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Pickleball club membership has spiked by 54 per cent in two years

Growing popularity of sport means limited space to play

The St. Albert Pickleball Club has seen a big increase in its numbers in the past few years, with membership expected to spike to more than 1,000 when the snowbirds return for the summer.

Hitting the 1,000 mark would mean the local pickleball club has seen a 54 per cent increase in memberships in less than two years, as the club had 648 members in July 2022, said club president Eileen McClean.

On April 22 the club kicked off the outdoor season in the city, which marks the beginning of six straight months of daily play at the courts in Akinsdale.

The beginning of outdoor season doesn't mean local pickleballers will be spending the next few weeks getting back in the groove or working out some rust; the return of the summer sun simply means the club will soon be transitioning away from playing in school gymnasiums as they have done all winter.

“Everything's going to transition from the indoor venues,” McClean said, adding the last indoor sessions will take place in early June when the schools close for summer.

Transitioning from using six local school gyms, as well as the Red Willow Community Church gym, to using 10 of the 12 courts on Alpine Boulevard will be a bit of a struggle for playing time, McClean said.

“We have just under 900 members now, and you only can have 40 people on the courts and so many waiting ... so we can keep our indoor [courts] until the schools close because we just don't have enough court time,” she said. “When our snowbirds return and renew [their memberships], we should have 1,086 members.”

The growth in local memberships has far outpaced the growth in court space in the city, as the 12 courts on Alpine Boulevard, which are the newest public courts to be built in St. Albert, opened in 2018. 

Such sharp growth in the sport comes as no surprise to McClean, who cited a survey done by the sport's national governing body Pickleball Canada in 2023, which found about 1.37 million Canadians play the sport at least once a month. In 2022, the same survey found the number of Canadians playing once per month was just over one million.

“Overall, Canadians say they are still playing pickleball because its fun, its social, and for its health and fitness benefits,” Pickleball Canada said of its 2023 survey. “Interestingly though, there was a significant increase in the number of Canadians playing pickleball for the competition within the game.”

The competitive spirit is certainly alive for local players, as McClean said the club has a handful of tournaments planned this summer, including a sanctioned event in August.

Sanctioned tournaments refer to tournaments regulated by Pickleball Canada. These tournaments give players an opportunity to advance their ratings, which are used to enter other tournaments and play more and more competitive pickleball.

“We have a members kick-off tournament June 8-9; we have a members-only fun tournament again in September on the 21-22; and the Rotary Club is having a fundraising tournament for the community on June 15-16,” McClean said.

More information about the tournaments and memberships can be found on the club's website.

For those looking to try their hand at their sport without signing up for a membership, two of the Alpine Boulevard courts are always open for spontaneous use for residents, as are the four courts in Larose Park.

McClean said don't be surprised if you end up waiting in line to play at those courts too.

“It's such fun,” she said. “It should come with a warning: it's addictive.”

“I've played lots of sports over my life, and I love, love, love pickleball.”

Jack Farrell

About the Author: Jack Farrell

Jack Farrell joined the St. Albert Gazette in May, 2022.
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