What Is Pickleball?


Pickleball is a fun and social game that has simple rules which makes it great for beginners! However, once you get the hang of it it can quickly become fast-paced and competitive.

In this article, you will find everything you need to know about pickleball. Including the history of pickleball, how to play, what equipment you need, and more!

If you’re looking for a complete beginner’s guide check out: Pickleball Strategy: Complete Beginners GuideOpens in a new tab.!

What Is Pickleball?: This image shares  the most important Pickleball information.

Pickleball is a game that mixes elements of other games, including tennis, badminton, ping pong, and Wiffle ball. The paddles look like oversized ping pong paddles, the ball is very similar to a Wiffle ball, the net is about as low as a tennis net, and the court is roughly as big as a badminton court.

Despite all these different influences, this game is incredibly easy to learn, and it is becoming more popular by the day! 

It is simple enough for children to play, and though it’s a great option to increase your fitness level, it is not as physically strenuous as you might expect.

Pickleball started as a children’s game, but all age groups quickly embraced it, and it is now exceptionally popular among seniors. 

The sport has its own governing body, the United States of America Pickleball Association (USAPA), which sets competitive standards and rules. It also helps beginners and enthusiasts find places to play and access tournaments. 

Here is a closer look at this rapidly growing and extremely accessible sport. 

The History of Pickleball

First, let’s look at the history of pickleball. The game of pickleball came about in 1965. Three people on Bainbridge Island, a short ferry ride from Seattle, Washington, invented the game. 

The three collaborative inventors were Bill Bell, Barney McCallum, and Joel Pritchard. Pritchard was a Congressman and used his time in the public eye to popularize the sport in its formative years.

The three families, the Bells, McCallums, and Pritchards, would go to Bainbridge Island for vacation, and there they would spend a lot of time together. 

On one fateful day, the weather was gloomy, and the parents decided to make up a game for their children, who wanted to go outside but couldn’t because of the weather.

This first pickleball game combined three different sports. The paddles were ping pong paddles, the court was a badminton court, and the ball was a Wiffle ball. 

There weren’t any clear rules, the adults made them up as they went along! Over the following summers, the game evolved and became popular among the kids and adults on Bainbridge Island.

Then, in the 1970s, pickleball started getting attention beyond Bainbridge. A journalist wrote a feature about it in a tennis magazine. Also, Pritchard would often play the game at his campaign rallies, popularizing it among his supporters. 

Some of these people took the game back to college campuses, where students embraced it and played recreationally or in semi-organized leagues. 

In 1972, Barney McCallum formed a corporation to protect the game’s name and rights. The company was called Pickleball Inc, and it began by selling starter sets that included four paddles, four balls, and a net, for $29.50 via mail order. 

The company continues to sell pickleball merchandise to this day.

This grassroots and formal efforts to spread pickleball and the subsequent media coverage culminated in the first pickleball tournament in Washington, DC, in 1976.

By 1984, the United States of America Pickleball Association, or USAPA, was formed to help promote the sport and regulate the game, as well as standardize the rules and game etiquette. 

Also, in the 1980s, companies began creating better equipment, including composite paddles. Previously, players had been using wooden paddles. Those paddles tended to splinter and break easily, composite paddles were much more powerful and durable. 

Joel Pritchard passed away in 1997, and people celebrated his role in popularizing pickleball as much as his career in government. 

Later, in 2001, pickleball was an official sport at the Arizona Senior Olympics. It’s still not an official Olympic sport. However, its inclusion at the Arizona Senior Olympics gave it a boost and bought in the largest number of participants in the event’s history.

The USAPA released the first official pickleball rulebook in 2008. Today the organization continues to regulate and market the game all around the world.

Currently, pickleball gets played by people of different age groups in the U.S. and abroad. There are over 22,000 courts in existence worldwide.

Why Is It Called Pickleball?

According to Joel Pritchard’s wife (Joan), she started calling the game pickleball because “the combination of different sports reminded me of the pickle boat in crew where oarsmen were chosen from the leftovers of other boats.”

USApickleball.org

There are differing stories for the name’s origin, and we might never know which one is the truth.

One account says that pickleball got its name because it was a combination of different sports. This mash-up is similar to a pickle boat, whose crew includes rejects from other ships.

Another account claims that the name was from Pickles, Joel Pritchard’s dog. Pickles had a habit of chasing the ball, putting it in his mouth, and scampering off the court.

Regardless of its origin, the name stuck and never changed as the sport grew. 

Are you looking for more information on how pickleball got its name? If so, check out our guide Why Is It Called PickleballOpens in a new tab.?

