When you think about popular sports that are played with a racket or paddle your mind might go straight to the obvious. There’s tennis, table tennis, badminton, wiffleball, racquetball, and more, but what the emerging new sport that’s a combination of all of these and more?
There’s a good chance you’ve already heard of pickleball, as an estimated 2.5 million Americans regularly enjoy the sport. Said to be the perfect mix of all of our favorite racket games, pickleball does things a little differently, much to the joy of its millions of loyal players.
Pickleball got its start around 50 years ago, but in the last decade or so it’s really taken off. This sport combines the fun of table tennis and badminton with the high energy of tennis and squash, all packaged up in an easy to learn game that will entertain you for hours.
This accessibility for all types of players is what has made it so popular and will continue to gathers fans and followers for years to come.
This is the ultimate guide to pickleball and it has everything you need to know about the fast-growing sport. We’ll look into the history and invention of the game, what you need to play, the basic rules and strategy, and why it’s become so popular in recent years.
With some background knowledge on the new sport, you’ll be a pickleball convert and ready to hit the courts and play your new favorite game.
What Exactly Is Pickleball?
When you heard the word ‘pickleball’ you probably think of something very different than what it actually is. Pickleball is a sport played with a paddle and ball, on a court that is similar in size to one that badminton is played on.
The sport is always referred to as a mixture between some of the world’s most popular games, combining all of the best parts into one. It’s said to feature parts of tennis, badminton, wiffleball, table tennis, squash, and racquetball, but after playing just one match you’ll see that it’s completely different to anything you’ve played before.
Pickleball has one of the most memorable names of any sport ever invented, and it might be this name that’s helped to spread its popularity. There are many myths and rumors surrounding the game, but the most common one we hear is about the origin of the name itself.
According to history, pickleball earned this name due to one of the inventor’s dog that used to chase the balls as they played. The dog’s name was Pickles and so it came to be that they named the game after the animal. Other versions claim that it was called pickleball because of a pickle boat in rowing, but whatever the real story is it doesn’t matter.
Today, pickleball is played by millions of Americans and the simplicity in learning and accessibility for people of all ages and backgrounds is what has made it so popular.
We wouldn’t be here without the faithful men who invented the game many years ago, so learning about the history of pickleball is just as important as learning about the rest of the game itself.
The History Of Pickleball
When we think of some popular sports today like baseball or golf, they were invented so long ago that we rarely give thought to their invention. When a newer sport like pickleball comes about though, we’re eager to learn exactly how it came to be and what was it that led to the invention of such a peculiar but addictive game.
It was summer in 1965 when the game was invented, and as a group of friends returned from a game of golf and found their families bored without anything to do, they decided to come up with their own game. The men involved in creating pickleball were Joel Pritchard, former State Representative, as well as his two friends Barney McCallum and Bill Bell.
After attempting to set up the badminton net at the home of Pritchard in Bainbridge Island, Washington, nobody could find the shuttlecock. Instead, they found a Wiffle ball laying around and decided to lower the net and make do with what they had.
The first game was played with badminton paddles, but soon they realized that they needed to be a bit bigger and so they were fashioned out of plywood.
Since this very first game using handmade equipment and makeshift courts, the game of pickleball has progressed quite a lot. The most popular countries for play are the US and Canada, but it’s started to spread to other parts of the world as well.
Today, it has specific courts, paddles, balls, and nets used in gameplay and there are millions of people who partake in casual games or serious matches.
Pickleball is often compared to other sports like tennis and squash, but after just one game you’ll see how different it really is. The rules of pickleball are pretty easy to learn compared to these other games, but once a player starts to get good and improves their skills, a match between two people can be fast-paced and highly competitive.
In simple terms, the game of pickleball is played with either two or four players. Each player has a special paddle and the balls used are made of plastic which has holes in it. The court can be inside or outside, and depending on where it’s being played there may be a need for different balls.
The best place to start for beginners is by reading up on the general rules but also watching a game in action. It can be confusing to simply read about how pickleball is played and often better to see it in person so you get a better idea of how it works. These are some of the basic rules you’ll need to follow if you want to start playing.
