by Ellen Blake
I was at a party last weekend and someone asked if I play pickleball. I responded that I don’t, but my husband plays a few times every week. Another guest who overheard our conversation came over to add that he and his wife play pickleball too. Someone else standing nearby told us she also plays. This pickleball conversation went on for quite a while. I met eight people that day who all play this sport regularly. I definitely felt I was missing out! It was interesting to me that this group of guests live in the same city, yet all play at different courts. Obviously, this pickleball is really popular and a big deal to a lot of people, which is why we see courts cropping up all over.
Why Is Pickleball So Popular?
To answer the question, “Why is pickleball so popular?”, I think it’s because it’s an easy-to-learn paddle sport appropriate for players of all ages and skill levels. Pickel ball is easy on the joints and combines elements of tennis, badminton, and ping-pong. The only equipment needed is a paddle and a plastic ball with holes. Though a great sport for beginners, experienced players compete against each other in fast-paced, challenging, and competitive games. In addition, the game has a multi-generational appeal as it attracts players from all age groups. As the sport receives great coverage and exposure from the media, awareness, and interest continue to rise.
What Is Pickleball?
Pickleball is a fast-paced and engaging sport easily enjoyed by people of all ages and skill levels. It provides a good mix of strategy, agility, and hand-eye coordination, making it a popular choice for recreational play, as well as for competitive tournaments. Pickleball played with a paddle and a perforated plastic ball on a court similar in size to a badminton court can be played in singles or doubles.
Pickelball is not new as 2023 marks its 58th anniversary. Three enterprising dads in Seattle with children bored with their usual summertime activities invented the game in 1965. They played with handmade equipment and simple rules. As of 2020, Pickleball has 4.2 million players in the U.S., according to the SFIA 2021 Topline Participation Report. The known places to play totaled 8,735 at the end of 2020, and the number continues to grow. Every U.S. state now has pickleball venues, with senior residence communities, YMCA’s, local recreation centers, schools and parks the most common places that have courts.
Why Is it Called Pickleball?
“Why is it called Pickleball?” is a good question. We don’t have a definitive answer, but there are a few interesting theories for how the sport got its name. According to one popular story, the creators named the game after one of their dogs, a cocker spaniel named Pickles. As the story goes, Pickles had a habit of chasing and running off with the ball during the early days of the game. So, the founders reportedly named the sport “pickleball” after their playful dog. Another account suggests the name came about because the word “pickle” can refer to a combination of different things, much like how the game combined elements of various sports. The use of the word “pickle” in this sense was not uncommon during that time. Still another theory claims the name references a pickle boat, the boat in a race composed of leftover crews from other teams. Regardless of the exact origin, the name “pickleball” stuck, and the sport gained popularity over time. Today, pickleball is enjoyed by millions of players worldwide, and the name became synonymous with the unique and enjoyable paddle sport. Note that while ‘pickleball’ is the most popular spelling you can also find pickelball, pickle ball, and pickel ball.
How to Play Pickleball?
Pickel ball is an easy sport to teach and to learn. Basically, a pickleball game starts with an underhand serve diagonally to the opponent’s court. The serve must clear the non-volley zone, also known as the “kitchen” or “no-volley zone,” which is a seven-foot area adjacent to the net on both sides. After the serve, the receiving team must let the ball bounce once before returning it. Once the ball has bounced, both teams can either volley the ball (hit it before it bounces) or play it off a bounce. After the ball has bounced once on each side, it can be volleyed or played off a bounce. Players are not allowed to enter the non-volley zone and hit a volley (a ball hit before it bounces). They can enter the non-volley zone to play a ball that has bounced. However, they must exit the non-volley zone before hitting a volley.
1. What Does a Pickleball Court Look Like?
Pickleball courts are typically rectangular in shape and have specific markings and dimensions. They are smaller than a traditional tennis court at 20 feet wide and 44 feet long for doubles play. For singles play, the court is still 20 feet wide but only 20 feet long. A net, 36 inches high at the sidelines and 34 inches high at the center runs across the middle of the court, dividing it into two equal halves. On each side of the net, a service area extends from the baseline to the non-volley zone. The service areas are marked by lines perpendicular to the net. The court is bounded by sidelines on the left and right, as well as baselines at the back. The boundaries of the court are marked by lines.
There are three main types of pickleball courts: Indoor pickleball courts, public pickleball courts, and portable pickleball courts. The distinct markings and dimensions of the court help ensure fair play and provide players with a defined playing area for the sport.
2. What Is a Pickleball Paddle Made Of?
Pickleball paddles come in a variety of materials, each offering different characteristics and performance. The common materials used for pickleball paddles include wood, composite, graphite, aluminum, and polymer.
