Unfortunately, pickleball in urban centres often comes with noise complaints

Proper facility design mitigates pickleball noise

Properly implemented pickleball courts have an acceptable setback from the closest residence and employ noise mitigation strategies. Such implementation requires appropriate funding. When a municipality paints pickleball lines on available tennis courts believing they have provided pickleball courts, conflict inevitably ensues, not just with the displaced tennis players, but also with nearby residents.

Pickleball is noisy because pickleball is social

At first, complaints about noise centre around the constant tick of the ball hitting the paddle. However, the real noise problem is not the sound of the pickleball against the paddle, but the frequency of that sound magnified by the social nature of the game. A single tennis court can be converted into as many as four pickleball courts. Unlike tennis, almost all recreational pickleball is played in doubles. Thus, two tennis players playing at too great a distance to carry on a conversation are replaced by 16 pickleball players within tight proximity generally engaging in a lively and exuberant conversation often marked by laughter. The sound of a tennis ball hitting a tennis racket is not substantially less audible than the sound of a pickleball hitting a paddle. However, in pickleball, because of the mass of people, instead of hearing the whoop (silence) whoop (silence) whoop of a tennis ball, nearby residents hear a constant tick tick tick of paddle against ball accentuated by a constant burble of conversation.

Softballs and paddles do not solve the problem

Some municipalities have tried to solve the problem by mandating quieter paddles or the use of foam balls. This rarely solves the annoyance of already aggravated residents and it fundamentally alters the nature of the game. Foam ball is not pickleball. The ball has different bounce characteristics and different spin characteristics. Yes, it is possible for low-level recreational players to have as much fun playing foam ball. However, pickleball is rapidly emerging as a competitive sport across Europe and North America, with incursions into South America, the Caribbean and East Asia. Most pickleball players will not accept a sport that is substantially different from that they are now seeing on their TV, any more than competitive hockey players would accept a ruling requiring only rollerblades, even though justification can be made for rollerblades on environmental grounds. More importantly, padded paddles and foam balls are expensive and require every participant to purchase new equipment. By not spending appropriately on pickleball facilities, the municipality is downloading costs on individual players, effectively pushing lower social economic status players from the game. 

Properly planned and funded facilities do solve the problem

When pickleball is properly funded, courts are designed with sound mitigation in mind, understanding that the primary problem with noise is the congestion of players and not simply the sound of the ball. If courts are placed at least 100 m away from the closest residence, the problem is solved. If only 70 m is available, the problem can be solved by the installation of sound deadening barriers on the fences and/or the planting of dense shrubbery.  When only 50 m is available, the problem can be solved by the construction of dirt and sod berms. Pickleball courts within 30 m of the closest residence are not recommended.

We represent a demographic that is currently underfunded

If a municipality is interested in supporting a game that is majority older players (with emerging popularity among school-aged children), that is majority female, and that allows for play across the socio-economic strata, then it is imperative that proper pickleball courts be designed and implemented. Proper facilities are available for sports that are majority young athletic males. Proper facilities should also be available for individuals that do not fit this previously favoured demographic. 

Greg Feehan

President, Vancouver Pickleball Association