Playing pickleball as singles against another opponent is a faster and more challenging way to play the game and can be quite different to play as doubles.
This is due to the fact that you have to cover your half of the court yourself and are responsible for hitting all of the balls that come your way. The rules are still the same and the scoring, but you will be the only one on your side of the court.
Not only is it more physically exerting, but you need to make things matter, especially your first serve. Rather than just getting hits over the net they should all be hard and deep so that your opponent has to work for them.
To ensure you win, your strength and fitness levels need to be in great conditions and you usually will require a paddle that has extra power and maybe a longer handle.
Pickleball is a very social game and for that reason, people find it plays better in doubles. When you’re doing doubles pickleball, you share the load and take half of the court each to make the hits and serves. However, communication needs to be spot on with your partner otherwise you can quickly lose to the opposition.
Just like playing doubles tennis, you want to keep one player closer to the net and the other in the back. This enables you to cover more of the court, although it is a lot smaller than a standard tennis court.
Doubles players should be in sync with each other which poses its own challenge as you to not only be aware of what you’re doing and your opponents, but also your partner.
The inventors of pickleball did a good job of making this game pretty easy to keep score of. Unlike other complicated racket and net games, it’s straightforward in how you can earn points and what you need to win.
The main goal of pickleball is to play a match to 11 with the winner needing a two-point margin to win the match, and this is the same for singles and doubles.
How points are earned differs slightly though, and this is the common way a score is tallied for a doubles match:
When the first serve occurs, the serving team has the advantage but they also lose the ability to have their partner serve. Therefore, the first server is called number two, and if they win the first rally, it would look like this: 1-0-2.
Once the first serve is done, the following can be served by both players. For as long as the serving team wins their rallies, they are able to keep serving and earning points but once they lose it’s the other team’s turn. Whenever a point is scored, the partners of the serving team switch sides.
When playing singles pickleball, the scoring is done the same but there’s only one player. Therefore, the serving is always done on the right side of the court whenever the score is reading an even number. When it’s an odd number, the serving must be done on the left side of the court.
The very first game of pickleball was played on a badminton court, and they have continued to use these court dimensions today. They measure 20x44 feet which is the same as a doubles badminton court, but when playing pickleball, the same size is used for both styles.
One major difference with badminton though is the height of the net, which was lowered for pickleball down to 34 inches. As the ball doesn’t go as high as a shuttlecock, this makes perfect sense and is easier to hit with your paddle.
The markings on the court look similar to a tennis court and they use the same strips to indicate the left and right service courts as well as a non-volley zone. In pickleball, this zone is called the ‘kitchen’ and is the basis for most of the gameplay.
The nets can be easily converted from a standard tennis court or badminton court which is another reason why the game has become so popular. Rather than having to build new grounds or courts, we can simply use existing ones and change a few of the rules and equipment around so that pickleball can be enjoyed.
Where Can You Play Pickleball?
Unlike other sports that can be played in the backyard or anywhere in the outdoors, pickleball requires the special court in order to do it right. You can certainly practice your swings and serves at home, but to get the full experience and take part in a pickleball match, you’ll need to find a court in your local area.
Thankfully, pickleball courts are quite common these days. This is in part because of how easy it is to transform a tennis or badminton court to a pickleball one, simply by making some adjustments to the net and lines.
Many people will find their local courts have already been converted, or you can have a look at local government and council sites to find out where some may be.
Indoor pickleball is also popular among players and these can be found in larger health clubs or courts, like where you would play squash. When you’re playing indoors, you will require a different type of ball than outdoor play. The indoor balls are lighter as there’s no wind resistance, whereas an outdoor ball will be heavier and harder to blow away.
This is the only difference between indoor and outdoor play, with people using the same rackets and clothing to enjoy both. The rules are also the same for both and the dimensions of the court will be exact, so it just depends on factors like weather and availability for where you might be able to play.
The USAPA website has a large list of indoor and outdoor pickleball courts to enjoy in the US, or you can talk to friends and family about where they play and check out local social media sites. This is a largely social and community-centered sport so there are plenty of options for enjoying your new hobby.
