You heard the public's demand for pickleball courts. You transformed some older, hardly used tennis courts into pickleball courts.
And now you're hearing the public's complaints about the noise from the courts.
Ironically, a sport created decades ago allowing families and friends of all ability levels to play together is causing a serious rift between Picklers (Pickleball players) and non-players living near the courts.
It's not an uncommon situation. Pickleball is America's fastest-growing sport. In fact, participation in the sport nearly doubled in 2022. According to Paddletek--a pickleball equipment company--there are over 9,500 courts in North America. Sixty new courts emerge each month.
There is a good chance your community plays more pickleball, makes more noise, and gets more complaints about the noise.
This article explores what's causing the pickleball noise and some options to reduce it.
Why is Pickleball So Noisy?
Equipment used to play pickleball causes the most noise issues. Unlike tennis, the balls used for pickleball are made from hard plastic. Many pickleball paddles also have a hollow construction, contributing to the noise.
Although noise levels vary, the average pickleball sound ranks at about 70 dBA. A-weighted decibel measures the relative loudness of sounds perceived by the human ear. A-weighting is the standard for determining noise pollution and hearing damage. It gives more value to the frequencies the sound produces.
As far as frequencies go, people can hear between 20 hertz (Hz) and 20 kilohertz (kHz). They are more sensitive to frequencies in the 250-5,000 Hz range. Noise from a pickleball court can range from 1,000 to 2,000 Hz, close to the most sensitive frequency range. This frequency can also be heard from farther distances.
For reference, 70 decibels is about the same as a washing machine or dishwasher running. It's a moderate noise level. It's not harmful, but anything above 60 dB can be considered annoying.
The sounds from a tennis game--minus all those loud grunts some players like to make when hitting the ball--are about 55 dB. That's about the sound of a conversation.
People are also bothered by pickleball noise because it is an impulsive sound. In other words, it is a short burst of sound that lasts around 2 milliseconds. Impulsive sounds annoy people more than steady-state sounds like background noise in a restaurant.
Factors Contributing to Pickleball Noise
It's not just the ball and paddle causing the noise complaints. Here are a few other factors that may be contributing to the noise problem:
- Court Surface: Many pickleball courts are repurposed tennis courts made of concrete or asphalt. These hard surfaces amplify the sound of the ball bouncing off the ground.
- Players' Abilities: Higher-skilled players make more noise. The ball moves faster, gets hit harder, and pops louder.
- Pickleball's Popularity: It's a trending sport that people of most ability levels can play. And there are some very passionate enthusiasts for the sport, which could lead to more crowd noise during games.
- More Players in the Same Space: Pickleball courts are smaller than tennis courts. If you include a tennis court's runoff areas, you can fit 4 pickleball courts in a standard tennis court. The area's additional players and proximity make it a louder sport. The smaller courts also create more constant noise.
- Nearby Environment: Buildings and other nearby structures can amplify the pickleball court noise and make it travel further.
All these factors should be considered when assessing the noise levels and determining the best solutions to please Picklers and their detractors.
Current Solutions for Less Pickleball Noise
There are a few options to help reduce pickleball noise. While, as of now, none of these alone may be a perfect solution, they can help with the problem.
Your best option…
Probably the best solution--and the one most won't want to hear if they're already getting an earful of pickleball noise complaints--is planning ahead.
If your agency creates a new pickleball court, the placement and materials used can prevent potential problems reasonably effectively.
Build courts at least 500 feet from any bordering residences. Noise decreases to about 58 dBa 400 feet from a court. The orientation of courts also makes a difference. Also, more noise travels from the end of the pickleball courts compared to the sides.
Choosing a court surface made with rubber or foam can also help minimize the sound of the ball bouncing.
Constructing the court with noise barriers can also significantly reduce the noise. We'll discuss this next.
Now, many agencies don't have the luxury of choosing a new location to build brand-new courts with sound-dampening walls and surfacing. They may have to retrofit tennis courts or create them in predetermined locations.
What can they do?
Installing Soundproof Materials
Acoustic fences and screens around the playing area can help reduce noise problems. Noise barriers help to absorb, interrupt, or deflect sound waves away from a desired location.
Some of the more common soundproofing materials for pickleball courts include:
- Mass Loaded Vinyl (MLV)
- Composite Acoustical Products
- Concrete and wood structures
Taller sound barriers surrounding the entire court will most effectively reduce noise.
Of course, materials and installation of pickleball sound barriers can be expensive, depending on which you choose.
Like most other amenities in a park, many materials used to block or absorb sound will need regular maintenance. Be sure to check the maintenance needs of the chosen material before installing. Once installed, set up regular intervals for inspections and maintenance to protect your investment.
Regulate Playing Times
Another way some agencies have addressed the pickleball noise issue is by regulating the times picklers are allowed to play. While this won't completely solve the noise problem, it is helpful to ensure neighbors aren't disturbed early or late in the day.
Space Courts Out
Just because a tennis court can fit 4 pickleball courts doesn't mean you must create them that way.
Yes, pickleball is popular. More and more people are getting into the game. And your agency probably wants to accommodate the sport's growth in your community. But if you used the area of one tennis court to create only two pickleball courts, that can reduce the number of picklers playing simultaneously by up to 8.
The noise would still be there, but it wouldn't be as constant.
Paddle and Ball Regulations
Some agencies also regulate the type of pickleball equipment used on their courts. There are "quieter" versions of pickleball paddles and balls available.
The good news: they do reduce some noise coming from pickleball courts. But there is some compromise. Quieter pickleball paddles and balls play differently and affect the game's dynamics.
The different equipment may not make much of a difference for those just starting out playing pickleball. The more passionate enthusiasts may feel using this equipment is taking away from their game and enjoyment.
Still, if other options are not feasible, using quieter pickleball equipment may be the best compromise.
One community in Arizona tested different pickleball paddles. They determined quieter paddles as being in the "Green Zone," or creating more acceptable noise levels. The community made a list that places paddles into three categories--green, yellow, and red.
Sun City Grand continues to update this list and make it available free of charge to other communities.
Unfortunately, you're not going to please everyone all the time. The noise problem with pickleball courts is an excellent example of this.
While there are some solutions to help reduce noise from pickleball courts, it will ultimately require a compromise between picklers and non-players.
The maintenance team can be a valuable part of this compromise by ensuring noise-reducing efforts are working their best. Conducting regular maintenance and inspections on sound-absorbing installations can ensure the material works better and lasts longer.