Pickleball was deemed the fastest growing sport in the U.S. after participation rose 21.3% between 2019 and 2020. In March 2022 it was made the official state sport of Washington. Today there are millions of players not only in America but across the world. What is this popular game and what makes it so appealing? Does it have anything to do with the salty snack referenced in its title? We’ll clear those questions up so you can consider whether you want to grab a paddle to get in the game.
The Basics of Pickleball
Pickleball is a sport played with paddles and a whiffle ball on a badminton-sized court (44’ x 20’). It can be considered a cross between badminton, table tennis and standard tennis, however it’s grown into something far greater with many of its own unique attributes. One of pickleball’s most standout features is the non-volley zone near the net also called the “kitchen” which prevents aggressive strikes too close to the opposing team, allowing players of all ages and sizes to compete on more even footing.
Equipment for pickleball is typically not expensive, especially if players have local tennis or pickleball-specific courts they can use for play. You can find nearby options using USA Pickleball’s Places 2 Play website. If starting a game in your own driveway sounds more appealing, purchasing a portable net is a great alternative. Once a court location has been established, only paddles and a few pickleballs are needed to get started.
The game has a lower barrier to entry than most other paddle sports thanks to its relatively straightforward rules and small court size, yet competition at the highest levels has been heating up with nationwide and international tournaments promising prizes, fame and recognition of players’ skills. It's the ideal sport for both families looking for casual fun and more ambitious players craving an opportunity to prove their talent. Games can be played one on one in singles or with teams of two in doubles.
The following video provides a brief introduction to the rules of pickleball so you can get started right away. For more extensive details, take a look at the complete rulebook.
The History of Pickleball
If you’re curious why pickleball has such a strong connection to the Pacific Northwest, that’s because it was founded on Bainbridge Island in 1965 by congressman Joel Pritchard and his friends William Bell and Barney McCallum. The three were on vacation attempting to figure out a game for their kids to play but only had mixed equipment from different sports—so they made do with the items on hand. The initial pickleball gear consisted of table tennis paddles, a whiffle ball and a lowered badminton net, while the finer details grew from there.
As pickleball reached more people by word of mouth and with the creation of the first pickleball equipment company (Pickle-ball Inc), more and more players grew enamored with its charms. Today it’s played not only on public courts but in schools, camps, recreation centers, retirement communities, correctional facilities, YMCAs and many other locales.
Why Do Tennis Players Switch to Pickleball?
This is a common question we're asked at PickleballCentral and after having interacted with many tennis players who got addicted to the game, we can share some of the most common answers:
- Smaller court size and lighter equipment is easier on the body
- Shorter match length (around 15-25 minutes compared to a tennis match averaging 90 minutes)
- Friends and family can quickly learn to play adequately even if they have no experience
- More depth and strategy to the game than it seemed at first glance
- Competitive opportunities and tournament money without being as oversaturated as tennis
- Not much elitism/friendly community filled with all types of people
- It's fun!
Apart from occasional spats over players commandeering tennis courts for the use of pickleball, we believe there's no reason these two sports can't coexist! Both offer their own individual perks and while some tennis players have switched over to pickleball entirely, others continue to enjoy both. Many of the top pickleball players in the world have tennis backgrounds, so there is certainly an overlap of abilities between the sports and it never hurts to diversify ways to stay fit.
Why Is It Called Pickleball?
The burning question many new players have is why pickleball is called what it is. While we hate to let readers down, the sport does not actually have anything to do with brined cucumbers. When pickleball was first developed, Joan (Joel Pritchard’s wife) called 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.”
Later on Barney McCallum would say the name was chosen in honor of the Pritchards’ dog, Pickles, who would snatch the whiffle ball away from the families at play. However, the cocker spaniel was purchased over a year after pickleball had already been founded, meaning the dog was named after the sport rather than the other way around. Can’t blame a businessman for wanting a memorable origin story!
How to Start Playing Pickleball
If you already have a nearby court to visit then grabbing a bundle of paddles and pickleballs is all you need to begin. If there don't seem to be any courts you can easily reach (remember that badminton and tennis courts can be tweaked for pickleball use) then purchasing your own portable net will allow you to set things up wherever there's access to a hard, flat surface. Many players begin right at their own homes or else look for unused parking lots. You can either grab a net as part of a complete pickleball set or as a stand-alone purchase.
Wood paddles are the cheapest options available and very hardy, making them a great investment for kids or new players concerned they may lose their grip while learning the ropes. As your skills improve then lighter and more responsive options made from graphite or composite surfaces will be the next upgrades.
We're always happy to help newcomers to the game find the best options for their needs. If you'd like to start playing pickleball but still have questions, give us a call and we'll help you figure out which gear will work for you.