What is Pickleball?: What Are The Benefits Of This Sport, And Why Is It So Popular? This image shares the top 5 reasons why pickleball is such a great sport.

Many benefits have contributed to the popularity of pickleball.

It has unique rules

For starters, pickleball has unique rules when compared to other sports. A team can only score while serving, and teammates have to switch their positions every time they score. Also, to win, you must score 11 points and be ahead of the opposing team by at least two points. You also have to serve underhand. 

It’s great for all ages

Pickleball is one of the few sports where players of vastly different ages can play against one another. 

Pickleball takes place on a small court, so there isn’t much ground to cover while playing. It is, therefore, accessible to old and young people alike. 

Seniors like it because they don’t have to move around much while playing, but they still improve balance and coordination and get an excellent workout. 

The game can also be very intense and require hand-eye coordination and quick reflexes. It also rewards players who are good at strategy and finesse.  

It’s great for socializing

Pickleball allows people to socialize. There are many leagues and tournaments in different cities, and the community is one of the friendliest and most welcoming of all recreational sports. The court is also small enough that it’s easy to have a conversation during play.

Pickleball leagues can serve as a means to connect with people if you move to a new neighborhood or just need to pick up a new hobby. 

You’ll find that, while games can get competitive, the pickleball community is also very welcoming and willing to embrace newcomers and help them learn and understand the game. 

It’s easy to learn

Pickleball is a straightforward game to learn. It’s not like tennis, which can take a while to learn. Swinging a pickleball paddle is much easier than controlling a tennis ball with a racket. 

It also has elementary rules that you can learn in less than an hour. Because of the similarities with other sports that you’ve probably tried already, it should only take a few minutes to pick up the fundamentals once you make it to the court. 

It’s affordable

Pickleball isn’t expensive to start. You can get a set for less than $35, and high-end paddles are much cheaper than pro-level tennis rackets. As the game gets popular, more and more places are also setting up courts where people can play. Tournaments are either free to enter or very cheap, and you don’t have to pay a lot, if anything, for court time (unlike tennis). 

What Do You Need to Play?

What do you need to play? This image shares what equipment you need to play pickleball.

Pickleball is attractive because it is accessible compared to other racket sports. Here is what you need to play. 

The pickleball court

This is an image of a pickleball court.

A pickleball courtOpens in a new tab. is roughly the same as a badminton court for doubles. It is approximately 20 feet wide by 44 feet long for both singles and doubles. 

The play area itself is often much larger than the actual court at up to 34 feet wide and up to 64 feet long. The lines are usually 2 inches wide. They are often white but can be any color that contrasts the color of the court itself.

The pickleball net should measure 36 inches in height at the side posts and 34 inches in the center. If the net cannot achieve the 34-inch size, sometimes a post is added in the center to prop it up.

The lines on the pickleball court separate the different parts of the court. There are four main lines on a pickleball court:

  • The baselines run parallel to the net on either back end.
  • The centerlines run down the middle of the court. Each is perpendicular to its baseline and runs from the baseline to the no-volley line. The centerline separates the two service zones on each half of the court.
  • The sidelines run perpendicular to the baselines and mark the sides of the court.
  • The no-volley lines mark the non-volley zones.

The no-volley zone is a seven-foot strip behind the net on each side. Players are not allowed to volley the ball with their paddles when they are in the no-volley area. 

The service courts are behind this zone and are separated into a right and left service zone.

The pickleball paddle

This is an image of a pickleball paddle.

Pickleball paddles were initially wood. However, wood would easily splinter and break, so they got replaced with composite, graphite, and aluminum paddles. 

Paddles made from these materials are stronger, add more bounce, and are far more durable than the original wooden paddles.

Pickleball paddles are bigger than ping pong paddles, and USAPA-approved paddles cannot have a total length greater than 24 inches. 

Other than that, they can be round, square, or rectangular, wide or narrow, and they have no restrictions in terms of width. Check out our guide, Best Pickleball PaddleOpens in a new tab. to find the best pickleball paddle for you!

Another important piece of equipment is shoes! It’s crucial to have the correct shoes to prevent injuries and help performance. We understand that finding shoes can be tricky so we’ve compiled a list of the Best Pickleball ShoesOpens in a new tab.!

The ball

This is an image of a pickleball ball.

The first pickleball was a Wiffle ball. However, as the game grew, early players adopted an official pickleball.

While a Wiffle ball has eight oblong holes, the typical pickleball has 26 holes on average, though official tournament balls can have 40 holes. 

Indoor pickleball balls tend to have fewer holes than those meant for outdoor play. Another distinction is that the balls have round holes (compared to the oblong ones on Wiffle balls).

