See why the Theme Park Capital of the World is also a contender for the Pickleball Capital of the World with our guide to playing — and mastering — the game in Orlando (pickleball courts at the USTA National Campus pictured, front left).
Part tennis, part badminton, part ping-pong and 100% fun, pickleball has enjoyed a surge in popularity in recent years — but until you’ve played it, you probably won’t understand why.
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“Pickleball is coming up almost daily, and I think it’s just going to keep doing so,” said Gary Lang, manager and resident pickleball expert at Orlando’s ClearOne Sports Centre, which has nine air-conditioned pickleball courts and offers pickleball classes. “I don’t even think we’ve scratched the surface of how popular this game is going to become in the next five years.”
Craig Morris, chief executive of community tennis at the United States Tennis Association (USTA) National Campus in Orlando’s Lake Nona community, concurs. “The racquet sports industry has seen incredible growth in participation across a number of sports in recent years, including both tennis and pickleball,” he said. It’s why the campus added four pickleball courts in 2021, further cementing the facility as a premier destination for all racquet sports.
Discover: Things to Do at the USTA National Campus
Fortunately, there’s no need for pickleball FOMO when you visit or live in Orlando, which boasts dozens of high-quality courts plus unparalleled instructional opportunities. See why the sport is so popular, discover top places to play in Central Florida, and start serving aces of your own.
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Why Play Pickleball?
Pickleball is played on a badminton-sized court and a slightly modified tennis net, using a racquetball-esque paddle and plastic balls with holes. It can be played as doubles or singles by all ages and skill levels. Why is the sport so popular? It’s not just because it’s a fun, social way to stay healthy and active — although that factor certainly helps.
“Staying active is a key component to maintaining a healthy lifestyle,” said Morris. “Participation in racquet sports, including both tennis and pickleball, reduces risk of all-cause mortality by 47% and cardiovascular-related death by 56%.”
Not only does he agree about the health benefits, but Lang further notes that playing pickleball is one of the most entertaining ways to stay fit. “It got me off the couch,” he said. “For probably 10 years before that, I would play in an adult softball league and up north, that’s only three or four months a year. And the rest of the time, I’m not going to walk on a treadmill or go on a track and walk circles.”
Since he started playing, Lang has by his own admission become addicted to the sport. He also points to pickleball players’ generally friendly nature as another reason for the game’s appeal. “For the most part, it’s a welcoming community,” he said. “I’ve been down here in Florida for the last two years and my whole friend circle is playing. There are people that I just know from the social aspect of being at the courts.”
Lang also shoots down the most common reasons people give for not giving pickleball a try. “I started about five years ago through friends of mine that were already playing the game,” he said. “I had all the excuses: I don’t have a paddle, I don’t have the right clothes. And they quickly allowed me to realize that it’s not a game that’s hard to get into.
“If you know someone that plays the game already, they more than likely have paddles that you can borrow. Clothes are pretty much tennis shoes and comfortable clothing, and [you’ll need] pickleballs. Although their prices are growing right now just like everything else in our economy, the pickleballs are rather inexpensive, as well.”
You don’t even need previous racquet sports experience — or pickles. Per Lang, “It’s a very easy game to pick up.”
Where to Play Pickleball in Orlando
Lang doesn’t see pickleball’s popularity slowing down. “I talk to people … that tell me no matter where they go, court demand is just through the roof. USA Pickleball estimates nationwide there are 40,000 courts to play on, which sounds like a lot. But they also estimate there’s close to 9 million people playing this game right now.”
Fortunately, Orlando is well stocked when it comes to pickleball courts, with more than 50 locations to choose from throughout the destination and new ones continually being added. They include the four open-air courts at the USTA National Campus, as well as ClearOne Sports Centre’s nine indoor, air-conditioned courts. Both venues also offer instruction.
“The USTA National Campus staff are equipped to deliver racquet sports at the highest possible level,” said Morris. “Not only can players learn from our esteemed coaching and teaching staff, but the campus also offers an expansive pro shop for players to pick up the latest gear and apparel, as well as locker rooms and an on-site restaurant, the Net Post Grill.”
Reserving a USTA court starts at as little as $18 an hour, and the campus also offers programs and play opportunities for all ages and abilities. For complete details, visit USTANationalCampus.com/Play. The facility’s surrounding neighborhood, Lake Nona, features numerous food, entertainment and lodging options minutes from Orlando International Airport (MCO).
Discover: Things to Do in Lake Nona
ClearOne Sports Centre, which is west of Orlando’s College Park Main Street district, offers a Pickleball 101 course for beginners. They also have Pickleball 102 courses for players who are ready to take their game to the next level with advanced strategies. Taught by Lang and his daughter, both courses are open to locals and visitors alike, but Lang cautions that they are very popular.
Discover: Things to Do in College Park Main Street
“If you look at our website, it’s booked sometimes four, five or six weeks in advance,” said Lang. “Sometimes a spot will open up last minute if someone has to back out or reschedule. And honestly, when that happens, within a day or two that spot gets filled up.” You can sign up for upcoming classes at PickleballOrlando.com.
That site also has information on more than 50 pickleball venues throughout the Orlando area, including outdoor and indoor options. Many locations also have multiple courts, including Warren Park. Find one close to your home or hotel, book some time, and unleash your inner pickler right here in Orlando.
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