You’re probably familiar with tennis and maybe even badminton or racquetball, but what about pickleball? This is a growing, popular sport in the same vein that could be perfect to participate in.
What exactly is pickleball? Pickleball is a paddle sport that involves two to four players. Players hit a polymer ball over a net with solid paddles, waiting until the other player makes the wrong move and has an infraction. Then the player on the opposite side earns a point.
If you want to learn everything there is to know about pickleball, you’ve come to the right place.
This guide will take you through the sport’s history, its current popularity, the physical skills required to play, and–most importantly–what the rules are!
What Is Pickleball? Why Is It So Popular?
Pickleball is a sport that originated on Bainbridge Island in Washington state. The game was created in 1965, initially for children, but is today played by players of all ages.
So what exactly is pickleball? Like a cross between badminton and elements of tennis, pickleball is a game played with a polymer ball, solid paddles, and a net.
Pickleball games are played on a smaller court that’s about the same size as what you’d see when playing on a doubles badminton court.
Speaking of doubles, that’s one way to play pickleball, and it would involve four players in all. You can also play singles pickleball with just you and your opponent.
The goal of pickleball is to see who will fall into the trap of committing an infraction to the rules first.
If both you and your opponent are sharp, then you keep hitting the ball back and forth hoping that the other player will slip up.
The goal is to score 11 points, and the player or team who does that first is victorious.
The Popularity Of Pickleball
What has made pickleball so popular?
Well, it started as a kids’ game, and that says a lot. Pickleball was never meant to be inherently challenging, just a fun way to pass the time.
The creators, Joel Pritchard, Bill Bell, and Barney McCallum were trying to entertain their bored children when they created it.
The reason the game is named pickleball is a little obscure.
One thought is that Joel’s wife, Joan, said the game reminded her of a pickle boat (the last boat to dock after a day of fishing is called a pickle boat).
The other is that the name of the game could have come from the Pritchard family dog, who was also named Pickles.
Regardless, as time went on, pickleball was picked up locally around Bainbridge Island.
That inspired Pritchard and Barney McCallum’s son, David McCallum, to start a company called Pickle Ball, Inc. in 1968. The company sold pickleball kits and paddles.
The sport soon spread to places like Florida, Hawaii, California, and Arizona. Eventually, a tournament was held in Washington in 1976, the first of its kind.
Fast-forward to the 2020s and pickleball isn’t done growing yet, not by a long shot.
The COVID-19 pandemic is credited with increasing the sport’s popularity, as people were looking for something fun and easy to do that wasn’t indoors.
In fact, the Sports and Fitness Industry Association or SFIA called pickleball the fastest growing sport in the United States in both 2021 and 2022.
By the early 2020s, there were at least 4.8 million players, and it could be as many as 40 million by 2030.
The player increase is huge, with a growth rate of nearly 40 percent in the first two years of the 2020s.
A little trivia for you – in 2022, Washington declared pickleball its state sport. And, one Forbes article says that pickleball is Bill Gates’ favorite sport.
What Is The Difference Between Tennis and Pickleball?
As we said in the section before, pickleball is sort of a combination of different sports, as it takes elements from tennis, as well as badminton.
There are, however, some distinct differences between the two sports.
The average size of a tennis court is 78 feet long. Pickleball courts, by comparison, are only 44 feet long.
Ball Movement Differences
The way a pickleball ball moves versus a tennis ball is another significant difference between these two sports.
The ball used to play pickleball is made of a polymer material; it’s also hollow and has round holes in it.
In that sense, it’s similar to a wiffle ball, although you definitely can’t substitute a whiffle ball when you play pickleball.
In contrast, a tennis ball is not a hard material, but is a lot softer and more flexible than a polymer.
This means that a tennis ball bounces a lot more easily and freely compared to a pickleball ball.
The Non-Volley Zone
Pickleball also has two non-volley zones, which are sometimes referred to as kitchens.
A player cannot hit the ball out of the air if it’s in the kitchen, which is designated by the non-volley zone line – similar to the court lines in tennis.
These are areas where the ball cannot go when hit with a paddle. The ball can bounce there independent of a paddle hit, though.
Although tennis has similar court lines, it has no such equivalent zones.
How you serve in tennis versus pickleball are two totally different things.
Pickleball serves are always done underhand, whereas a tennis serve is overhand.
The positioning of a pickleball serve is also different, as the player will stand diagonally from the opposite end of the pickleball court and serve there.
