The Beginners Guide to Pickleball [Stop Dinkin' Around]

September 20, 2021
by Dan Skewes

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Have you heard of pickleball? It is one of the fastest-growing paddlesports in the country. This fun game can be played by all ages. If you enjoy tennis, badminton or ping pong you will like pickleball. The following will tell you everything you need to know about this fun new sport.

How Did Pickleball Get its Name?

Pickleball began with three dads in 1965. Joel Pritchard, Bill Bell and Barney McCallum from Bainbridge Island, Washington came up with the game to satisfy their children who were bored with the normal summertime games. The kids wanted to play badminton but lacked the proper equipment.

This event caused a spark of genius among these dads.

Using some ping pong paddles and a wiffleball, the men invented a game that eventually grew into popularity. After deciding to lower the badminton net to be more like tennis, a new sport was born.

There are a few theories on how the game got its name. One story is that Joel Prichard’s wife gave the game the name, as the combination of different sports reminded her of how the crews for pickle boats were chosen by whoever was leftover of other crews. Another story is the game was named after the Prichards’ dog, Pickles.

Either way, the new sport was coined, Pickleball.

Common Pickleball Terms

Serve - Just like tennis, the serve kicks off the game. Traditionally the player on the right starts the serve and must start behind the baseline (edge of the court). All serves in pickleball are underhand. Valid serves must cross without touching the net and can’t land in the kitchen.

The Kitchen - This is the no volley zone in the middle of the court on both sides.

Baseline - The line at the back of the court (where you serve).

Double Bounce - The ball must hit the ground on both sides of the court at least once following a serve before either team is allowed to volley.

Volley - Hitting the ball back and forth without it touching the ground.

Fault - A player makes a mistake and the other team gets the point.

Common faults:

  • Hitting the ball twice
  • The ball hitting the net
  • The ball bounces on your side twice
  • Both teammates hitting the ball

Carry - The act of carrying the ball or moving it forward with your paddle instead of hitting it.

Ace - When the opposing teams player does not return a serve.

What are the Rules of Pickleball?

Picleball court
Editorial Credit: Wikipedia

The game is played on a regulation doubles badminton court. The dimensions are 20 x44 feet. The same court is used for singles and doubles play. The net is set 36 inches on the sidelines and 34 inches in the middle. The court is set much like a tennis court.

The rules are very similar to tennis.

Before returning a serve, players must let the ball bounce once. There is a 7-foot no-volley zone (the kitchen) to avoid spiking. Volleys, where the player does not have to wait for a bounce, must occur with both feet behind the kitchen.  Players continue to volley until they hit a fault.  Serves are made diagonally, and the player must have both feet behind the back line when serving.

During the initial underhand serve, players must observe the double-bounce rule. The ball must bounce before the returning team can hit it, and the serving team must let the ball bounce before doing the same. After this, the players can volley as long as they stay behind the kitchen.

There are certain situations that a fault can occur. When the ball is served, the ball cannot hit anywhere in the no-volley zone. A fault can also occur if the ball goes out of bounds, does not clear the net, is hit in the no-volley zone, or before a bounce has occurred on both sides.

The first team to score eleven points and lead by two wins the match. Teams only gain points when serving. They continue serving until they hit a fault. After that, the other team is allowed a turn to serve.

How Popular is Pickleball?

Pickleball has become highly popular in recent years, according to the USAPA.

There are over 15,000 courts and at least one court in each state in the United States. A 2016 survey shows there are approximately 2.5 million pickleball players in the country. Pickleball has also grown in popularity in Canada, Europe, and Asia.

Pickleball is a part of many school physical education programs. Some schools also have competitive pickleball teams. Pickleball is also popular with many senior citizens, as it allows them to participate in a fun and competitive activity. The low impact and low cost of the came made it popular with the older, retired population.

While the game has typically been associated with the older crowd, pickleball has grown in popularity with younger people in recent years. Many parks and recreation departments have established pickleball courts across the country. This new accessibility to the sport has allowed its popularity to spread to a new demographic.

The fast pace of pickleball also has increased the game’s appeal. Most games last about 15-20 minutes. As a result, players can get a good, quick workout without hurting themselves.

What Do you Need to Play?

foursome playing pickleball

The equipment for pickleball is not unlike most other paddlesports. Most equipment can be bought inexpensively, and can even be taken from other paddle ball equipment.  The game is played using a paddle and a plastic ball with holes in it.  You will also need a net. Any standard tennis net will do just fine.

Pickleball is played on a traditionally sized badminton court with a modified tennis net. While the next is usually elevated off the ground to at least chest height for tennis, the net is set low to the ground for pickleball.

Pickleball paddles are the size of a tennis racket but are similar in shape to a ping-pong paddle. Pickleball paddles were originally made of wood, but paddle technology has advanced in the last several years. Modern pickleball paddles are made of aluminum and graphite.

The balls used in pickleball are much like wiffle balls. Balls are made for both indoor or outdoor use and come in a variety of colors including white, yellow, and green. The difference in the balls is the holes are smaller in the balls made in outdoor use. They must be solid colors and meet the International Federation of Pickleball (IFP) standards.

As far as attire, players can wear any comfortable athletic wear. It is advised to wear comfortable court or tennis shoes that will provide enough traction. Track shoes or running shoes are not recommended as they may cause slippage while playing the game.  Eye protection is also advised for safety.

Now You Can Join in the Fun

This guide has told you all you need to know about pickleball. If you wish to join in the fun, look into joining a local league or club.  If there isn’t one near you, look into local tennis clubs and paddlesport clubs to get a group started.

You can find a local pickleball court using the USAPA website.

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