The Essential Pickleball Gear
Just like other sports, you won’t be able to play a game of pickleball without the right gear. The unique paddles are what sets this game apart from others like tennis and squash, as they have been perfectly designed to hit the ball and provide a comfortable grip for players.
The good news is, pickleball gear isn’t expensive and unlike some other games, you won’t have to spend hundreds of dollars before you even get started. The basic things that every player needs are their own paddle and other pieces of equipment like balls and nets which are sometimes provided by the site where you play.
Most players have their own paddle that is custom fit to their skill level and other physical requirements, as well as clothing and shoes that work for them. There’s no one size fits all or right and wrong approach to choosing pickleball gear as everyone will have their own specifications, so it’s just a matter of selecting the ones that meet yours.
When the very first game of pickleball was invented, the men used badminton paddles to play. Although this was good as a start, the paddles used today have evolved quite a lot. Commonly, these paddles are made from wood but more recently composite materials like graphite have been used.
The purpose of a paddle is to be lightweight enough to hit the plastic ball but with enough surface to area to provide a ‘sweet spot’. This is the area where you want to make contact so that you’ll have enough power and control from your swing.
The standard weight for a paddle is around 8oz, with professional paddles being lighter and those for beginners somewhat heavier. The measurements for the paddle’s grip should be 4 to 4 ½ inches in circumference, and these can go up or down in 1/8 inch increments. Some might prefer a narrower handle and others will want width.
The International Federation of Pickleball is the governing body of this sport and they work in conjunction with the USAPA to come up with specifications for size.
There are even prohibited materials including sandpaper, rubber, and springs that will instantly disqualify a paddle from being used if they are found. When buying a paddle, you can look for one that meets this specification that will indicate whether it’s suitable for play in a tournament.
The balls used in pickleball are unique in their own right and not like anything else you’ll see in sport. They are all made of plastic and designed to be very lightweight, so they match the makeup of the paddles perfectly.
These balls fall into two categories: indoor and outdoor. Indoor balls have larger holes in them as playing inside doesn’t need to factor in the wind. Outdoor balls will be a lot more durable because they have to withstand harsher conditions, and the holes on them will be smaller to prevent the wind from picking them up.
Balls can be certified by the USA Pickleball Association just like paddles, but this might not be necessary if you’re playing casually. However, choosing a dedicated pickleball is essential to playing the game correctly. There are other categories you can buy in including low noise and skill development, however, they must all be made of one color.
Even though the balls are made from durable plastic, they need to be replaced regularly. Once they start to scuff or receive damage they won’t be as effective in play. This is why many paddles come with three or four complementary balls, as well as the fact that they become easily lost.
It’s not normally a requirement for players to buy their own nets as they should already be assembled on the court. However, you can buy a portable net if you want to play at other locations where a court isn’t set up.
The net must be 34 inches high in the center and no more than 36 inches high at the ends. The mesh used in the net should be small enough to stop the ball from going through a hole, but not too large so that it interferes with the game.
Shoes And Clothes
Some people argue that you can wear anything clothing or shoes that you want while playing pickleball, and if you’re playing for fun then this is definitely true. For those who are playing competitively, you’ll want something that helps you move with ease and keeps you agile on the court.
There are now dedicated pickleball outfits, otherwise, you can shop for something like a tennis or squash outfit. Whatever allows you to move freely and is breathable will be a good fit. For the shoes, you’ll want a court shoe or tennis shoe. These have been made to prevent slipping on the court but also allow you to move quickly as needed without getting stuck.
How To Play Pickleball
The rules to pickleball are easy to learn and once you’ve mastered them and the scoring, you can start to develop your skills even more. People find that once they know how to play they can quickly build up their performance and by playing more challenging opponents, learn the tricks they need to get better.
The goal of pickleball is to be the first side to reach 11 points with a two-point victory, but depending on your own opponents and your own skills, this could be a short or long game. If you’re playing singles or doubles that will also affect gameplay, with many people finding the singles game a lot more challenging and labor intensive.
