse age groups and demographics.

Tennis boasts 87 million players and 600,000 courts worldwide, while pickleball has captured the interest of 48 million players with an average age of just below 35. Padel, a sport that originated in Mexico but is most popular in Europe, has 25 million players globally. Padel is gaining significant traction in the United States.

Table tennis, an Olympic sport since 1988, has 250 affiliated clubs in the U.S. and anticipates $145 million in revenue by 2030. Meanwhile, badminton, with over 220 million players worldwide, projects growth of about 6 percent from 2023 to 2030. Squash, too, is thriving, supported by 20 million players in 185 countries and generating $655 million in equipment sales.

This renaissance reflects not just a revival of traditional games but an embrace of new sporting experiences.

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Tennis Participation Has Grown 33% Since 2020

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You may or may not have noticed the significant rise in tennis participation, especially since pickleball seems to be taking over many tennis courts. But the number of tennis players has jumped 33 percent in just a few short years. This growth isn’t just about more people picking up racquets; it’s also fueled by increasing ethnic diversity within the sport.

Organizations, like Conga Sports, aim to make tennis a more fun and non-intimidating sport for beginners to check out.

As communities embrace tennis, they’re not only enriching the game but also fostering a more inclusive environment that benefits everyone.

Ethnic Diversity Is Aiding The Tennis Boom

hispanic male tennis player holding racquet
Photo credit: Freepik

How has ethnic diversity fueled the remarkable 33 percent increase in U.S. tennis participation since 2020? The answer lies in the influx of new players from diverse communities.

People of color now represent 38 percent of the overall tennis-playing population, with Hispanic/Latino players seeing a staggering 90 percent increase. Black participation has risen by 46 percent, while Asian/Pacific Islander players have grown 37 percent since 2020. This surge is no accident.

The United States Tennis Association’s initiatives have been pivotal. By funneling $9.4 million into facility assistance and grants, introducing tennis to 20,000 schools, and providing scholarships through National Junior Tennis and Learning chapters, the USTA is making tennis accessible to everyone. Their mission to make tennis “look like America” is bearing fruit, reflecting the nation’s diverse tapestry.

USTA Chairman Brian Hainline underscored the sport’s inclusivity and its health benefits, which resonate across diverse communities. Tennis not only promotes active lifestyles but also strengthens community bonds, making it a beacon of health and wellness for families nationwide.

The rise in tennis participation, driven by ethnic diversity, signifies a positive shift towards a more inclusive and healthier society, demonstrating that tennis truly is a sport for all.

Pickleball Remains Red Hot

closeup of lower half of woman holding pickleball paddle
Photo Credit: Joan Azeka on Unsplash

Boasting a meteoric rise, pickleball’s surge in popularity shows no signs of cooling down. With an estimated 48.3 million players in the U.S. as of 2023, pickleball has experienced a staggering 223.5 percent growth over the last three years, making it America’s fastest-growing sport. In fact, 14 percent of Americans have tried the sport at least once in their lives.

Pickleball has a broad demographic appeal, with men comprising 60.5 percent of players and women growing faster at 17.6 percent year-over-year. Interestingly, younger players under 24 are the fastest-growing segment at 21 percent, while those ages 55 and up remain the largest group at 20 percent.

Regionally, the South Atlantic boasts the highest number of players, whereas the West North Central region shows the fastest growth. Middle-America states like Kansas, Oklahoma, and Texas are key growth drivers.

As more courts are built and community programs flourish, the future of pickleball looks bright. The sport’s socioeconomic impact and health benefits further solidify its place in America’s athletic landscape.

Padel Is Hot On The Heels Of Pickleball’s Popularity Surge

closeup of woman holding padel
Photo Credit: SideSpin Padel

While pickleball‘s rapid ascent continues to captivate the nation, padel is swiftly emerging as a formidable contender in the world of racquet sports. Originating in Acapulco in 1969, padel combines elements of tennis, racquetball, and squash, offering a complex and engaging game.

Despite having less than 300 courts in the U.S., it’s gaining traction, particularly among celebrities like Lionel Messi and David Beckham. The sport’s competitive nature is drawing in high achievers who crave a challenging workout, with players burning up to 1,500 calories in just two hours.

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Padel’s rise is bolstered by substantial investments and endorsements from sports icons like Novak Djokovic and Jimmy Butler. The game is making waves in luxury developments, with exclusive courts popping up in high-net-worth communities in Florida and New York.

However, to truly thrive, padel must democratize and break free from its elitist image, something it seems on pace to be doing. Efforts to make the sport accessible through public courts and televised matches are critical.

As padel continues to expand, it promises to become a mainstream racquet sport in America. In fact, Ultra Padel Miami is about to become one of the largest padel clubs in the world as it expands to 29 courts this summer.

