Pickleball is making a big noise in the world of recreational sports.
Since its creation in early 1960s, the sport has attracted a following of cult-like proportions, as people flock in droves to local courts to take a swing at the wildly popular paddle sport.
Pickleball has also created noise in the literal sense – and not always in a good way. The sharp pop of graphite or wood paddles striking the hollow plastic ball can be loud. Very loud. And when dozens of players hit the courts at the same time, the sound can be annoying and downright painful to those living and working near where the games are taking place at all hours of the day. Communities where Pickleball noise is a serious problem are beginning to push back by seeking relief through new legislation aimed at lowering the racket.
The Pickleball bounce
Pickleball, a combination of tennis, badminton, and ping pong, was first created in 1965 in Bainbridge Island, Washington, by three fathers looking to give their bored children a new activity by using a hodgepodge of other sports as inspiration.
Some 58 years later, Pickleball continues to gain in popularity. In fact, more than 35 million Americans picked up a paddle from 2020 to 2021 according to a survey by the Association of Pickleball Professionals (APP). And that number continues to grow.
The COVID-19 pandemic is also a huge factor in the recent Pickleball boom. As the virus spread and prevented people from playing traditional team sports, Pickleball was seen as a safe, socially distant way to be outdoors and stay active.
A sport for everyone
Experts also attribute the rapid popularity of Pickleball to a few other factors — the ease of play, the low cost of entry and sociability. Most people can learn how to play Pickleball with just a few lessons, and there are leagues and tournaments all over where players can compete with others at similar skill levels.
Pickleball is also more affordable than sports like tennis or golf. A good paddle can be found between $100 and $200 – and there’s no need to be part of a fancy country club.
Pickleball is incredibly social too and provides an outlet for many to make new friends of all ages. While boomers dominate the sport, younger players are increasingly taking to the court.
Courting more courts
In 2021, there were just over 38,000 Pickleball courts in the US and about 4.8 million players. This amounts to about 126 Pickleball players per court. And with estimates showing that there could be more than 40 million Pickleball players by the end of the decade, the country would need to gain nearly 280,000 courts by 2030. Municipalities nationwide are trying to meet the demand for Pickleball venues — so many in fact that USA Pickleball is putting together a toolkit for community planners with guidelines and cost estimates for building courts, which can range from $300 for a temporary net, equipment and tape to mark lines, to $30,000 for a permanent court. With real estate for new court construction being so costly, communities are also creating shared courts – lined tennis and/or basketball courts—to accommodate multiple sports, including Pickleball – and a much lower cost.
What’s all that racket?
With all its success, there are many widespread noise complaints associated with the sport, leading some to even take legal action regarding the “pop-pop” sound that a Pickleball ball makes when it strikes the paddle. The sound can be very loud and repetitive and has been attributed to disruptions in sleep, work, and the peace and quiet of residential areas located near Pickleball courts.
Bob Unetich, a retired engineer and Carnegie Mellon University professor and founder of Pickleball Sound Mitigation LLC recently co-authored research on Pickleball noise levels. Some of his findings will perk up your ears:
- When the solid surface of the Pickleball racket connects with the hard surface of the ball, sound waves vibrate rapidly, registering a decibel level of approximately 70 dBA at 100 feet from the court. (Tennis is closer to 40 dBA.)
- Although a solid hit reaches 70 dBA, the average noise level throughout a typical Pickleball match is around 59 dBA. That number increases when multiple courts are packed next to each other, as is often the case.
- Pickleball hits also have a high pitch, with a frequency of ~1.2k Hz, which is roughly the same frequency as the beeping noise from a garbage truck backing up.
Taking Pickleball noise to court
Disputes around Pickleball noise have arisen in dozens of municipalities across the country.
- In May of 2022, the mayor of Mission Woods, Kansas, filed a lawsuit against the Mission Hills Country Club for the noise levels coming from Pickleball courts on converted tennis courts.
- In Birmingham, Michigan, neighbors of the Birmingham Country Club mounted a campaign to halt the conversion of tennis courts to Pickleball courts across the street from them.
- In Chestnut Hill, Pennsylvania, residents threatened a lawsuit against the city.
- In Lake Oswego Oregon, the city council voted to ban Pickleball at George Rogers Park –a main destination for Pickleball enthusiasts–after residents near the park said the noise was unbearable and disrupting their lives.
Solutions for turning down the volume
While building Pickleball courts out of earshot of residential areas is the obvious solution for reducing noise, there are other solutions being offered to help turn down the volume.
1. Using foam Pickleballs and quieter paddles
There are many new, softer ball and paddle options that will make the sport significantly quieter without sacrificing performance.
2. Installing sound-blocking material on fences
No soundproof fence will ever be able to block sound altogether, but surrounding Pickleball courts with sound-blocking material has been shown to reduce the noise by up to 12 decibels.
3. Regulating hours of play
If there is tension with nearby homeowners about Pickleball noise, it can help to meet with affected parties and see if some compromise can be found to limit the hours when Pickleball can be played.
4. Building a solid wall
Solid stone or brick walls absorb the most sound; the thicker they are, the more effective they will be.
5. Correcting court orientation will reduce Pickleball sound
Whenever possible, create play areas that have the sides of the Pickleball courts directed towards places where the noise may be a problem.
6. Installing baffles in indoor courts.
Baffles or acoustic clouds work well to reduce Pickleball noise in inside situations. For buildings with high ceilings, acoustic clouds can be suspended below the ceiling.
Source: The Racket Life
Useful examples of pickleball noise legislation from the eCode360® Library
If your community is interested in legislating or updating ordinances related to pickleball noise here are some useful examples that can be found in our eCode360 Library:
Updating your municipal code is vitally important
Submit your code updates as soon as possible to ensure constituents and local government officials are always referencing and working with the most up-to-date resources. Make it part of your Board meeting close-out process to send your adopted legislative changes to General Code when everything from that meeting is already right at hand.
General Code clients can easily send legislation to [email protected] (If you’re located in Texas, please submit your legislation to [email protected]) For tips that will allow us to process your code updates most efficiently, click here.
- The History of Pickleball—USA Pickleball
- What Can You Do About Pickleball Noise? FindLaw.com
- The sound of Pickleball – a detailed explanation, and what you need to consider before building courts- CrazyPickleballlady.com
- Pickleball noise lawsuits: problems/solutions – Pickleball Lobby
- Pickleball is America’s fastest growing sport. These people hate it.—CNN Business
- Pickleball has a noise problem. He’s trying to fix it. — NPR
- Opinion: Yes, Pickleball can be loud. Solutions exist, and the best one is also the most fun.—The San Diego Union Tribune
- Sounding off on Wellesley Pickleball noise– The Swellesley Report