Ever think what an odd name for a fun and fast-paced social sport? Well, there are a few theories as to the origin of the name. In 1965 on Bainbridge Island, just west of Seattle, Washington, three dads were looking to entertain bored kids with a summertime activity. They created a unique game with handmade equipment, a few simple rules, and the rest is history. Interestingly enough, no actual pickles are involved in the sport.
The game has grown from North America to an international past-time that is continuing to gain popularity. Countries around the world are adding courts, leagues, and tournaments. The first rule book was published in 1984, and in 2005 the USAPA amended the rules currently used today internationally.
Spelled in a variety of different ways, but is one word, pickleball is a sport similar to tennis and badminton. It is played on a small court with a ping pong like a paddle and a waffle ball as singles or doubles matches.
Before we begin, if you’re looking for a complete beginner’s guide check out: Pickleball Strategy: Complete Beginner’s Guide!
What’s Up With the Name?
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
The two dominant theories of the naming of the sport involved a boat and a dog. That may sound a bit strange but hang in there for the explanation and conclusion.
Fathers, Joel Pritchard, Bill Bell, and Barney McCallum were the game’s originators. One theory is that Joan Pritchard, Joel’s wife, and a competitive rower, offered the name because it reminded her of a ‘pickle boat,’ one of the slowest vessels in a race.
The other theory is that while enjoying the match, the Pritchard’s family dog, a young cocker spaniel, Pickles, would join in on the fun, chase the ball, and run away with it. According to Barney McCallum, they declared, “Let’s just call it pickle-ball!”
There is just enough truth in both theories for each to seem plausible, and as the game progressed, it needed an official name. Congressman Joel Prichard loved letting a good story take root and was not one to disillusion reporters of a fun story until his wife finally set the story straight. Joan Prichard confirmed that Pickles, the dog, was named as a result of the game. The family pet did not arrive until two years after the game was named and was affectionately named after the sport.
Want to Play?
Not so fast! Like every sport, there are a few things you need to prepare for before heading out to the courts on this new adventure. It is essential to be prepared physically, mentally, and with the right equipment.
Warm-up and stretch your muscles to increase flexibility and blood flow to muscles and joints. You will be changing directions, running, launching for balls, and arching. Do not underestimate the potential for injury because of the size of the court and equipment.
Comfortable court shoes are critical. Running shoes do not offer the proper support to ankles for the side-to-side movements exerted in pickleball. Court shoes are a worthwhile investment in future games and orthopedic health. They may cost more, but you will not regret an avoided foot or ankle injury. Check out our guide on the Best Pickleball Shoes!
Now you are ready to head down to your local sports shop or online store and get a basic set of paddles that come with a Wiffle ball. They will typically cost approximately $30, or a higher-end set can run $60. If you’re having trouble finding a pickleball paddle, check out our guide Best Pickleball Paddle!
Local parks and recreational centers have complimentary or nominal rates for courts. Tournaments are popular, great places to meet other people, and they can be reasonably inexpensive. Check out USPA events
To find a tournament. You may be surprised by the number of leagues in your area. Gyms are converting under-utilized tennis courts to accommodate the growing sport.
Now You Are Ready to Play
Considering the game is played on a smaller court and the paddles’ configuration, it is typically a lot easier to learn to play than tennis. Check out these guides for an in-depth explanation of playing pickleball, How to Play Pickleball, and What is Pickleball.
Time to Step onto the Court
Players do not need to practice serves before a match. Unlike tennis, players will serve underhanded, and have one attempt diagonally crosscourt. There are rules concerning the server’s arm, head of the paddle, feet, and service motion that you should learn, but teammates will be happy to show you the ropes as you progress.
If you’re looking for an explanation on pickleball courts, check out our guide Pickleball Court Dimensions!
Terms and Rules
* Two-Bounce Rule – eliminates a volley being taken directly from a serve shot. Each side of the net must play a groundstroke ‘bounce’ before commencing volleying.
* Non-Volley Zone is also referred to as ‘the kitchen.’ No body parts or articles of clothing are allowed in the kitchen while volleying. Only if a ball bounces in the kitchen can a player enter to hit the ball over the net.
* Line Calls are the same as tennis. If it touches the line, it is considered in and playable. Except for the serve shot, it is considered a fault when it contacts the non-volley zone short line.
* Dinking is a soft, precise, low net shot that extends the game long enough until your opponent makes an error. Because of the proximity of where the ball lands to the net, it forces awkward return shots. Dinking can be a handy tool once mastered by any player.
If you need a more in-depth explanation of pickleball rules check out our guide, Pickleball Rules!
One challenge of new players is keeping score. Only the service team can get the point, and teammates switch spots after each point. Like tennis, you must win by two, but the similarities of the scoring end here. The first team to achieve 11 points and is ahead by at least 2 points wins. An easy way to remember the service order is the player on the court’s right side will always be the first person to serve. I suggest you have a seasoned player show you the ropes on scorekeeping and switching sides the first few times.
If you need a more in-depth explanation of scoring check out our guide, Pickleball Scoring!
Move side-to-side and up or back with your partner to close opportunities for the other team to put away a shot. Keep your paddle center to your chest and high while waiting for the ball, so you are ready and anticipating the next shot regardless of what side it lands. Keep moving, anticipate the next shot, stay on your toes, and be ready to turn.
The easiest and best piece of advice is to let your opponent make the errors. If that does not work, try changing the pace or spin of the ball’s return to throw off their rhythm and strategy.
Pickleball is a fun game with an odd name that can be enjoyed by all ages. Find a local court and make friends. Considering the variety of online resources, new players will find it easy to learn how to play, and court availability is growing considerably.