USA Pickleball unveils ‘pivotal’ product changes. Will it solve game’s leading complaint?

Sep 26, 2023, 4:52 PM

Tennis and pickleball courts...

Tennis courts sit vacant at 11th Avenue Park in Salt Lake City on May 12. New products may solve complaints tied to the pickleball as it soars in popularity. (Laura Seitz, Deseret News)

(Laura Seitz, Deseret News)

SALT LAKE CITY — Despite adding many new courts in recent years, Mia McCain contends that Salt Lake City has struggled to meet the “huge, growing demand” associated with pickleball’s rise in popularity.

“Our courts are very full,” says McCain, Salt Lake City Public Lands’ spokeswoman and engagement manager. “People are very, very interested in pickleball and they are looking for places to play pickleball.”

The city already plans to add 18 new courts across Fairpark, Popular Grove, Glendale and Rosewood parks over the course of the next two years, she said, as it seeks to address the growing demand. One thing McCain says Salt Lake City parks officials haven’t heard much of is complaints about noise, though this is a concern reported in many other towns and cities as people everywhere explore the growing sport.

This complaint is so widely known that USA Pickleball, the sport’s governing body in the U.S., announced Monday it is adding a new “Quiet Category” of pickleball products, something it calls a “revolutionary initiative” to allow more communities to enjoy the game. The products have reduced “acoustic output,” but don’t change the dynamics of the game itself.

Officials are also looking at possible solutions to handle “sound-sensitive pickleball venues,” as well. Mike Nealy, CEO of USA Pickleball, called all the noise changes a “pivotal step in the evolution” of the game.

“With the sport’s growth, addressing noise concerns is essential to maintain a positive relationship between residential communities and facility operators,” he said in a statement. “We are continuing to develop guidance and resources that offer short- and long-term solutions that continue to enhance the sport. By working together with manufacturers and the entire industry, we can develop quieter options that benefit everyone.”

Pickleball’s sound problem

The invention of pickleball dates back to the 1960s. The game is somewhat similar to tennis, but players use paddles typically made of either graphite, carbon fiber, fiberglass or wood to hit a plastic ball.

This produces a sound of about 70 decibels from 100 feet away, as compared to the sound of a tennis ball being hit, which is closer to 40 decibels, according to Pickler, a blog devoted to the pickleball. It adds that it also has a pitch that is about the same as a truck in reverse, which many describe as “annoying.”

Pickleball players Laura Seitz Deseret News 092623

Jason Armstrong left, and Rick Egan play pickleball at Fairmont Park in Salt Lake City on May 12, 2023. Pickleball is growing in popularity in Utah and across the U.S. (Laura Seitz, Deseret News)

This issue has played out in some Utah communities, even if it’s not as big of an issue in its capital. For example, several residents in Stansbury Park told KSL-TV earlier this year they’ve been inundated with noise since the city constructed six courts at Porter Way Park.

“I’ll be in meetings in the morning, and I’ll be asked by my co-workers what that sound is, and they can hear the thunk, thunk, thunk of the ball going back and forth,” said Jon Nesbitt, of the residents. “On some meetings, I have to take them in the back of the house away from my computer to just try and get away from the sound, and that doesn’t even solve the problem sometimes.”

A possible solution?

Stacie Townsend, the founder of Pickler, noted that solving this noise issue could help the game “flourish.”

That’s also what Pickleball USA executives hope for in addressing the matter. The governing body says its new Quiet Category will feature products that “deliver essentially 50% or less of the acoustic footprint” of the equipment that players at community parks typically use.

The category includes “specific guidance” to help manufacturers produce quieter products, based on studies and development over the past 15 months, according to Carl Schmits, managing director of facilities development and equipment standards for USA Pickleball. This is on top of plans to explore ways to adjust courts to help with noise.

Officials said they hope quieter products and courts may make it easier for communities to want to build more courts in the future, by meeting the types of demand that Utah communities are facing while also handling noise complaints.

McCain said the changes could be beneficial as the city looks to build more courts.

“When we are proposing something like pickleball, there’s an opportunity for those neighbors to let us know if there are any concerns,” she said. “But, largely, what we are hearing is that people want more pickleball.”

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USA Pickleball unveils ‘pivotal’ product changes. Will it solve game’s leading complaint?