You’ve probably heard of pickleball on multiple occasions by now. You may have heard it from a friend who’s completely addicted, or maybe a co-worker has been trying to convince you to come out to the courts. Regardless of where you’ve heard of pickleball from, I’m going to help you understand what pickleball is and answer some common questions.
Let me just tell you what pickleball is. Pickleball is a miniature version of tennis that’s played with an oversized paddle, a large wiffle ball and played on a badminton-sized court. It’s the fastest growing sport in America and it is insanely fun, very social and offers great exercise.
So where did pickleball come from? How did it come about? Let’s travel back into the past to find out!
A quick history lesson
The origins story of pickleball is fascinating. It’s an inspiring story filled with ingenuity, creativity, and family.
Pickleball was invented sometime around 1965 when some kids from different families attempted to play badminton without any badminton equipment. Sounds weird, doesn’t it? Well, as Bob Ross would say, this “happy little accident” would create a snowball effect whose momentum could not be stopped.
Congressman Joel Pritchard and Bill Bell came home one day to their summer home on Bainbridge Island after a round of golf to find the kids bored out of their minds.
The kids in the local family were getting on their nerves so the parents suggested they go play a game of badminton since they had a court outside. When they realized that they didn’t have the proper equipment, they had to improvise. They found some ping pong paddles and a wiffle ball so they used that instead. They didn’t know this at the time, but this decision would eventually lead to the birth of pickleball.
The improvised game of “badminton” ended up being quite fun. Then they made the critical decision to lower the net all the way down to be more like tennis. The moment the bottom of the net brushed up against that court, history was changed forever. Pickleball was born.
The game developed more when Pritchard and Bell introduced the game to Barney McCallum. He played an enormous role in the development of pickleball. The three of them then took it to the next level. Throughout the year, they created rules and standards from which the game should be played. This included experimentation of rules like the double bounce rule and the continual increase in the size of the kitchen (non-volley zone). However, throughout this time, the three remained steadfast that the game should limit the use of power since a lot of older folk wanted to play. This was a monumental decision that eventually leads to, in my opinion, to the success of pickleball.
To make a long story short, the game exploded in popularity after a corporation was formed to sell pickleball sets. From there, pickleball developed steadily until it’s next phase of development.
Recently, pickleball has become very popular and measurably gains traction every year. The reason is that the baby boomer generation is starting to retire. And when boomers retire, they want to retire in style. So they move to retirement communities in places like Florida and Arizona where the weather is relatively nice all year round.
Pickleball ended up spreading into the retirement communities because it was a low-impact and cost-effective sport to keep their bodies moving. What was originally a sport for fun and exercise quickly transformed into a nationally competitive sport.
Due to the efforts of people in the industry, namely the USAPA, pickleball has spread everywhere and is quickly becoming a household name. Like I said earlier, it is the fastest growing sport in America and there has never been a better time to get into it!
Where does the name come from?
“Pickle what?” is the reaction I hear the most when I tell someone about pickleball for the first time. According to the USAPA website, there are two versions of where the name potentially came from, but it remains controversial.
One story is that the Pritchard’s had a dog named Pickles. As the men were developing the game, Pickles would chase after the balls like dogs love to do. Following this logic, Pickle’s balls would be a reasonable way to come up with a name for the sport, but this story remains contested.
The other story comes from Joan Pritchard, Joel Pritchard’s wife. According to the USAPA website, she began calling the game pickleball because of a type of boat commonly seen in the area called a “pickle boat”. These types of boats apparently use different types of crewmen from other types of boats. This amalgamation reminded her of the different types of sports that are referenced in pickleball like tennis, badminton and ping pong.
Regardless of where the name came from, the term pickleball was eventually coined when they needed a name for it. Enough history, let’s talk about pickleball!
In case you’ve never seen or heard of pickleball before, let me just give you a very basic rundown of what the sport looks like.
Pickleball is a racket sport typically played with 4 players (2 on each team), but it can be played with just 2 if you want the workout of a lifetime.
