What is Pickleball?
Here at The Tennis Bros, we like to explore other racket sports aside from tennis. Whilst tennis is what we live and breathe, we appreciate there are other sports out there that may take your fancy and can be used to improve your game on the court.
One of the new kids on the block is Pickleball. Whilst it may have a funny sounding name, pickleball has become a widely played sport across the world in recent years and is a fun and accessible way to get into racket sports. Now, you may be wondering, what is pickleball? Well, let us explain!
Where did Pickleball Come From?
Pickleball was first conceived back in 1965 in Washington. It is actually more similar to other paddle sports than traditional racket sports like tennis, badminton or squash, so is a little more accessible to beginner players.
Pickleball was invented as a children’s backyard game that looked to make use of small court spaces and light weight balls.
Where a tennis court or a squash court typically need a lot of space, time and money to build, a pickleball court is actually the same size as a badminton court!
The story goes that former congressman Joel Pritchard wanted to play badminton with his family after a round of golf with his buddies, but was unable to find a shuttlecock.
They then improvised by using a wiffle ball (a small, hollow plastic ball with holes in it) instead. Since the wiffle ball would clearly not fly as easily as a shuttlecock, they then decided to lower the net to the height of a tennis net and fashioned a couple of plywood bats.
This is the moment that pickleball was born!
The first pickleball company was actually started by Barney McCallum, one of Joel Pritchard’s good friends (who was present at the inception of the game). McCallum created the first wooden pickleball paddles and the company ‘Pickle-ball inc.’ is still operational today.
Pickle-ball inc grew exponentially and distributed kits around the U.S. and from the 1970s onwards, pickleball has been growing in popularity!
The versatile nature of the sport means you can effectively use any existing badminton court set up at your local park or sports centre and use a net at the same height of a tennis net rather than the traditional tall net used for badminton.
Therefore, pickleball is clearly a very accessible sport that can be picked up by anyone that may want to get into some of the more well known racket sports.
Pickleball really combines a range of different racket based sports to make a fun and easy to play game that can be enjoyed by anyone, anywhere!
Pickleball has come a long way from its humble beginnings. It is now governed by the International Federation of Pickleball and is one of the fastest growing sports in the U.S. today!
Why is Pickleball called Pickleball?
As we have mentioned, Pickleball has very humble beginnings. First thought up in a congressman’s back garden, it is a relatively new sport compared to a lot of the more traditional racket sports out there.
But, one of the most unique things about pickleball is the name! It is sometimes not taken seriously by people looking to get into a new racket based activity simply for this reason. But, the pickleball name does have an origin story.
Joan Pritchard, wife of the founder of pickleball Joel Pritchard, claimed that the game reminded her of a pickle boat. Now, you may be wondering how on earth a racket sport has anything to do with rowing, but bear with us…
So, a pickle boat refers to a rowing crew made up of members that are effectively “thrown together”. These boats would generally hang at the back of the rowing pack and be the designated fishing vessels.
The ‘pickle’ term comes from the fact that these rowers would catch herring and pickle them. It is these randomly assorted team members that Mrs Pritchard is referring to when she says her husband’s game reminds her of a pickle boat.
The thrown together nature of the game, borrowing rules, court dimensions and tactics from various racket sports means the name of pickleball actually kind of makes sense!
Is Pickleball Popular?
The short answer is, yes! Despite it being a relatively new sport in the grand scheme of things, pickleball is growing in popularity not only in the U.S. but all over the world!
There are now 37 countries that are members of the International Federation of Pickleball and the sport is currently played by an estimated 4.1 million people worldwide.
One of the main selling points of pickleball is how easy it is to play. It combines some of the most appealing elements of sports like badminton, tennis and paddle ball to make an easy to access sport that anyone can pick up.
From a cost perspective it is also an attractive proposition for local sports centres, YMCAs, schools and colleges.
Since pickleball courts are the same size as badminton courts, the sport can be played on existing court space, bringing in a new stream of revenue and a new customer base to existing facilities. You can also play pickleball on one quarter of a tennis court outside.
From 2020 to 2021, pickleball participation grew by 21.3% in the U.S. alone, making it one of the fastest growing sports out there!
