What is Pickleball and Where Did it Come From?
While pickleball has recently gained popularity, it has been around for over 50 years.
As the story goes, pickleball was created in 1965 on Bainbridge Island, Washington when Joel Pritchard and his friend Bill Bell were attempting to entertain their bored children during the summer.
The game was originally played on a badminton court, using a wiffle ball, ping-pong paddles and a badminton net. Once they found that the ball bounced well on the asphalt, they later lowered the net to 36 inches, which is more similar to the height of a tennis net. The ping-pong paddles were found to be too small so the friends fashioned their own larger pickleball paddles out of plywood.
Pickleball is said to have gotten its name from the wife of the game’s creator, Joan Pritchard. Because she loved rowing so much, Joan would often watch college regattas where the best varsity teams competed against each other. Team members who didn’t start participated in a different race that was just for fun called “pickle boat”.
In Pickleball magazine, Joan’s son Frank says, “To hear my mother tell it, they sort of threw the leftover non-starter oarsmen into these particular pickle boats. She thought pickleball sort of threw bits of other games into the mix (badminton, table tennis, wiffle ball) and decided that ‘Pickle Ball’ was an appropriate name.” There are also some people who say the game was named after “Pickles,” the family dog.
The first permanent pickleball court was constructed in the backyard of Bob O’Brian in 1967. O’Brian and Pritchard were both friends and neighbors. By 1972, in an effort to protect the sport, a corporation was formed. The National Observer wrote about pickleball in 1975 and by 1976, Tennis magazine had also written an article about America’s newest racquet sport.
How to make a pickleball court
Both pickleball and doubles badminton courts measure 20×44 feet, although in pickleball, the same court is used for both singles and doubles play. Some people constructed courts specifically for pickleball where others may choose to modify existing tennis or badminton courts
The net height is 36 inches at the sidelines and 34 inches in the middle. The court is striped similar to a tennis court with right and left service courts and a non-volley zone seven feet from the net on either side was created to discourage smashing or slamming.
The non-volley zone, or ‘kitchen,’ also minimizes running, allowing older players to be just as competitive as younger players so that children can play alongside adults.
The Rules: Learn how to play Pickleball
The following is an abbreviated description of gameplay and pickleball rules, a more comprehensive description and pickleball rules can be found on the USA Pickleball website to give a quick overview of how the game is played. If there is a conflict between this summary and the official rules, the official rules prevail.
- Pickleball is played either as doubles (two players per team) or singles, although doubles is most common.
- When playing both singles and doubles, there is no difference in the rules or the size of the playing area.
- While serving, the ball must be struck using an upward arcing motion.
- The paddle must be below the waist level when contact is made with the ball.
- The highest part of the wrist should always be above the head of the paddle at contact.
- If the server chooses a ‘drop serve’, none of the above service rules apply.
- When striking the ball, the server’s feet may not touch the court, outside of the sideline or centerline. One foot must be on the ground behind the baseline of the pickleball court.
- A diagonal cross court serve must land within the lines of the opposing team’s/player’s diagonal court.
- Each server is only allowed one attempt per serve.
- When playing doubles, each player on the team is given the opportunity to serve and score points until a fault is committed. The exception to this rule is during the first service sequence of new gameplay.
- The first serve is always made from the right/even side of the court.
- If the serving team scores, the server then switches sides and serves from the left/odd side of their court.
- If subsequent points continue to be scored, the server will continue to alternate back and forth until there is a fault. At that point, the first server loses the serve.
- Once the first server loses a serve, their partner then serves from the correct side of their court (this rule does not apply to the first service sequence of the game).
- The second server now serves until his team loses the serve to the opposing team by committing a fault.
- During the opposing team’s service, the first serve is from the right or “even” court and both players on that team serve and score points until they commit two faults.
- In singles, the server serves from the right/even court when his or her score is even and from the left/odd when the score is odd.