The ease of serving in pickleball isn’t surprising when you remember that this sport started as a kid’s game.
The last difference between pickleball and tennis is the equipment used to play, namely the paddles.
A tennis racket has strings throughout. Pickleball is played with wooden paddles that are more like table tennis paddles.
Some pickleball paddles feature air holes but most are smooth. They’re also considerably smaller than tennis rackets.
Does Pickleball Require A Lot Of Running?
As a sport, pickleball is an active game, but how much are you going to be running around the court?
Not as much as you would think, actually!
Recalling that pickleball was a game created for children, it makes sense that it doesn’t require as much physical exertion as playing racquetball or tennis.
A pickleball court is not all that large to begin with, and players have to stay within certain zones when playing, which further minimizes the available court space.
Players can only run so far, which is good for people of all ages, but particularly older adults who want to up their cardio fitness level.
How Long Does A Pickleball Game Last?
You may be interested in trying pickleball, but how long does the average game last? Is it a lot of back-and-forth that can go on for hours or is it considerably briefer?
It’s far briefer than hours, that’s for certain!
While it does depend, the average game of pickleball lasts anywhere from 15 to 25 minutes.
After all, players only have to score 11 points, so it can go pretty fast!
How To Play Pickleball (Step-By-Step Guide)
Are you interested in trying a game of pickleball with a friend or even on a team? Without further ado, here are all the play instructions.
Disclaimer: We recommend that anyone who is beginning an exercise program check with their doctor before starting to be sure they are healthy enough for that type of exercise.
Step 1: Know the Rules
All pickleball players must learn the simple rules of the game before starting to ensure a fun, fair game for everyone.
Here are the rules of pickleball:
- When players are in the kitchen or the non-volley zone, they cannot volley the ball (hit it out of the air, instead of on a bounce).
- After serving the ball, both sides have to make a ground stroke ahead of volleying the ball, which means to hit the ball before it bounces. One ground stroke is required on each side.
- The winning team must have a two-point margin.
- The serving side is the only side that can score points, and that occurs only when the other side faults, such as hitting the ball into the net, hitting the ball out of bounds, or not sending the ball back.
- The ball must always be served underhanded.
If you want to read more on the rules, there are several books out there on pickleball rules and strategies.
Step 2: Decide Who Will Serve First
Players must determine who will serve first by picking heads or tails. Then a mutual third party flips a coin and the winning side becomes the first server.
Step 3: Serving
All serves are done underhand. When the serving player hits the ball with their paddle, it must be underneath their waist for the hit to count.
One of the player’s feet must be behind their baseline. Both feet must stay off the baseline until the player hits the ball, then the player can change their foot positioning.
The player must serve diagonally across the court to land the ball on the other side of the court diagonally.
Players can serve only once unless they “let,” which is to hit the ball into the net and have it land on the proper service court on the other side.
One player on a doubles team doesn’t serve exclusively. Rather, both sides can serve alternately until one faults. This only applies after the initial serve though.
When the service side switches to the opposing team, then the right-hand court gets to serve first.
The serving side also changes after players score a point.
When playing on a team, if one server happens to lose their serve, then their partner will serve from that same side of the pickleball court.
This doesn’t apply to singles play, when the player will serve on the left side if they have an odd-numbered score and from the right side if they have an even-numbered score.
Step 4: Ball Bouncing
After serving the ball, the other player or team needs to allow the ball to bounce and can then return it. That’s true when you serve the ball, too.
Once those two returns occur, players don’t have to allow the ball to bounce for any further returns. This opens the door to ground strokes upon the first ball bounce or a volley without any bouncing.
However, volleys can only happen in areas outside the non-volley zone or the player faults.
Step 5: Faults
Players on both sides can achieve faults in a variety of ways, which will determine who scores a point. Thus, it’s important to pay attention to the following errors:
- The player hits the ball in such a way that the ball hits a permanent object such as the net and then bounces onto the court.
- The ball collides with the player. This can include something the player is holding such as the pickleball paddle, their clothing, as well as their head and other body parts.
- One or both players violate the service rule.
- The player in any way touches either the net post or the net when the ball is actively in play. That can include their paddle, their clothing, or any part of the player’s body contacting the net post or net.
- The player bounces the ball twice before the receiver hits it.
- The player volleys the ball in the non-volley zone.
- One or both players hit the ball out of bounds.
- The player volleys the ball before both sides get to bounce the ball once.
- The player hits the ball into the net when returning or serving it.
- A player’s serve does not go into the receiving court.
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