Cobb tennis pro turned pickleball coach explains why the sport is so popular

This week, Atlanta is hosting the second season of 2023 Major League Pickleball tour.

ATLANTA, Ga. (Atlanta News First) - Pickleball has exploded in popularity. The most recent figures put the sport at 8.9 million players.

This week, Atlanta is hosting the Major League Pickleball tour’s first event of the second season of MLP 2023.

The four-day tournament includes two levels of nonstop pro pickleball matches with both premier and challenger levels.

“Atlanta has been a hub for tennis and now pickleball is right there,” said Traci Thomas, owner of owner of and pickleball coach with TeachMe.To.

Longtime tennis pro turned pickleball instructor, coach Traci Thomas, will be closely watching the tournament. She was first introduced to pickleball in 2014 when she and her spouse visited their family in Florida.

“I thought I was going to play tennis, but quickly found out it was pickleball,” said Thomas.

She instantly saw the game’s potential. As manager of the public tennis facilities for the Cobb County Parks & Recreation Department, she urged county officials to jump on board.

“I came back to Cobb County and said we need to be the first to roll this out. We’re the biggest parks and rec department in the southeast. They’re teaching it in schools, and we need to be the first to be on the platform,” said Thomas.

A lot has changed in nearly 10 years. Thomas is now retired from the county, but she’s left a lasting impact on the game of pickleball as proof of the increasing number of pickleball courts.

“In the early days, we just used painters’ tape. Then we graduated to some lines on the court. Now the county and different departments around the area are putting in what’s called dedicated courts,” said Thomas.

According to TeachMe.To, a company that connects beginners with local expert instructors like Thomas, says inquiries into pickleball lessons have surged 300 percent in metro Atlanta.

Thomas calls pickleball a lifetime sport that anyone can play.

“You know, it’s a little bit bigger than ping-pong, a lot smaller than tennis. People who have had some mobility issues, the court is small enough where they can still get out there, a little bit of movement, you still get some cardio. But it’s not near the size of a tennis court, and then everyone’s able to play it,” said Thomas.

You can check out a professional pickleball match Thursday through Sunday at the sports complex Life Time in Peachtree Corners. Dozens of teams, including the Atlanta Bouncers, are competing for the largest prize money in all of professional pickleball, $5 million.

You can find ticket information here for the 2023 Major League Pickleball tour stop in Atlanta.

Don  Shipman

Don Shipman

Don Shipman is a morning reporter and anchor at Atlanta News First where he highlights the good that’s happening throughout metro Atlanta.