If I were to ask most Americans what the fastest growing sport in the world is, many would undoubtedly say pickleball. If I were to ask the same question to people outside of the USA, the overwhelming answer would be padel tennis. This latter group would be correct: padel tennis is actually the fastest growing sport in the world. However, and most importantly, this is not the case in the USA. Here that title belongs to pickleball. The key difference in my mind is that pickleball has its roots in badminton whereas padel tennis stems directly from tennis.
Pickleball is commonly played as doubles on a badminton size court and uses a perforated, plastic ball with a tennis-style net. A non-volley zone (or kitchen) prevents volleys close to the net, and the serving team cannot volley the return of serve. Scoring is unique and is derived from badminton and can’t be explained in one or two sentences.
Padel is most commonly played as doubles on an enclosed court roughly 25% smaller than the size of a tennis court. Scoring is the same as tennis and the balls used are tennis balls with a little less pressure. The main differences are that the court is surrounded by mesh and glass and the balls can be played off of them, not unlike the game of squash. So, the question remains – why has the rest of the world embraced and begun investing heavily in the rollout of padel tennis courts when the USA is lagging behind and clearly focused on pickleball? Let’s discuss this further.
USA Pickleball Craze
Pickleball has taken the USA by storm in the past couple of years. The barriers to market are low. The game is fairly simple for anyone to pick up (though not score keep) and it requires less physical, mental and most importantly financial investment to play. In the short term, it’s an investment with a quick albeit small rate of return. In a majority of cases, players do not need to join a club as the courts themselves can be easily and inexpensively built. Nor do players need to spend large sums on equipment, as the cost of the equipment is minimal in the form of an investment in the small racket and whiffle ball. As a physical activity, the player will gain some essential exercise but the physical effort exuded is not as intense as say tennis, squash or padel. The last but most important element is that pickleball is a great sport for ultimate socialization. This sport lends itself easily to play and drink without having to worry about the physical limitations of playing while entertaining. This could be the next great American sport equal to football, baseball and apple pie. The question that I would raise… Is pickleball the racket sport that the American population should crave? Is this the healthiest choice? That is not for me to answer but for the individual player to assess.
Padel Tennis Craze Around the World – except in the United States
Padel has taken the rest of the world by storm. What creates millions upon millions of people wanting to play padel? What creates Spain now officially having more padel courts than tennis courts? In short, padel is considered to be the “chess” of racket sports as tennis is considered to be “checkers”. This is because padel has the glass and mesh components that create a whole new dynamic on strategy. It is not just simply about hitting shots with great velocity and topspin. The ball can easily come back in play when it reaches the back glass slowing down the ball allowing the opponent to strategically redirect the ball offensively. The brain is on full alert, carefully and calmly creating strategy that is unique and effective. In addition, padel represents a highly intense cardio workout as the court itself is 25% of a tennis court and everything within the glass and mesh is in. What that means is the points are longer and racket speed and foot work much quicker. You cannot take your eyes off that ball for even an instant – only a moment’s loss of focus can be the difference between winning and losing the point.
Additionally, this game also has a high social element! Not only is the game played in a doubles format, but the unique aspects of the glass and mesh enable players to create shots and rallies that are astounding and unbelievably creative, which even opponents can appreciate and bond over after the match.
So What’s Up America?!?
Why is padel on the back burner relative to pickleball? Some of the reasons are obvious and some not so obvious. The two top reasons are noted below.
Cost. The financial barriers to entry in the buildout of the physical infrastructure is the number one reason that it is taking more time for padel to grow. The cost of the glass, mesh, lights, turf, and even the larger scale court size in relationship to pickleball all add up. A key advantage that pickleball has is that you can transform an existing tennis court into four pickleball courts quickly and cheaply with some tape and a couple of temporary nets. You can even take it all down and turn it back into a tennis court if needed in short order. Padel tennis is a meaningful commitment and no temporary padel court can be built without material expense. The on court equipment itself also poses more expense for the player. The balls are the same as tennis and the padel rackets can range from $50 upwards to $500 due to the highly technical engineered rackets. In addition, building a new padel facility in the United States is financially challenging. However, the bright spot here is that existing tennis facilities that may have one or two underutilized tennis courts can relatively easily retrofit these courts into padel courts at minimal costs in relationship to the return on investment it will generate.
Public Sector Involvement. The lack of government financing through grants for health and wellness in the United States is also another element that has made padel tennis grow slower relative to the rest of the developed countries around the world. It is my opinion that due to the high costs of socialized medicine, governments are incentivised to keep their population healthy and active, and as a result there are meaningful amounts of grants, special financing, and other benefits that non-American sports and health communities have access to that we could only dream about in the United States to help build out the sport.
