Step aside Disc Golf, pickleball is the next hot sport! Yes, we did marching band in high school, why do you ask?
Over the last few years, pickleball, not to be confused with a pickleback shot, has surged in popularity. What is pickleball? And does it involve a crispy, crunchy snack?
Come along with us as we dive into how an activity retired folks love to play is finding its way into college intramural sports, city park tournaments, and our hearts. Not convinced yet? Wait until you see the paddles.
What Is Pickleball?
Pickleball originated on Bainbridge Island, WA in 1965 by co-inventors Joel Pritchard, William Bell, and Barney McCallum. It’s similar to tennis in that players hit a ball across a net. It’s different in that the court is smaller, and players use paddles instead of rackets.
So, essentially, the sport initially started as a family activity. Just like catch, tag, or stress-inducing Monopoly where someone ends up in tears at the end.
After playing in their backyards, the three inventors eventually proposed this family-friendly, accessible form of net and racket sports to the public.
How Did Pickleball Get Its Name?
There’s a few conflicting stories, but one is that the family dog Pickles inspired the name. The Cockapoo puppy would chase after rogue balls up and down the neighborhood. And when it came time for the three to give their new sport a name, they named it “Pickle’s Ball” after the pup. They later shortened to pickleball. What a wholesome origin story.
The second story is that the name came from Joel’s wife, who was a competitive rower. The game reminded her of “pickle boats,” which is when a crew boat is filled with mismatched rowers.
Either way, it’s likely that other cultures were playing a form of this game long before the prep-land that is Bainbridge Island, but we’ll give them this one in the name of organized sport. Pickles would be so proud. And the boat is inanimate.
How Do You Play Pickleball?
The beauty of this game is that it’s relatively easy to understand, requires minimal equipment, and uses a small field of play. But like the pong table at a house party, it all comes down to the rules.
Pickleball is played on a court that’s 20 feet wide by 44 feet long, with a net that’s 36 inches high. If you grew up in British royalty, you’d know that’s the same size as a badminton court. For everyone else, roughly cut a tennis court in half. Sharp knife you’ve got there!
Just like tennis, you can play pickleball as a one-on-one game or as a two-on-two game. Roll solo, or choose a partner that won’t “accidentally” hit you in the back of the head.
Playing the Game
The game begins with the teams standing on opposite sides of the net, both on their respective right side. The team chosen serve first, and hits the ball diagonally to the other side of the net. No, Harry Potter, we didn’t say “Diagon Alley.”
Similar to pretty much any other game, the rally game goes on until a team hits the ball out of bounds or into the net, or if the ball bounces twice on one team’s side.
If the serving side wins the rally, that team continues to serve. If the opposing team wins the rally, then they take over as the server.
The game ends when one team has 11 points and is up by two points.
The nitty gritty rules
- Double Bounce Rule: After service, the ball must bounce on each side before air volleying can begin. So, the receiving team has to let the ball bounce, and the serving team has to let the ball bounce. From here, all bets are off; prepare to be absolutely pelted by a volley.
- No-Volley Zone: This zone spans seven on each side of the net. In it, you’re not allowed to volley the ball (meaning, hit it before it bounces on the ground). Shorter folks who have gotten spiked on the head by giants in volleyball games will appreciate this rule.
- Service rules: You can only serve the ball underhanded, keeping the paddle below your waist. The served ball has to clear the No-Volley zone, which you just read about above. And finally, you alternate between right and left sides of the court each time a new serve occurs.
How is Pickleball Scored?
Games are played to 11 points, and you must win by 2. And for a fun little twist, the points are only awarded the serving team if they win the rally.
For single’s play, scoring is pretty straight forward. The server hits the ball, the players continue with the rally, and the serving side wins, they get a point! If the opposite side wins the rally, they don’t get a point, but they now get the power to serve.
Scoring doubles is slightly more confusing. It’s easier than multiplication, but about on par with division.
Player A on the serving team hits the ball over. If it’s a fair shot, then the teams play the rally. Just as with singles, the serving team gets a point if they win the rally. But if they lose, the power to serve goes to player B on that same team.
Once the serving team losing a second point, then the serving power goes to the opposite team. And finally, they get a chance to get some points on the table. Err..court?
For all serves, the ball has to land in the “service area,” which is on the diagonal side of the court and past the no-volley zone. Orange you glad we don’t have to say “serves” anymore?
What Do You Need to Play Pickleball?
Pickleball is a relatively inclusive, accessible, and non-elitist sport. All you really need is a wiffle ball, paddles, and an open court. But if Judge Judy is there, you went to the wrong one.
As with many things, you can find pickleball paddles at a range of prices. Amazon has a basic paddle priced around $35, or a set of paddles and four balls for about $55. But some fancy paddles can go all the way up to $150.
Unless you’re into competing at a high level, you really just need a basic paddle. Manufacturers usually make these out of graphite or carbon fiber. As long as you can with hit it, you can play with it. Just don’t use the same one you use in the bedroom.
As for the balls, they’re literally just wiffle balls: plastic, with holes, and slightly reminiscent of Swiss cheese.
Where Can You Play Pickleball?
You don’t have to be a part of a private country club in the Hamptons or live in a retirement community to try out this new sport. Local city parks all over the place are meeting the fierce demand for courts, even taking to repurposing tennis courts for pickleball. Sorry, Serena.
And if you’re more of a homebody, you can always mark off some boundaries on your quiet neighborhood street and get to it.
Finally, you can always a trip on the world wide web and visit Places 2 Play to search for your next spot. This site lets you search for pickleball courts and events down to the exact zip code.