Generally, traditional pickleball paddles are made of wood, typically hardwood such as maple or plywood. Wood paddles tend to be heavier and provide less power and control compared to modern composite paddles. However, some players still prefer the feel and touch offered by wooden paddles. Composite paddles, known for their lightweight nature, durability, and ability to generate power and spin, are the most popular choice among pickleball players. Graphite paddles are a subset of composite paddles, where graphite is the primary material used in the construction. Aluminum paddles are less common but still available. They are typically made of an aluminum core with a composite or fiberglass face. Aluminum paddles tend to be heavier than other paddle types and are known for their durability and resilience against rough handling. Finally, some paddles use polymer as the core material. Polymer paddles often have a soft, cushioned feel and can provide better shock absorption.
You can purchase pickleball paddles in various shapes, sizes, and weights to suit individual preferences. The choice of paddle material depends on factors such as player skill level, playing style, and personal preferences for power, control, and feel. We recommend you try different types of paddles to find the one that suits your playing style and preferences the best.
3. What Does a Pickleball Look Like and What Is It Made From?
A pickleball ball has distinct characteristics and is specifically designed for the game. It is round with a solid, smooth surface and similar in size to a whiffle ball but slightly smaller. The standard pickleball has a diameter of 2.87 inches (7.3 cm). It is available in various colors, most commonly yellow, but also white, orange, or other high-visibility shades. Multiple small holes or perforations dot the surface of a ball used for pickleball. These holes help reduce the ball’s speed and provide more air resistance, making the game more controllable and suitable for the size of the court. They are typically made from a durable and lightweight plastic material like high-impact polyethylene or similar plastic polymers. These materials are chosen for their durability, bounce characteristics, and resistance to wear and tear. There are slight variations in the construction of pickleballs designed for indoor and outdoor play. Outdoor pickleballs are typically made with more durable plastics to withstand rougher surfaces and weather conditions. They may also have thicker walls or additional reinforcement to make them more resistant to cracking or breaking.
4. What Is a Pickleball Net Height?
The standard height for a pickleball net is 36 inches (91.4 cm) at the sidelines and 34 inches (86.4 cm) at the center. The net is set up across the middle of the court, dividing it into two halves. The height difference between the sidelines and the center is to ensure that the net is level when stretched across the court. This slightly lower center height helps prevent the ball from rebounding too high when it hits the net during play.
5. Pickleball Scoring Rules
Pickleball is typically played to 11 points, and the winning team must win by a margin of two points. The serving team earns points only when they win a rally, and the serve alternates between teams after each point. The serving team switches sides when the receiving team scores a point.
8 Great Reasons to Play Pickleball
Why do so many people flock to the pickleball courts these days on a regular basis? The reasons below are those we hear most often from our readers about the popularity of the game.
1. Pickleball is Healthy
Are you looking for great exercise for both your mind and body? Pickleball provides opportunities to work on balance, agility, reflexes, and hand-eye coordination without excessively straining your body. It’s an excellent choice for 50Plussers who played tennis previously but now have physical limitations.
2. Pickleball is Easy to Learn
First, the rules are simple, and the paddles are large, making the ball fairly easy to hit with little practice. In under an hour, new players generally find themselves volleying back and forth over the net. With court dimensions less than half the size of a tennis court, your serves and returns don’t need to be precise for the ball to stay in play. It doesn’t take long to advance your skills with practice.
3. Pickleball is Social
Almost 60 percent of pickle ballers say they play for social reasons. Courts are small, so it’s easy to hold conversations while playing. The most popular way to play a game is with a partner against another team of two. Generally, there’s an opportunity for lots of interaction between players, even with strangers. It’s not uncommon for pickleball players to develop friendships or strengthen already existing bonds on the court.
4. Pickleball Courts Don’t Require a Lot of Space
The dimensions of a pickleball court are 20 ft by 40 ft. More players can enjoy games in smaller areas than what’s required for a tennis court. You can easily have two games going on at the same time on one tennis court. The small size also means less running for players. It’s still a good cardio workout, but not as much as sports with more sprints required to return the ball.
5. Pickleball is a Fun Game For All Ages
One of the beautiful things about pickleball is it is for everyone. People of all ages take up the game, from children strong enough to swing a paddle to older adults post-retirement. For this reason, pickleball is a popular family activity. As long as a doctor gives the OK to play, whether you are 15 or 75 you can play.
6. Pickleball is Affordable
For someone wanting to add exercise to their routine, pickleball is a fairly inexpensive way to go. Prices for paddles range widely, but for those just starting, you can find a decent paddle for less than $30 and a six-pack of balls for less than $10. There are no elaborate accessories involved; no shin guards, helmets, gloves, or anything other than your favorite pair of athletic shoes.
Many pickleball courts are public, built, and maintained by the local municipality, so often there is no entry fee. For-profit clubs, of course, do impose fees, but you get additional amenities like locker rooms, showers, and maybe a coffee bar.
