What Is Pickleball? Everything You Need To Know About North America’s Fastest-Growing Sport

So you want to try Pickleball but you aren’t actually sure what it is. Get your paddle ready because here’s everything that you need to know about the fastest growing sport in North America…

Pickleball is a paddle sport that combines elements from badminton, table tennis, and tennis. It has quickly become one of the fastest-growing sports in North America because it is inclusive for people of all ages and levels to play and does not require too much equipment. It’s played on a court similar to a badminton court, which measures 20 feet in width and 44 feet in length. The net in Pickleball is hung at a height of 36 inches at the ends and 34 inches in the middle, slightly lower than in tennis.

The game can be played as singles or doubles, just like tennis. Players use solid paddles, made of wood or composite materials, to hit a perforated polymer ball, similar to a wiffle ball, over the net. The ball is served diagonally (starting with the right-hand service-square), and points can only be scored by the side that serves.

The gameplay in Pickleball is characterized by underhand serving and a non-volley zone, known as the “kitchen,” extending seven feet from the net on either side, where volleying is prohibited. This rule prevents players from executing smashes from a position within the zone. The ball must bounce once on each side before volleys are allowed, adding a unique strategic element to the game.

A brief history of Pickleball

Pickleball was created in 1965 in Bainbridge Island, Washington, by Joel Pritchard, Bill Bell and Barney McCallum. The three neighbors initially came up with the concept—using some old Ping-Pong paddles and a perforated ball on a badminton court—as a game to keep their bored kids busy on a rainy day.

According to McCallum, Pritchard’s dog was named Pickles and that’s where the name of the game actually originated.

But in a 2015 interview with the Pickleball Channel, McCallum (the last living pickleball creator at the time and who died in 2019 at the age of 93) explained that it very quickly became an adult activity.

“Well, frankly, the early kids got pushed out,” laughed McCallum in his Pickleball Channel interview. “We had no purpose … nobody said, ‘Let’s sit down and make this a game.’ There was no conversation like that—it was strictly for our own pleasure.” But over time—admittedly with quite a few arguments about rules and scoring—they eventually developed what is now called pickleball. And it took off in a way they never could have imagined.

By 1967, the first permanent pickleball court was constructed, and in 1972, the first corporation was formed to protect the creation of pickleball. By 1984, the USA Pickleball Association governed the sport. And today, what was once a rainy-day activity has blossomed into a worldwide phenomenon.

ABOVE: Top down drone shot of a group of people playing a doubles game of Pickleball

What equipment is needed to play Pickleball?

Requirements for playing pickleball are minimal, but you do need some basic equipment to get started.

Pickleball is played with a flat paddle as opposed to a stringed racket as seen in tennis and badminton. Though the original paddles were cut out of wood by McCallum himself, today’s modern versions come in various sizes and thickness levels to accommodate your style of play. However, the paddle length cannot exceed 17 inches.

The ball used in pickleball is plastic and perforated with anywhere from 26 to 40 holes, similar to a wiffle ball. The holes create more drag and are a lot lighter and easier to hit than tennis balls. They’re also responsible for the slightly slower pace of the game. The size of the ball is usually 2.87 to 2.97 inches in diameter, and the ball must be a single color (save for any logos).

The sport also requires a 3-foot-long net that’s hung at a height of 34 inches in the center. You need a court space as well, which should be about 44 feet long and 20 feet wide.

Thanks to the sport’s growing popularity, you can now find all-in-one pickleball starter kits at most sporting goods stores, major retailers like Target or Walmart and online.

How does pickleball scoring work?

Points can only be earned by the serving team.

The first number in a score is the serving team’s score, while the second number is the receiving team’s score. The last number is only prevalent in doubles Pickleball and represents the current server (will be 1 or 2), ex: 8-4-1

Pickleball games are played to 11 points and must win by two points.

Why the sudden peak in Pickleball popularity?

Pickleball has seen a rapid increase in global popularity, with many countries establishing their own federations and leagues. There’s even talk of trying to add it to the 2028 Olympic games as a demonstration sport!

It has been around since the late ’60s but it has really gained momentum post-Covid. It’s renowned for its social aspect, as it promotes interaction and competitiveness in a friendly and inclusive environment.

Plus, Pickleball is known for its accessibility and ease of play, making it popular among all age groups. It requires less mobility and physical stress than tennis, which has contributed to its growing popularity, especially among senior communities.

Tags: Pickleball, sports

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