What is pickleball and why is this sport growing so fast? Let's dive into the rules, it's origin and who is playing this offering.
If you’ve been walking about local sports complexes or town recreation sites lately, you’ve probably noticed a different kind of sport being played there this summer. While at first glance it might look like something you’ve seen before, at a closer look one notices that it’s actually a combination of a few different, popular paddle sports. That’s pickleball, and it’s quickly becoming one of the most popular, and fastest-growing sports out there. There are a lot of reasons for this and why it will likely stick around for some time. Let’s take a look at what is pickleball and everything we need to know about this up-and-coming sport.
WHAT IS THE GAME OF PICKLEBALL ALL ABOUT?
In a lot of ways, pickleball is very simple and easy to learn because it’s a combination of a few different, already recognizable sports that we’ve come to know and love. We’ll get to all of the rules and specifications in a bit, but know for now that pickleball is a combination of tennis, paddleball, and badminton, with a Wiffle ball thrown in there as well. It’s played on a surface that resembles a tennis court, though is the size of one played for badminton.
Pickleball is gaining popularity for a number of different, pretty obvious reasons. For starters, the rules are such that if you’ve played the other racket-style sports, it’s very easy to pick up on quickly. The barrier for entry, in this respect, is pretty light considering that there are few new things needed and the mechanics take no time at all to pick up on.
And unlike say, tennis, pickleball is easier on the joints with a slower overall pace that makes it a bit more leveled for players of all ages. This is a welcoming sport all around.
WHY IS IT CALLED PICKLEBALL?
The game of pickleball is said to have started all the way back in 1965 when future Congressman Joel Pritchard and two of his buddies, Barney McCallum and Bill Bell, came up with the game in Washington. Apparently, the name, “pickle” stemmed from Pritchard referring to a Pickle Boat in rowing that was made up of the leftover from other boats. In this way, he was likely referring to how this particular game was made up from pieces of other racket-based games. It’s an odd reference for sure and not one that’s commonly known now. It makes sense in context for this particular game, but one can see why it wouldn’t necessarily translate in this particular meaning.
Unlike some other sports whose origins are a bit up in the air, there is a pretty solid agreement that this is where this particular one started. It’s been documented throughout the years with Pritchard and company even starting an LLC early on in order to market the game and the supplies as well.
WHAT IS PICKLEBALL EQUIPMENT?
Pickleball is played with two paddles that resemble ping pong paddles though are larger than what you might see in basement rec rooms. The paddles are firm, allowing for more power when hitting the ball, different than tennis or badminton which have webbed rackets.
The pickleball racket is size is typically between 15” inches and 17’ inches long and 7”-8” inches wide. Compare this to a ping-pong paddle which is about 10 inches long and 5” inches wide.
The reason the paddles are more firm is that the pickleball ball resembles a standard Wiffle ball, though larger. It is not solid throughout, but rather has holes placed all around the surface to allow better airflow and slow down the speed of the ball just a tad. If it was a solid wiffleball structure the speeds would likely be too much to handle for the standard player.
Picking up a pickleball set at the standard retail outfit will cost you about $20 right now for a couple of paddles and the balls, though can range up to around $40 if you throw the net in there as well.
Again, the pickleball court is going to look, to the average eye, much like a tennis court (but smaller) or a ping-pong table (but bigger). The general layout in the same in that it is rectangular in shape with clear dividing lines on each side that are crucial to the gameplay, especially at the beginning of the serving process.
The court dimensions are 44 feet long and 20 feet wide with a net that stands 36 inches above the ground. Compared to a tennis court which is 78 feet long and 36 feet wide. The tennis net sits 42 inches above the ground in the middle, so about half a foot taller than the one for pickleball. The nets for both sports are a bit shorter near the edges though.
WHAT ARE THE RULES OF PICKLEBALL?
Pickleball is played much like the other racket games you might be used to with a court that resembles what we see with those other sports. Players can play in singles or doubles, though that doesn’t change the size of the court.
To start, players stand behind the back line of their side and initiate a serve. The serve has to cross the court and land in the diagonal box located on their opponent’s side of the court. It must bounce in there once before the opponent can return the ball. When the opponent returns the ball, it must also bounce at least once on the server’s side before the latter can return it. This is a “double bounce” rule known throughout the sport. After these two bounces, the ball can then be returned or hit back without it bouncing on either side.
A pickleball game is played to 11 points and a game must be won by two points. Each team starts with a serve by calling out the score, server first, then opponent, then the number of the server. Only the serving team can score points. The team’s first server serves and a rally happens. This server continues on until the opponent wins a point. Then the initial serving team switches to the second server and there’s another rally. When the opponent wins the rally of the second server, the serving side switches. This play continues until a team gets to 11 points (or higher) and is ahead by two points.
WHO IS PLAYING?
According to recent polls and statistics, pickleball has definitely found an appeal among an older generation, especially one that’s transitioning out of the grit and grind of the tennis game. It’s quickly gaining popularity among the 55-year-old crew (the average age of pickleball players).
And pickleball is only growing with recent stats suggesting it’s one of the fastest-moving sports up there in terms of adoption. According to USA Pickleball, the sport has grown an average of 11.5% over the past five years with 21% and 15% growth over the last two years respectively. You’d be hardpressed to find another sport gaining so much traction so quickly. So head to the local complex and give pickleball a try. There’s a reason so many people are starting to play.