But Padel Has Been in the United States a Long Time
It also really surprised me when I first started playing padel in 2019 that padel tennis has actually been in the United States for quite some time. The US Padel Association (USPA) was founded in Chattanooga, Tennessee in 1993, and USPA opened two courts in the Chattanooga area. The American Padel Association was formed in 1995 and built its first courts at a private club in Houston. Why I did not hear about padel until 2017 when I read my first article in the USPTA magazine is beyond me. I was playing and traveling for tennis a ton throughout North America and the Caribbean over the past two decades. Of course after reading this USPTA article I was “all in” on Padel – seeing the game for the first time at a Ritz Carlton in Portugal was just the icing on the cake for me. Being an owner of a padel site in Austin Texas since 2020 and throwing my entire self into padel and its culture, I have also slowly come to an understanding of another reason why the sport has been slow to grow in the USA. Based on my experience, I believe padel in the United States has been insulated to a very small group that has had minimum motivation, until recently, to expand the padel community outside of itself. This small community recognizes the worldwide expansion and has benefited in the luxury of being a part of this global sport. It has had difficulties in sharing the sport with other communities outside itself within the United States. In its past, the governing bodies of the two padel associations were also weak with little substance and poor governance that most importantly included lightly regulated tournaments and individual player rankings. The good news is that there have been a lot of changes in the past couple of years due to the global expansion of padel, and this is all good news for the United States as it strengthens and improves its governing bodies but there is still much more work to be done.
What Does All This Mean for Pickle and Padel in the United States?
It is easy to see that both sports have a place in the sports and fitness arena. Depending on each individual’s preference, as well as their ability, motivation, and spiritual well-being, Americans will do well with both sports competing for attention, players, and growth. However, I do want to make this clear: padel is not pickleball, and anyone who tries both sports will agree that there is no comparison between the two. Just as one does not compare tennis to ping pong or squash, one cannot compare padel to pickleball. Yes, they are all racket sports, and there are some fundamental hand-eye coordination similarities, but that is where the similarities end.
PADEL ON AMERICA
Warm up exercises are critical to maintaining a healthy body and being able to move freely and be active. All of these warm ups will increase muscular joints, mobility and develop strong healthy joints. Do these warm ups every day and it will help prevent injuries while actively engaging in day to day routines and sports.
Consult a doctor before starting any physical exercise or warm ups. This is meant to be a long term solution so start at your level so pace yourself and gradually you will be able to complete all 15 repetitions of these warm ups. It is imperative to strengthen and provide mobility to the knees, lower back, core, shoulders and neck areas of our bodies. You can do all of these warm ups or a combination of what your body needs most.
All of this material comes directly from the Debbie Siebers Total Body Solution workout which you can find on the BEACHBODY web site.
NECK SOLUTION 10 minutes (uses mat and chair - 15 reps)
1. Chin tuck:Sit on a chair straight. Place 2 fingers on your chin. Pull chin down and with the fingers gently return to original position.
Excellent drill to increase mobility of the back and neck
2. Neck flexion: Lying face-up on your back, lift your chin/head as high as you can hold for a second and return to starting position.
Strengthens muscles in front of the neck.
3. Side neck Extension: lifting head from side-lying position with arms cross in front of you and repeat on both sides
Strengthens muscles on the right and left side of the neck.
4. Head tilt hold: Seated on a chair, the left arm goes up and over the top and your right hand grabs the left side of your head and you pull slightly to the right. Hold head for neck stretch and repeat on the other side.
Loosens muscles on the left and then right side of the neck.
SHOULDERS SOLUTION, 14 minutes (uses mat, band and optional stability ball – 15 reps)
1. Egyptian: Hold right arm bent at 90-degrees, and left arm down at 90-degrees. Turn and look over your left shoulder and arms go one up, one down and then alternate.
Increases mobility of the upper back and shoulder and neck regions.
2. Chest Lift: Standing with feet at shoulder width apart with arms crossing your chest. Raise chest while pulling shoulders back as high as you can without using your neck/head for a second and return to staring position. 15 Reps.
Increases strength in upper back
3. Floor Push: Drop down to your knees, place your hand directly below your shoulders, back flat, hips are low, head in neutral position with spine. Now pull your shoulder blades together as much as you can and push it up as far as you can. Hips should drop with each repetition and elbows locked. (protract/retract shoulder blades)
Strengthens muscles on the outside of the shoulder blade.
4. Band Pull: holding band overhead, bring behind back
LOWER BACK SOLUTION, 18 minutes (15 reps)
1. Cat/Camel: Start on your hands and knees directly below your shoulders, your back is flat neutral with your spine. Now push your lower back up as high as you can and push abs down as far as you can.