The object of the game, again similar to tennis, is to hit the ball over the net in a way that makes the opponent make a mistake. If the opposing team lets the ball bounce twice on their side, hits the ball out of bounds on your side, hits it into the net, or makes a fault of any kind according to the rules, then they lose that point or rally. The first team to 11, or any other number agreed on, will win the match. There are a bunch of other rules but we won’t go over them in this article.
A pickleball court is 20’ x 44’ which is the same size of a badminton court and roughly half the size of a tennis court. It has a net in the middle similar to tennis that is about 36” tall. It goes up to around your waistline for the average person.
Today, pickleball is played all over the nation (and the world). Typical play locations that you’ll see are recreational centers, churches, and tennis centers. Considering that pickleball is still growing, you will oftentimes see pickleball lines taped or painted down on basketball courts, volleyball courts, parking lots or even people’s driveways. There are dedicated outdoor and indoor courts available, but they are rarer, and it depends on where you live.
A game for everyone
Pickleball truly is a game for everyone. Like I said in the history section above, the original founders of the game focused heavily on making it approachable and easy to play. One thing that I say often about pickleball is that anyone from 8 to 88 can play and have fun.
Also, age isn’t always a competitive factor. It’s true that younger people will have an advantage over older people. But this isn’t always the case. I’ve been utterly destroyed by 80-year-old men before. I’ll get them one day!
It’s also a game for everyone in terms of cost. Pickleball doesn’t cost much to play. Don’t get me wrong, you can shell out hundreds of dollars for the best gear, but you don’t have to. If you have a sturdy pair of tennis or court shoes already, then you can buy a decent paddle for $60 and be fine.
Pickleball can be as physically strenuous and exhausting as you want it to be. I’ve seen young guys race themselves all over the court, but I’ve also seen people casually walk on the court and still have a blast.
But even though pickleball can be easy on the body, it’s not 100% foolproof. Many injuries can crop up when playing pickleball including plantar fasciitis, tennis elbow, jumper’s knee, shin splints and more. Don’t let the low-impact nature of pickleball fool you. I’ve had two of the conditions above and wish I had prepared sooner. Make sure you stretch before you play and if you have any doubts, see your doctor!
Tools of the trade
Like any other hobby or sport, there’s a bazillion things you can buy in the pickleball world. You can buy paddles, shoes, apparel, earrings, funny t-shirts, bags, nets, pickleball sets, balls, accessories, extra grips, etc. The list goes on and on.
But the costs of essential gear is actually quite affordable.
If you’re trying to get a lay of the land with pickleball, here are the essential items that are used in pickleball:
- Pickleball paddle
- Pickleball net
Excluding a court, these are the three essential items that are used to play pickleball. If you go play at an open court location then they’ll have courts set up with nets there already. So that only leaves two items. One item that I’m not including in the list is a pair of shoes. I won’t go into depth about shoes in this article, but most people wear tennis or court shoes. Any other kind of shoe, including running shoes, are not recommended.
There’s no mistaking the sound a pickleball paddle makes. You can hear it from hundreds of yards away, and it has the occasional effect of getting people into the game. The unique sound is even a concern for people who live in areas with noise ordinances!
But one of the most aesthetically prominent aspects of pickleball is the paddle itself. I love showing people my pickleball paddles because they give me a funny look and ask me what it’s used for. When I say it’s used for a sport they look surprised. A lot of people say that it’s basically just a massive ping pong paddle.
That’s pretty accurate.
In essence, pickleball paddles are flat boards that have a 4-5” handle attached to them. They’re usually 8” wide and 16” tall although this varies. That’s pretty much it.
Now, back in the day, most paddles were made of wood, but that’s not the case anymore. Check these out:
As you can see, they look a bit fancier these days. Gone are the days of wooden boards attached to handles. Now, we have what are called composite paddles. The word “composite” basically refers to an object that’s made of multiple things. You could say that a ham and cheese sandwich is a composite sandwich because it’s made of multiple ingredients. Pickleball paddles work the same way but minus the oozing mustard.