7. Pickleball is For All Skill Levels
One of the reasons newbies enjoy pickleball is because it’s so easy to learn, especially if you ever played ping-pong, badminton or tennis. And if you haven’t, no worries, you’ll pick it up.
The U.S.A. Pickleball Association has skill ratings ranging from 1.0-5.5. Those with a level between 1.0 and 2.0 are usually brand new to the game with a minimal understanding. A player with a 3.0 rating knows the terms of the game and can hit forehand, backhand and serve, and has the ability to develop a winning strategy. You receive a 5.5 rating if you are an expert who consistently plays at a high level and wins tournaments.
That being said, you can usually find a wide range of players with different skill levels on any given pickleball court. Some play better than others, but everyone agrees the game is a good time. Whether you’re a beginner who just wants to learn a new sport for fun, or you’re a seasoned player who craves more competitive play, pickleball offers something for everyone.
8. Pickleball is Very Popular
Pickleball is no longer a “new” sport or referred to as “up and coming”. People talk about it and invite their friends or join to make new ones. Many seem addicted after playing only a few times, for all the above reasons. Parks and recreation departments try to meet the demands of the public, building new pickleball courts or repurposing tennis courts for pickleball games. You can play this fun game indoors or out, so you can play in any weather.
Is Pickleball a Sport?
Yes, pickleball is indeed considered a sport. It is a paddle sport that combines elements of tennis, badminton, and table tennis. It has its own set of rules, equipment, and organized competitions. Pickleball is recognized as an official sport by various organizations and governing bodies, including the USA Pickleball Association (USAPA) and the International Federation of Pickleball (IFP). The sport experienced significant growth in popularity worldwide in recent years and played recreationally as well as competitively at various levels.
Pickleball vs. Tennis
Tennis and pickleball are both popular racket sports that share some similarities but also have distinct differences. Pickleball requires a smaller court than tennis, using a plastic ball with holes vs. a felt-covered rubber ball. Paddles for pickleball have a solid hitting surface, while tennis rackets will sport an outer frame with cross-strung strings. Tennis uses a more complicated scoring system, tending to be more physically demanding than pickleball.
Pickleball vs. Paddle Tennis
Pickleball is similar in ways to paddle tennis, but also has notable differences. Paddle tennis usually played on a modified tennis court, uses the traditional tennis scoring system. The pressurized ball used in paddle tennis resembles a tennis ball but with a lower compression and slower speed. It uses solid-faced paddles made of composite materials though, similar to pickleball paddles. As with tennis, you play paddle tennis at a faster pace than pickleball.
Pickleball vs. Ping Pong
Both pickleball and ping pong offer enjoyable and competitive gameplay, but they differ in terms of court size, equipment, and pace of play. Ping-pong played on a table, demands quick reflexes and agility. In contrast, you play pickleball on a court and the game emphasizes strategy and ball placement. The choice between pickleball and ping pong ultimately depends on personal preferences, the desired level of physical activity, and the type of playing experience you are looking for. Players use small wooden paddles (also known as rackets) and a lightweight celluloid ball.
Is Pickleball For You?
Pickleball is a sport that can be enjoyed by people of various ages and skill levels, making it relatively accessible to a wide range of individuals. It combines elements from tennis, badminton, and table tennis, played on a smaller court with a solid paddle and a plastic ball with holes. The game is often considered suitable for everyone is its relatively simple rules and easy-to-learn nature. Beginners can quickly grasp the basic techniques and start playing. The court size is smaller than a tennis court, which makes it less physically demanding compared to some other racquet sports. The slower-paced gameplay can also be appealing to those who may have mobility limitations or prefer a less intense activity.
With so many reasons to play pickleball and few drawbacks, why not consider playing? It’s affordable, convenient, good exercise, gentle on the joints, fun, and offers great social opportunities! I plan to join my husband later this week. Not sure where to play? Check out the USA Pickleball website.
Where can I find pickleball courts in my area?
The best place to start to find local pickleball courts is to contact your local parks and recreation department or visit their website. You can also check with community centers, YMCA facilities, or sports clubs in your area. You may want to search for local pickleball associations or clubs in your area too. Finally, local pickleball groups n social media platforms.
Can I play pickleball indoors or outdoors?
Yes, there are both inside and outside courts available throughout the U.S.
I’m new to the area – Do I need a partner to play pickleball?
No, you do not necessarily need a partner to play pickleball. People are generally friendly on the pickleball courts, so while some people go with a partner or in groups, others are generally welcome to rotate into the game. Pickleball is a great way to meet new people if you are new in town.
Is it called a pickleball racquet or a pickleball paddle?
While some call it a pickleball racquet, and everyone knows what they are talking about, the correct term is pickleball paddle.
updated May 15, 2023