When the 2023 Pickleball Canada National Championship kicked off Wednesday in Regina, Pickleball Saskatchewan president Janet Bradshaw brought greetings on behalf of the host province. She also shared some big news for the provincial body, announcing that it recently became the newest organization to receive full sport status with Sask Sport.
Pickleball Saskatchewan had been granted emerging sport status in 2020. From there, the organization was given three years to meet a set of criteria that would lead to full sport status. In receiving that recognition, Pickleball Saskatchewan has assured itself continued funding through the Sask Lotteries Trust Fund as well as full voting status as a member of Sask Sport.
“That was a huge step, being recognized,” said Bradshaw, who noted that funding will assist the provincial body in supporting local tournaments, training for coaches and officials, and overall promotion of the game.
It was also just the latest benchmark in the meteoric rise of the sport in recent years.
Bradshaw, who calls Dysart home, has seen that growth firsthand. She says when she first joined the Pickleball Saskatchewan board in 2019, there were “three main clubs” and an estimated 700 registered players province-wide.
Today, Pickleball Saskatchewan counts 23 affiliate clubs and 2,957 registered players under its umbrella. Though Regina has established itself as a provincial hub of sorts — also hosting provincial and western Canadian championships in 2022 — affiliate members can also be found in smaller cities like Moose Jaw, Prince Albert and Swift Current, and rural communities like Ituna, Southey, Lac Pelletier, Kamsack and Rosthern. And, to Bradshaw’s eye, that’s just the tip of the iceberg.
“We are only the second province or territory in Canada that has received this type of recognition and funding, and we also know that those numbers are probably about one-third of the actual registered membership,” she said. “There are lots and lots of people who play pickleball recreationally and just choose not to belong to any organization.”
Pickleball Saskatchewan vice-president Phil Greenwood says he was introduced to the sport in Victoria, B.C. while on vacation in 2016 and it was more or less love at first swing.
“It didn’t take long for me to pick it up and get very interested, or addicted if you want to call it that,” said Greenwood.
Since then, Greenwood says he has played in “well over” 100 tournaments across North America and also co-owns the Queen City Pickleball Club in Regina.
“It’s such an easy sport to pick up and learn to play,” Greenwood said by way of explaining the sport’s recent ascendance. “It’s fun because you can be successful at it but you don’t have to be super athletic. But then for those who are super athletic or have had good success in a different sport, it’s a renewed fountain of youth.
“For me, I was competitive in my teens, my 20s and even a little bit into my 30s, but then you get busy working or with life. When you pick up a sport later on where you can actually beat a very athletic 25- year-old by using your experience and the built-in technique you had your whole life, it’s a pretty good experience.”
Greenwood added the next step in the game’s evolution will be continuing to attract younger players — a sentiment echoed by Bradshaw.
“With most sports, membership tends to be highest when players are younger and it drops off as they get older,” she said. “Pickleball started the opposite way because it started with the senior group and now we’re working back from there to attract more youth.”
Pickleball nationals are scheduled to wrap up Sunday. You can follow along here for up-to-the-minute results.