Composite paddles are made of three parts. You have the core, the face, and the edge guard. These three parts come together make the paddle head which is then attached to the handle.
The core is the meat of the paddle head. The most popular type of material used for the core is polymer which is just plastic. But there are other materials used such as aluminum and nomex. The unique thing about these pickleball cores is that the manufacturers punch holes in them to make a honeycomb shape.
See the honeycomb cells underneath the face? This creates a strong paddle and sturdy object (like real honeycomb) but reduces the weight. This is perfect for getting the right combination of power and lightness.
The face of a pickleball paddle is an important decision that paddle manufacturers have to make. They make anything from a combination of composite materials that have a vinyl coating to graphite to even fiberglass. Each face gives its own advantages, but it’s not as important as the core material talked about above.
Most pickleball players elect to go for the graphite-faced paddles like the Paddletek Tempest Wave.
The edgeguard is what ties everything together. If you look at the image above, you can see the black material wrapped around the edge. This does one thing: it protects the edges of the core and face material so that it doesn’t come apart.
Interestingly, there are composite paddles that come without edge guards, but people typically don’t use them. Also, paddle manufacturers can use the edgeguard to add a little bit more weight which was done for the Selkirk 30p XL Epic Enrique Ruiz.
There are no furry things in pickleball and this same rule applies to balls! Unlike tennis balls, pickleballs are hard, are lightweight, and have holes in them in order to make the ball easier to control. Just to give you an image in your head, they’re slightly larger than tennis balls but are lighter.
To put it simply, pickleballs are typically green or yellow, are made of plastic and have holes in them.
Believe it or not, there are two types of pickleballs. One that’s used for indoors and one for outdoors. An outdoor pickleball has smaller holes in order to not be affected by the wind as much and is also slightly harder. However, these balls easily crack and will need replacement often.
This is an example of an indoor pickleball. This is also the most popular type of indoor ball. If you go to an open play pickleball location, you will probably see this ball. The holes are larger than outdoor balls and are typically softer. Most people prefer playing with indoor balls.
What is pickleball like?
As I said at the beginning of this article, pickleball is insanely fun. Most people who play become hooked nearly instantly. But why? This is a question that I ponder on a weekly basis. I think there are 3 main reasons.
Pickleball is social
This is probably the #1 reason why pickleball is so fun. There’s nothing better than getting a group of four out to the pickleball courts. It’s a blast.
The connections and relationships you form in pickleball can last a lifetime as well.
In my view, the reason why pickleball is so social is that you cram 4 people into a small area. Because of the proximity, it makes it easy for everyone to hear each other without having to yell. This makes jokes, quips and general communication easier and commonplace. Furthermore, you rarely see people at open play locations that are super serious about the game. If you don’t like playing with people who never able to relax, smile and have fun, then pickleball is definitely for you. Laughing and excited outbursts are a common occurrence in the game.
In fact, the game is so social and community-focused that we even had a pickleball Christmas party in 2017. Yes, you heard that right. I’ve never been involved in a sport that does that. Pickleball is something special.
Pickleball is random and frantic
Similar to playing hacky sack, you never know what to expect once the ball starts sailing. Every single rally is different and every outcome is different. There’s just something fun about playing a game that can always catch you off guard.
Pickleball is easy to learn and difficult to master
From the historical account, we know for sure that the original creators of pickleball intended for the game to be easy to learn and play. But what we don’t know is if they intended pickleball to be difficult to master. “Easy to learn; difficult to master” is one of the primary design principles in game design and is what gets people hooked.
Pickleball is super easy to learn, but it’s difficult to play at a high level. A big reason for this is because the game is so random and there are so many variables. This adds to the fun factor of pickleball, but not for the expertise side of things. There’s always something to improve on and you will learn something new about pickleball or your own game every time you play.
I hope that helps you get a general understanding of what pickleball is. Have you just started playing? What has your experience been like? Let me know in the comments below!
History of the Game (https://www.usapa.org/history-of-the-game/)