Just like any competitive sport, the only way you’ll learn is by playing others or watching skilled players in a match. However, there are some things that might make it easier to improve your skills or play better on the pickleball court, especially for beginners.
Playing pickleball is all about learning how to work smarter and not harder, and there are heaps of strategy tips that can teach exactly that. The strategy is especially important in a game of doubles because you and your partner need to be on the same page about how you’ll approach the game.
Some strategies include staying close to the net, avoiding serve faults, and keeping up loud and frequent communication between partners. The strategies you’ll use will depend on where your strengths and weaknesses are, which is why doubles playing requires a lot of syncing up and planning.
The aim of the game is to make it harder for your opponent to hit the ball back to you, so you want to do hard and deep swings. At the same time, you have to be protecting your own court and not letting anything get past you, so it’s very similar to tennis in this regard.
The most common mistake people make with serving is doing something dramatic. All you need to do is ensure that it gets inside the service box so you don’t fault.
You’ll only be given one chance to serve the right way in pickleball so you want to make it count without trying anything too fancy. The best approach is aiming for the dead center because it’s less risky and will usually work out for you.
A drill is something you do before playing a match and it helps to warm you up and get you ready for the game. You can do a pickleball match by yourself but it’s usually better to have a partner, even if that happens to be your opponent.
A drill is all about practicing for the main event, so it could involve doing 10 backhands and 10 forward hits or taking turns serving. The point is to warm your body up so it’s flexible and there’s less chance of injury, but also to prepare you for the game you’re about to play.
The Benefits Of Pickleball
It’s pretty rare to find a new sport being invented and accepted by the masses the way that pickleball has been. What makes this sport such a huge hit with everyone is not just a single thing, but the many benefits that it offers as both a social activity and form of physical exercise. Here are some of the biggest benefits of playing pickleball:
One of the main reasons why pickleball has had such success is that it can be played by people of all ages, skill levels, and fitness levels. There’s no need to be extremely fit or agile to play and most of the skills you need you will learn as you play the game. It’s one of the most accessible sports for people of all backgrounds.
Pickleball courts are popping up everywhere these days and all you need to play is a paddle and balls. Pickleball paddles range in price but you can get a cheap one for around $20 while you figure out whether the game is for you or not.
Quality paddles start at around $30 and can even cost over $100 for a professional style, although this isn’t always required for general players.
Although there is a lot to learn with pickleball it’s not a hard game to get the hang off. There are no tricky scoring systems or special spins and shots that you have to take in order to score a point. People who have struggled in the past with other racket and net games really appreciate the simplicity of it.
The obvious benefit of physical fitness can be found with even a short match of pickleball. However, people who start playing find themselves easily involved in a two-hour game at least once a week which is of huge benefit to their health.
Enjoyment And Socialization
The reason why so many people are able to play this game each week is because of the enjoyment factor. Running around and trying to hit the ball is a lot of fun and an incredibly social activity, so it has a lot more to offer than just good health.
The Fun Future Of Sports In The US
Pickleball has quickly become one of America’s favorite sports and although it enjoys some anonymity still, it’s clear that it will be known around the country within a few short years. Although invented almost 50 years ago, we’re starting to see a huge rise in popularity as more and more people learn just how fun the game can be.
There are so many great benefits to playing sport but something as innovative as pickleball is even better. You’ll become more social, have a lot of fun, stay physically fit, and be able to play with people of all ages, backgrounds, and fitness levels, so it truly is a game for everyone.
It’s rare to see a new sport emerge and do as well as this one, but thanks to the simplicity and fun that pickleball offers it wasn’t hard to do. After just an hour, you’ll know all of the rules and scoring so you can start developing your skills and playing more challenging opponents.
There’s not much you need to start playing and thanks to the growing number of courts found around the country there’s bound to be one in your local area.
If you’re dying to get into this new sport you’ll need the right gear, starting with your very own paddle, so check out our handy buying guide to show you the ropes on what to buy and the top picks on the market for pickleball paddles.