How to Play Pickleball
As we have mentioned, pickleball combines most other racket sports to make for an accessible, fun and competitive experience. But, you may be wondering how pickleball is actually played?
Well, pickleball is played on a badminton sized court and the aim is to hit the ball over the net (the same height as a tennis net) away from your opponent.
This is of course not revolutionary in itself as this is the aim of most racket sports, however, there are a few more rules that make pickleball unique.
First of all, the serving player must hit the ball behind the baseline cross court, underarm and below the waist. This differs quite a lot from traditional tennis or badminton serving.
The ball must bounce once on both the server and returner’s side of the court for the point to commence, eliminating any potential serve and volley advantage. This would be a little unfair given how small a pickleball court is!
If you can hit the ball over the net and into the court without your opponent returning it, this is known as a rally. However, unlike other sports this does not necessarily mean you actually win a point.
In pickleball, you only win a point when you or your partner serves the ball to start the rally. Therefore, if your opponent serves and you win the rally, you simply win the opportunity to serve next.
A new server should always serve from the right hand side of the court, only after one point has been won does a server serve from the left hand side of the court. They then alternate serving sides until they lose the serve.
However, these are the serving rules for singles play only. There are a slightly different subset of rules for serving in doubles.
When playing with four players on the court, if a serving team loses a rally, the player on that team that did not serve for that point will serve next, rather than handing the serve over to the opponents. This is commonly known as the ‘second serve’.
If they win this next rally, the serving team will continue serving. However, if they lose this second rally this is known as a ‘side-out’ and they relinquish their serving rights to their opponents.
You can see how important it is to hold serve!
A pickleball match is won by winning 2 sets. Winning a set consists of a player winning 11 points (but must be winning by 2 points at least).
Another unique rule that pickleball employs is the no volley zone (or kitchen). This is the small area at the front of each half of the court closest to the net.
As the name would suggest, you must let the ball bounce if it lands in this zone, so you can only volley the ball behind the service line. If you volley in the no volley zone you automatically lose the rally.
The equipment used to play pickleball of course stands out, being a hard paddle and ball which differs from more traditional rackets with strings.
Why You Should Play Pickleball
Not only is pickleball a game that can be played by anyone, but it actually has a number of advantages over tennis, squash, badminton and table tennis that are worth mentioning.
First off, since the perforated wiffle ball used to play pickleball is so light, it requires a lot less strength to hit it over the net. Not only does this have the benefit of opening the game up to a wider audience, but it also reduces the risk of injuries.
Often, older players develop tennis elbow and other aches and pains due to the fact that a tennis ball is actually quite heavy and places a fair amount of stress on your wrists and elbows when hit repetitively.
There is a far smaller risk of this happening when playing pickleball. What’s more, as the court is a lot smaller, the balls are a lot lighter and the paddles are a lot easier to use, there is less complicated technique involved in producing a pickleball shot.
Therefore, the learning curve is far less steep with pickleball, meaning that players that may have never picked up a racket and ball before can more than likely play pickleball immediately.
One benefit that will appeal to the older generation is the lack of stress that playing pickleball puts on the body. Since the force required to hit a pickleball is so low and the court is small, short, compact swings are perfect for the game.
You will often see older players adopting these techniques at your local tennis club, with limited effectiveness. This is because a lot more spin and power comes into tennis compared to pickleball.
Pickleball can also be played as a singles or doubles game, so whether you want to battle it out with a rival or make the game more social, you can cater your pickleball session to suit your needs.
Pickleball is one of the fastest growing sports in the U.S. and the world. It is an amalgamation of tennis, squash, badminton and table tennis and was developed by a congressman in his backyard in the 1960s.
From those humble beginnings, pickleball is becoming one of the most popular sports out there due to its accessibility, how easy it is on the body and the fact that it can make such efficient use of space.
Pickleball equipment is a little different to more traditional racket sports, as you use a perforated plastic ball and hard paddles, typically made from wood or polyester.
These also make the learning curve of pickleball quick low, meaning that anyone with a small amount of hand to eye coordination can give it a go!
So, what are you waiting for? Go out and find your nearest pickleball court today and give it a try!
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