A pickleball and a Wiffle ball are about the same size. A Wiffle ball has a diameter of 2.94 inches while a pickleball has a diameter of three inches. Pickleballs are a little heavier, though, weighing up to 1.02 ounces in comparison to a Wiffle ball’s 0.7 ounces.

How to find places to play

This is a graph that shows the steady increase of how many designated places to play pickleball have opened over 5 years.

There were 6,885 USAPA-designated areas to play pickleball as of 2019. There is at least one location in every state in the USA and every province in Canada. This website is a good place to find the closest court to you.

In case there isn’t a court nearby, you can still easily set up your own court. All you need to do is convert a badminton court into a pickleball court. If you have trouble finding a badminton court, you can set up a home court on a hard and level surface. 

Here are some instructions to get you started.

How Do You Play: An Brief Overview

This image shows people playing pickleball.

The first step is to decide whether you want to play singles or doubles. A singles match is one where there is one pickleball player on either side of the court. A doubles match is one where two pairs of players face off against each other.

The game starts with a server, who serves on the right-side service court. With each subsequent server, the players switch service courts. For example, the server who serves on the right-side service court will stand on the left side service court for their second serve.

A serve must clear the net and land in the opposing team’s service court. It should then be allowed to bounce once before the other player can return it. 

When serving the ball, a player is required to use an underhand serve. 

The original server should then let the returning ball bounce once before they return it.

A server is also required to have both feet behind their backline as they serve. If the ball lands outside of the service court, it’s a fault and the other team wins the serve.

A fault also occurs when the ball touches any part of the non-volley zone during a serve. Faults also occur if: 

  • the ball hits out of bounds
  • gets volleyed from the non-volley area
  • fails to clear the net
  • fails to bounce on either side of the net

The non-volley zone

The non-volley zone is a 7-foot strip behind the net on either side. Players are not allowed to volley the ball while in this zone. This rule prevents physically powerful or tall players from slamming their opponents when close and dominating the game.

Scoring

Players can only score points when serving. The serving player will continue to serve until they commit a fault. 

They score a point when the opposition faults. Each game goes up to 11 points, and a player or doubles team needs to win by two. 

 For example, if both players have nine points, one needs to score at least two more consecutive points to win the game. Play will continue past 11 until someone first achieves that two-point lead.

However, some tournaments don’t restrict themselves to 11 point games and allow up to 21 points per game. If you’re looking for a more in-depth explanation of pickleball scoring check out our guide, Pickleball ScoringOpens in a new tab.!

What to Watch Out for When Playing Pickleball

Several factors may predispose a player to injury while playing pickleball, including their body composition (such as body fat percentage), age, fitness and skill level, history of previous injuries, etc. 

That said, the most common type of injury among pickleball players, like with other court sports, are ligament and ankle sprains that result from rolled ankles. 

Achilles tendon sprains from quick stops and starts or rapid changes of direction, and sprains at the knee and hamstrings from overextension are also common. 

Upper body injuries are rare and typically come from falling on the court and trying to break your fall with a hand or arm.

You can take precautions against these injuries. For starters, your footwear is one of the most important considerations you can make when you start playing pickleball. 

You won’t find specialized pickleball shoes, but you can get a shoe designed for court sports. These shoes are for court surfaces and protect your feet and ankles when you are quickly changing direction or come to an abrupt stop.

Another precaution you can take is to warm up your muscles and joints before a game. Be sure to perform stretches for the back and front of the legs these can help players avoid strains. If you need more information on understanding the game check out our guides, Pickleball RulesOpens in a new tab., and How to Play PickleballOpens in a new tab.!

Pickleball in the Future

This is a graph that shows the increase in pickleball interest over 14 years.

Pickleball enjoyed a meteoric rise in popularity. In the USA, it has grown by over 500% in the past 10 years. There were just 1,000 courts in America in 2010. Now, there are nearly 7,000 and counting. Around the world, the court count is more than 22,000.

Over 26 countries play pickleball, and some even have professional leagues. Professional tennis players have also taken a growing interest in the game, and tournaments are growing bigger by the year. 

The 2018 USA Pickleball National Tournament was a groundbreaking event with 2300 competitors and a cash prize of $100,000.

As you can see, pickleball is an easy sport to play for people of all ages. Chances are you’ve already tried a related sport, so you already have the skills to pick up a paddle and start this lifelong hobby today!

Brianna Goulet

Brianna loves to get outdoors for everything creative and fun. She has a passion for all things Pickleball and is an avid player. It is her goal to share everything you need to know about Pickleball so you can get out there and play with confidence!

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