- Only the serving team may score points.
- Games must be won by 2 points and usually go to 11.
- Tournament games may be to 15 or 21 points, and must be won by 2 points as well.
- When the serving team’s score is an even number (0, 2, 4, 6, 8, 10) the first server for that team, would be in the right/even court when receiving or serving; when odd (1, 3, 5, 7, 9) the player would be in the left/odd court when receiving or serving.
- During a serve, the receiving team must allow the ball to bounce before returning, and then the serving team must also allow the ball to bounce before returning it, thus two bounces.
- Once the ball has bounced once in each team’s court, either team may volley the ball (hit the ball before it bounces) or strike it after it bounces (ground stroke).
- Allowing the ball to bounce twice extends rallies and eliminates the serve/ volley advantage .
- “The kitchen” is the court area within 7 feet on both sides of the net.
- Volleying is not allowed within the non-volley zone or “the kitchen”. This rule prohibits players from executing smashes from a position within the “kitchen”.
- If a player steps on the non-volley zone, including the line and/or when the player’s momentum causes them or anything they are wearing or carrying to touch the non-volley zone including the associated lines, it is considered a fault.
- Even if the ball is declared dead, it is considered a fault after volleying, if a player is carried by momentum into or touches the non-volley zone.
- It is not illegal be in the non-volley zone any time when not volleying a ball.
- A ball is considered “in” as long as it does not have contact with any part of any line, except the non-volley zone line on a serve.
- If a serve contacts the non-volley zone line is short results in a fault.
- Any action that stops play for rule violations is considered a fault.
- In the event of a fault by the receiving team a point will be awarded the serving team.
- If the serving team faults, that team loses their serve or side out.
Determining Serving Team
Flipping a coin, volleying for serve or any other fair method can be used to determine which player or team has the first choice of side, service, or receive.
When playing pickleball, you may here lingo and quirky slang like “dink”, “falafel” or “flapjack”. Trust me, these words are worth their own Google searches.
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Why is Pickleball so popular?
What’s all the pickle-buzz about?
The popularity of pickleball has grown in North America, partly driven by the Covid-19 pandemic as it offers a safe, socially distanced form of exercise.
Pickleball originally found its place among retirement communities where participants loved it for the sociable aspect, moderate exercise or just for fun. Although pickleball is uber popular with seniors, much of this growth has been outside pickleball’s traditional demographic.
USA Pickleball membership nearly doubled between 2018 and 2021 and an estimated 4.8 million Americans now play and love the sport.
From 2020 to 2021 the fastest rate of increase was among players under 24. This increase is thought to have been driven by Covid lockdown. During that time portable pickleball nets were temporarily sold out as people began to set up courts in driveways and neighborhood streets.Taken together, it’s safe to say that playing pickleball can be a key leisure pursuit that contributes to the well-being of older adults.
“Pickleball is the social media influencer of the sports world,” Kelly Ripa said on Live With Kelly and Ryan. “I’d never heard about it. And then I only hear about it.”
When the US Pickleball National Championships relocated to Palm Springs, California in mid- 2010, it was no longer just a suburban pastime or a game for bored kids. The US Open even held their first ever Pickleball Championships in Naples, Florida in 2016.
Celebrities like Leonardo DiCaprio, George and Amal Clooney, the Kardashians, Jamie Foxx, Will Smith and Ellen DeGeneres have all confessed their obsession with pickleball in recent years.
Major League Pickleball was established in 2021 and is expected to expand from 12 to 16 teams, and participants could be awarded up to $2 million in cash prizes. Even superstars like LeBron James, Kevin Love, Draymond Green and Kevin Durant have joined both Tom Brady and former women’s tennis world champ Kim Clijsters and have become owners of professional pickleball clubs.
Pickleball is one of the fastest growing and hottest sports around so grab some friends and find your nearest pickleball court. Just remember, if you can’t stand the heat, stay out of the kitchen.