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4 new, trendy sports that Indians are playing

Indians are adopting more active lifestyles and playing new sports like padel, pickleball and bouldering

Bouldering is a solo sport that tests the participant's climbing and problem-solving skills. (Unsplash/Nathan Cima)

By Shrenik Avlani

LAST PUBLISHED 25.01.2024  |  08:45 AM IST

When it comes to following and watching sports, us Indians are an enthusiastic lot. Mainly owing to our gigantic population of 1.4 billion people, any sport that is broadcast or streamed finds decent viewership numbers and following. However, this passive consumption of sport in the country doesn’t translate into active participation where people take up these sports and play for recreation, points out Divyanshu Singh, COO of JSW Sports.  

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For India to compete consistently at the highest level and also become a fitter and healthier country, we need people to play more sport and do so from an early age. That, along with creating a better environment and infrastructure for sports, will go a long way in encouraging people to play more and become active consumers of sports.

While cricket remains the most popular sport even when it comes to playing, the sprouting of turf grounds around the country in the last couple of years has led to more people taking up football. Leading European clubs have even set up training academies in the bigger cities. Running is another sport that has been enthusiastically accepted across the country in the last decade. Today, it is the biggest mass participation sport in India, matching a global trend. Other sports that are gaining popularity include racquet sports such as badminton and squash as more housing complexes and societies provide sports facilities for their residents.  

Here are four new exciting sports that are growing in our cities, and whose uptake is likely to spread across the rest of the country in the next few years.

Padel: This is a racquet sport that has grown tremendously in the last few years, especially in Asia and Europe. There are proper tournaments being held now with tough competition and a high level of skills on display across Europe, Asia, Africa and the Middle East. In the US, the game's more popular on the east coast. 

Padel is a combination of tennis and squash. It features a ball that resembles a tennis ball – only lighter and softer, and each player wields a solid perforated racquet significantly smaller than either tennis or squash racquets. The game itself is played in a cage featuring two 10mtr square courts separated by a net. Like tennis, each court has two service boxes and players are required to serve diagonally. While serving, the ball must pitch within the service box. The game gets interesting when you factor in the cage, which is a combination of a fence and glass walls. The ball remains in play, just like squash, when it pitches and hits the glass walls. When it hits the metal fence after pitching, the opponent wins a point. 

The fact that the court is smaller and you need to serve under arm makes padel a much easier sport to play for people of all skill and fitness levels. That it is mainly played in doubles makes it less strenuous and more social and enjoyable. The sport is growing in popularity with padel courts fast popping up across the country. Padel racquets and balls are also readily available online and at big specialty retailers such as Decathlon.


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Pickleball: You know a sport is trending when Andre Agassi and Steffi Graf team up to take on fellow tennis legends John McEnroe and Maria Sharapova in Hollywood. That's also proof that this one's a sport that can be played by people of all ages. Like padel, pickleball is a racquet sport (explains why Agassi et al are playing it) that has caught on across the world and is especially popular in the USA, where it was invented in 1965, and Canada. Like padel, it is easy to play because of the smaller court (13.5m x 6m) and underarm serve. Its just as social and competitive. 

Pickleball uses a solid rectangular racquet with a handle on one end, and a perforated ball made of a plastic-rubber compound. While padel is the more popular of the two sports, pickleball is equally exciting. The trademark loud “pickleball plonk" noise that the ball makes upon contact with the racquet adds an element of fun. A new pickleball arena has just sprung up in Kolkata, which is usually slow in adopting new trends: a clear sign that the sport has found active followers and players in India.

Climbing and bouldering: Ever since these two sports debuted at the Tokyo Olympics in 2021, their popularity has climbed through the roof in India. While climbing was always popular among a small section of mountaineers and in a handful of places in the hills, in the last three years, plenty of private climbing gyms have popped up in the big metros. With a growing number of people adopting an active lifestyle and looking for a sport that they can do on their own or with just one other person, climbing and bouldering are finding plenty of takers. 

Climbing requires two people as one person has to “belay" from the ground while the climber climbs. Climbing is a test of your skill and speed. Bouldering, on the other hand, is done solo and is like a puzzle that one needs to solve while testing their own climbing skills. This makes bouldering a lot more stimulating and fulfilling. People often think climbing and bouldering are all about upper body strength, but that is a huge mistake. Usually, people who cannot do even a single pull-up are great at these sports because they use their entire body efficiently, recruiting both legs, core and upper body, to take them right to the top. If you ever want to feel or act like Spider-Man, try the overhang section at a climbing gym, it is a lot of fun.  

Ironman 70.3: The world’s most famous triathlon, Ironman, came to India hot on the heels of the country’s growing demand for mass participation endurance sports. With several endurance sports enthusiasts constantly looking to challenge themselves, the triathlon is the natural choice to take things one level up. Yes, it’s only a half Ironman at 70.3 miles, but it is an Ironman race, nonetheless. 

While diving headfirst into a full Ironman would be too big a challenge for most first-time triathletes – all Ironman races have strict cut-off times for each segment, the half Ironman's distance is a lot more manageable with proper training in all three segments, including how to transition from swimming to cycling to running. That the multi-sport endurance event is held at one of India’s most popular holiday destinations, Goa, is an added reason to sign up for it. 

Shrenik Avlani is a writer and editor and the co-author of The Shivfit Way, a book on functional fitness.

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