Badminton Making A Resurgence Thanks to Millennials and Gen Z

woman on badminton court holding racqut
Photo Credit: SHVETS production

Badminton is experiencing quite the resurgence, driven largely by the enthusiasm and engagement of Millennials and Gen Z. Pinterest, the popular social media platform of those generations, predicted badminton would be one of its breakout search performers for 2024.

You’ve probably noticed the buzz on other social media platforms like TikTok and Instagram as well, where influencers are racking up millions of likes.

This surge in popularity isn’t just digital. Schools and universities are integrating badminton into their programs, making the sport more accessible and appealing to younger adult athletes.

The Badminton World Federation‘s global initiatives also play an essential role. By promoting badminton through live-streamed events and educational resources, they’re capturing the interest of younger generations. Changes in rules and enhanced presentations have made the sport more dynamic and spectator-friendly, especially as we look forward to the 2028 Olympics in Los Angeles.

Health benefits are another significant draw. Playing badminton improves heart and lung function, burns a hefty 475 to 525 calories per hour, and enhances speed, strength, agility, and flexibility. It’s a sport that’s as beneficial as it’s enjoyable, and it appeals to adult athletes of all ages and genders.

With a projected market growth to $18.9 billion by 2031, badminton’s resurgence is more than a fleeting trend; it’s a robust movement fueled by youthful energy and modern engagement.

Table Tennis Remains Steady As A Popular Sport

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Photo Credit: Mick Latter

The enduring appeal of table tennis lies in its versatility, making it a staple in homes, sports clubs, and social gatherings worldwide. Whether you’re playing in a friend’s basement, a local club, or a trendy bar in North America, the sport’s accessibility and dynamic nature keep it relevant.

While table tennis hasn’t grown as rapidly as other racquet or paddle sports in recent times, it’s one of those sports that feels like it’s always been around—and always will be.

The U.S. market, driven by its popularity as a social activity, holds a significant share globally. In other areas of the globe, like Asia, table tennis is seen as more of a competitive sport than a casual one.

Here’s a snapshot of key market insights:

RegionMarket Highlights
North AmericaLeading market with growing popularity in bars and clubs.
Asia PacificFastest growth, dominated by China and rising popularity in Japan.
EuropeSteady market with significant contributions from Germany, France, and the U.K.
Table Tennis Around The World

Squash: The Sleeper Racquet Sport Gaining Steam

pair of squash racquets against the wall
Photo Credit: Jenny K

Squash is rapidly emerging as a powerhouse in the racquet sports world, driven by its intense physical demands and strategic depth. This sport offers an unparalleled workout, attracting fitness enthusiasts and strategic players alike.

Clubs like Squash On Fire in Washington, D.C., aim to promote squash’s growth in the community and even offer clinics to help newbies get started. They want squash to be an easily accessible sport to anyone and everyone.

The global squash racquets market, valued at $175 million in 2022, is projected to grow through 2028, fueled by sustained industry innovation and expansion.

North America shows the most significant growth potential, while regions like Asia-Pacific, the Middle East, and South America are emerging as promising markets.

Technological advancements, including smart racquets and eco-friendly materials, are setting the stage for a vibrant future in squash, ripe with opportunities for businesses and investors.

Popularity in Racquet Sports By Generation

Racquet sports are enjoying a generational renaissance, with Gen Z leading the charge with a participation rate of almost 23 percent. You’ve probably noticed more young adults picking up racquets, whether for tennis, badminton, or squash. This surge among Gen Z isn’t just a trend; it reflects their drive for fitness, social interaction, and mental wellness.

“We have found that the adult Gen Z demographic is quite a bit different from many Millennials when it comes to getting into racquet sports. Competition is not so much on their minds,” says Rich Neher, founder of Conga Sports. “They value having fun and being out with friends much more than winning games and trophies.”

Millennials aren’t far behind, with a participation rate greater than 19 percent. They value racquet sports for their balance of physical exertion and social engagement. Gen Xers, at nearly 12 percent participation, seem to appreciate the competitive yet accessible nature of racquet sports. Interestingly, according to Statista, Boomers have the lowest participation at about 7 percent (with likely a large majority playing pickleball).

“We have found that the adult Gen Z demographic is quite a bit different to many Millennials when it comes to getting into racquet sports. Most importantly, competition is not so much on their minds. They value having fun and being out with friends much more than winning games and trophies. On the other hand, organizations that prioritize fun, social activities on and off the court will most likely have a better chance of capturing that demographic.”

Key factors contributing to this rise include:

  • Health and Fitness: Racquet sports offer a full-body workout that appeals across generations.
  • Accessibility: Public courts and affordable equipment make it easy to start.
  • Social Interaction: Playing doubles or joining leagues fosters community.
  • Mental Benefits: The strategic nature of these sports sharpens the mind.
  • Cultural Shifts: Increased media coverage and celebrity endorsements boost interest, while become more diverse makes racquet sports more inclusive.

You can see how each generation finds something unique in racquet sports, making them a growing staple in modern recreation. If you’re ready to pick up a racquet or paddle and play, be sure to check our directory for somewhere to play near you.