Frees up the nerves and low back muscles.
2. Hip Twist: Lay on your back, arms out to the side, lift right leg and reach across, touch your big toe to the ground and return to starting position. Do the other side.
Increase flexibility of the outer hip muscles and works deep in your lower back.
3. Bird Dog: Get on your hands and knees directly in front of shoulder. Back is flat and body is neutral with the spine. Extend simultaneously your left arm and your right leg. Hold for a second and return to starting position. (Keep your thumb up)
Strengthens glutes and lower back.
4. Trunk Twist: Lay on your left side, bottom leg is straight, top leg is bent, knee is resting on the ground and head is resting on the ground. Open up and twist as far as you can while keeping the knee the down and return to starting position. Do the other side.
Opens up the deep rotational muscles in your trunk.
5. Glute Bridge: Lay on your back flat and raise your pelvic without raising your back while keeping your heels up.
Strengthen lower back muscles.
6. Clam: Lay on your left side, knees bent and feet together. Your head is resting on your hand. From here lift your top knee up as high as you can and then lower back to starting position.
Strengthen the hip, abductors and muscles on the outside of the hip.
7. Good Morning: Feet are shoulder width apart. Cross your arms over your chest, push your hips back, keep your back flat, shift forward until your upper body is parallel to the ground then return to starting position.
Increases strength in all muscles from mid back down and behind the knees.
CORE SOLUTION, 10 minutes (uses a mat – 15 Reps)
1. Standing trunk twist: Step forward with left leg, both knees slightly bent. Hole your arms out parallel to the ground, twist to the right side as far as you can and then twist to the left side as far as you can. Keep your shoulders relaxed, arms must follow the chest.
Works the deep core rotational muscles.
2. Standing side bend: Feet will be shoulder width apart, arms to the side parallel to the ground. Shift to the left and then to the right from side to side.
This increases mobility of the side core muscles.
3. Hand walk out. This is a moving plank performed on knees. Go down on your knees. Hands are directly below your shoulders. Your back is flat and head is neutral with your spine. Then walk your right hand out as far as you can and then your land hand out and hold for a second and do this again 15 reps.
This strengthens core muscles all the way down to your back.
4. Side trunk raise. This is a modified side plank. Begin laying on the left side on your elbow/forearm, knees are bent at a 90-degree. Now bridge your hips up as high as you can and return to starting position. Do the other side.
Strengthens muscles on the left and right side of the core body.
5. Curl up: This is a reverse abs curl. Lay on your back, knees bent and feet flat. Pull knees into your chest, roll your hips up and return to starting position. You can do ½ way if needed.
Strengthens the front of the core and lower abdominal.
KNEE SOLUTION. (14 minutes and uses mat and chair)
1. Leg extension: You will be seated in chair and raising leg. Sitting in a chair with legs at 90-degrees. Extend right leg short of lock out then lower back down. Then do the same on the left leg. 15 reps on each side. This is good to warm up the knee.
2. Partial squat: Feet are shoulder width apart, arms down at your side. Push your hip back, lift arms in front, squat all the way down (as best as you can) and return to starting position. Repeat. Strengthens muscles in the hip, knee and ankle joints.
3. Calf raise: This is using hands on the back seat of a chair. Rest your hands on the edge of a chair. Walk your feet back until you feel a stretch in your calf. Now lift your right foot up and place it behind your left leg and perform a calf raise. Go as high as you can and return to starting position. Repeat and then do the other side. Strengthens the ankle joints, increases mobility in this area.
4. Knee push: Take a step forward with your right foot, weight on the right leg. Back heel should be elevated. Push your knee forward until it reaches the end of the toe line and return to starting position. Do the other side. Strengthens all muscles around the knee joint and increases
5. Leg curls. You will be lying face up, legs are straight, feet are pointed straight up and then pull heels into your glutes as far as possible and return to starting position. Increases strength of hamstrings and muscles on the back of the thighs. Support knee joints.
6. Single leg balance: Feet are shoulder width apart. Slightly bend right leg, lift left leg in front of you and hold for 30 seconds on each side. Increasing stability strength on the right side and then left side of the hip, knee and ankle joints.
7. Quadriceps hold: Lay on your stomach, rest on your elbows and forearm. Bend right knee to 90-degree, push yourself up on your elbows and forearm, hold position for 30 seconds. Loosening muscles on the front of the right thigh and takes the stress off the knee joints.
CHRISTINE BEAUDIN RCDD, PMP USPTA PADEL CERTIFIED
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