Pickleball Offers Greater Gender Equity Than Most Sports
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From the beginning, the Professional Pickleball Association (PPA) Tour has offered equal purses for women and men, and mixed doubles has been a key feature of tournaments. Amateur women and men play together in recreational play every day of the week on courts all over the country, and the equipment, courts, and strategies work together to create the possibility of more equitable play between women and men than most sports.

I asked a number of players on the PPA Tour if they think pickleball is more equitable than most sports; they all told me that they absolutely do. Andrea Koop said that pickleball is certainly the most inclusive sport she’s ever played. Anna Bright agreed, “All around, it is very inclusive.”

Mixed Doubles Facilitates Equity

Hannah Johns of the PPA Tour told me, “We take great pride in being an equitable sport where men and women can play side-by-side for the same payouts. Mixed doubles is one of the few physically demanding sports in the world where men and women compete on the same court together under the same conditions.”

Irina Tereschenko noted the prominence of mixed doubles in pickleball and added, “Some of the female players are arguably better than the male players. It doesn’t happen often in other sports.”

While Lacy Schneeman acknowledged differences between genders at the pro level, she was quick to add, “There is a discrepancy but not in the way other sports are. Women can hang. There’s not so much of a difference that we can’t play together and have a really good match or quality points.”

Bright also pointed to the importance of mixed doubles in creating a more equitable sport for women. She said, “Mixed doubles is always a huge deal. I feel the existence of mixed and the value of mixed doubles makes pickleball pretty egalitarian.”

Pickleball forces women and men to need each other, Koop stated. “The men need a woman to play one out of three of the events. I need a man [to play mixed doubles]. It’s a staple of the sport and make it natural and inclusive [to play together].”

When men and women play together, men get to know women and respect them as athletes, players explained. Alex Neumann explained that mixed doubles “creates a lot more respect between the male and female players because you are competing in mixed doubles together so you grow in respect for what makes a female so good in her side of the court and what you do special. It bridges that gap [between men and women] a lot more than other sports.”

Schneeman added that “Anytime you have a co-ed sport like pickleball, you will have to play with other gender or people you don’t know on the same side of the court. You will have to meet them and form some kind of connection so you can try to be successful together. You want to be on good terms with your partner, or it’s probably not going to go well.”

Zack Taylor told me that the mixed doubles game “really levels the playing field.” He pointed to the smaller court that means less ground to cover, making play between men and women more equitable. He also noted that all players use the same balls and the same paddles. While he acknowledged that some of the women on the tour can hit the ball as hard as some of the men, he added that pickleball is as much a strategy game as a power game.

“You don’t have to overpower your opponents to beat them,” he said. “A lot of the top players on the tour have the same shots as me, but they are just smarter with what they’re doing with the ball and where they’re placing the ball.” He added, “Mixed doubles is so fun to watch in pickleball because you can really see the team strategy.”

Neumann also noted the parity that comes in mixed doubles as women and men bring different styles and strengths to the game. “You can have a really competitive match or a really exciting mixed doubles match. The points that are created when you have really different playing styles and different genders on the court are really exciting for fans to watch.”

Recreation Play Is Equalizing

These pros pointed to pickleball recreation play as a truly equalizing space. Tereschenko suggested pickleball is unique as a sport because of how easy it is for someone to start playing. She explained, “The learning curve is super short. Anyone can be playing in 10 minutes. Everyone can find a level appropriate for them.”

Bright agreed that the culture of the sport invites inclusivity. She explained, “It’s one of the few sports, like basketball, where you can just play pickup with anyone. That’s the culture at most public places. You just put your paddle in and play. It doesn’t matter—age, sex—all that really matters is level. You can just have a great time even if you are better or worse than someone. It’s in the culture of the game. It’s accessibility. It’s fun. People will play with anyone.”

Taylor also noted how age often matters less in pickleball than in many other sports. He said, “I have friends who are very athletic who get beat by their grandpa and their grandma. They don’t understand how to beat them. That’s the beauty of pickleball. That’s why pickleball is unlike any other sport because you could literally play against your grandchild and he could beat you and then play against your kids and you could beat them. It just makes the sport so fun. The older generation who have played the game longer just understand the strategy of the game. They know that they can’t outrun a young kid so they are going to have to beat them with shots and shot selection.”

For Koop, it’s the wiffleball that’s the great equalizer in pickleball. She said that with tennis, it’s immediately apparent if you’re bad at it, but the wiffleball equalizes things at the beginning level of play. Tereschenko added, “The rules and equipment were designed to blur the lines between age and gender.”

There’s Still Work to Do

Of course, we still live in a patriarchal world, and so even pickleball isn’t perfect in its gender parity. Men can crowd women on the court. Men get more and bigger endorsements and sponsors. More men’s games make it to the broadcast courts. And, as in almost every profession, women have to pay more attention to their appearance than men. The women pros I talked to told me the pressure isn’t tremendous in pickleball, but it’s certainly there, especially for women who want to increase their brand and invite more sponsorships and endorsement. Still, the women I talked to felt strongly they did not need to compromise themselves or their values to be successful on the court or as businesspeople.

“Get Out and Play”

With the exploding popularity of pickleball, perhaps women and men can take a step closer to one another in a sport that prides itself on its inclusion and equity.

Catherine Parenteau summarized: “For me it’s awesome to be a woman in a sport that is pretty much equal.” Koop offered women this final word of advice: “Get out and play. Don’t be afraid to ask the guy on the court if you can have the next game. It doesn’t matter if you join a game with three guys and you. Get out and do it.”

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