Hi there! Ever wondered about the up and coming sport of pickleball? I’m here to teach you a little about the sport and how to play it. It’s easy and fun for the whole family! Let’s get started with some background.
What is Pickleball?
Pickleball is a sport that’s inherently inspired by badminton. However, this paddle sport combines other elements of Tennis, Wiffle Ball, and Ping-Pong in the gameplay! It can be played in both doubles and singles format. The game uses a solid paddle made of composite or wood material, like Ping-Pong racket (without rubber though).
Furthermore, it has a perforated, light-weight, durable polymer based ball similar to Wiffle Ball. The dimensions of the court are similar to that of badminton. The net and rules are somewhat similar to that of Tennis. Other modifications are also made to keep the sport interesting with a large spectrum of skill levels.
The Origin of Pickleball
Pickleball was invented in the mid-1960s due to a classic case of boredom on a Saturday afternoon. The inventor was Joel Pritchard who was a state representative at that time. On a Saturday afternoon, he was returning after playing golf with two of his friends and they decided to set up badminton. However, it wasn’t possible because they didn’t have badminton rackets! Instead, they designed and fabricated a plywood based racket out of parts for a shed. Thus, the foundation of this sport was set-up.
It gradually gained popularity throughout America afterwards. In 1984, the USAPA (USA Pickleball Association) was set up for growth and advancement of pickleball on a national level. The organization was also responsible for protecting this new sport and producing rules and regulations.
The origin of the name pickleball is a subject of heated debate. According to Joel’s wife, the name pickleball came into place because the combination of different sports to make this one. It reminded her of pickle boat in crew where the oarsmen were chosen from the leftovers of other boats.
Some people say that the game was named after Joel Pritchard’s dog, Pickle. However, I’ve discovered that’s fake news! Joel Pritchard didn’t even have his dog when the game was invented. 2 years later he adopted a dog and named him Pickle after the pickleball sport.
The standard pickleball equipment includes a Pickleball paddle, a Wiffle ball, and a reliable net with the right specifications.
A Pickleball Paddle is smaller than a Tennis Racket but larger than a Ping-Pong Racket. The first models of the paddle carried on that way for some time. However, as the sport evolved it was concluded that better materials could be used.
Composite material paddles, polymer-based paddles, and aluminum-based paddles were gradually introduced to the game. Later on, work on modified receiving surfaces also began. These material science advancements allowed players to use a lightweight paddle but use way more spin.
The rackets available today are designed to be deadly on the court. They are exceptionally designed to be comfortable, ergonomic, light-weight, sturdy and durable. These combine the elements of strength and spin. The paddles can range all the way from $10 to $150 or more. For the cheaper side of the range, I’ve written about the best cheap pickleball paddles to buy (link). Composite pickleball paddles are the most expensive. They provide the best combination of spin and strength, combined with long-lasting durability.
Pickleball uses a wiffle ball, a ball that moves semi-erratically because of the holes in it. While the ball doesn’t move very fast, it can be hard to hit at times.
While many people simply use tennis nets, there is actually a net designed only for pickleball. This pickleball net is a specialized net designed to withstand ball impacts. They are separately designed for indoor or outdoor use. You can’t just use any net when it comes to pickleball as IFP (International Federation of Pickleball) has regulations in place regarding the size of pickleball net system. They state each net must be 22 ft. wide and at least 36 in. tall at the posts while at least 34 in. at the center strap, due to the sagging.
Pickleball Paddle Brands
Knowing the lay of the land when it comes to shopping for new pickleball paddles is important. There are several renowned brands in the space and some less so. My personal choice of brands is listed below. All of these brands understand the importance of quality and have stood the test of time as pickleball has grown up to be a nationwide phenomenon.
There are some other brands which I like but these are slightly different. Sometimes product quality can vary wildly across their brand so you really have to be careful and read reviews! I’ve written about some of the gems in the mud here!
- Amazin’ Aces
- Franklin Sports
Pickleball courts have certain specifications specified by the IFP. The players need to follow these specifications to get the most out of the game. Pickleball courts can be made easily with simple chalk or you can use a tennis court! Most people simply use a tennis court.
The layered personalized surface of the official courts are different from your everyday concrete but are not a deal breaker to get some fun out of this game casually. The game, however, is continually gaining popularity like all other racket sports and therefore, throughout the states and other parts of the world where this sport is embraced, there are more and more courts every year.
A Pickleball court is designed with the dimensions of a badminton court in mind. The badminton court is smaller than the standard tennis court (approximately, 1/3rd the size) The overall dimensions of the court are 20’ x 44’ giving it a rectangular shape. The boundaries of the rectangle are called the baselines. The length is divided in two and a net is placed in the center at the height of 34 to 36 inches in the center and ends respectively. Besides the net on each side, there’s a 7 ft. the area that’s marked with a line.
This area is called the non-volley zone or kitchen (more on this later). Then let’s consider the playing area, which is around 20’ wide and 15’ long only, laid out towards each end of the rectangular court. The playing area is further bisected into two rectangles with a center line, namely, right service area and left service area. That’s all for the court, so let’s proceed to the rules of the game.
Rules of the Game
The extensive list of official rules can be purchased from the official website of USA PICKLEBALL ASSOCIATION. We’ll save you the trouble of going through the extensive list by summarizing the rules in its entirety and presenting you with a compressed version of the most important rules to get started.
Like Tennis, Table Tennis or other variations, there are always two sides and a net in between. Pickleball is played in either doubles or singles. The ball is considered in if it contacts the line at all.
Court & Net
The standard Pickleball court has the following dimensions and measurements:
- The court shall be a rectangle
- It shall be 20 ft. wide
- It shall be 44 ft. long
The size of the court remains the same for both doubles and singles.
The mesh size of the net is adequate enough to halt a ball at high speeds, keeping it from passing through.
The net is suspended over the center of the court with respect to the length of the court.
- Its height in the sidelines should be no less than 36 in.
- Its height towards the middle should be no less than 34 in.
Format of Scoring
Pickle games are usually played till 11 points. You must win by 2. Some tournament games play to 15 or even 21.
- The proper format of calling the score is [server’s score — receiver’s score] e. e.g. (one — five)
In double, you should also include the server number, (1 or 2). When the match starts in doubles, the score will be called as: zero – zero – two*
- When the match starts, only one player from the serving team (One on the right side) will serve the ball.
This is done to minimize the benefit of being the first team to serve in the game. At the start, the score should be called, “0-0-2.” The “2” at the end notifies the service will be switched to the other team.
What are Faults?
When a team makes a mistake and thus, violates a rule, then it is counted as a fault. When the receiving team faults, a point is given to the serving team. In contrast, however, when the serving team faults, they just lose their serve. They might side out, without giving any point to the receiving team.
Serving the Ball
- You can only serve underhand, so you can’t serve overhand like they do in tennis
- The contact point must be below the navel (server’s waist). It is counted as a fault if the head of the paddle hits the ball above the navel.
- The serve is done diagonally crosscourt
- Serve must land within the confine of receiver towards the diagonal side
- While serving, one foot must be behind the baseline
- Each player gets one serve
- If the ball contacts the non-volley zone line, the service is declared short and a fault.
- In the case of “let” (where the ball strikes the net and falls in the proper service court), the serve is replayed
Sequence of Service
- When the server has an even score, he has to serve from the right side of the court
- When the server has an odd score, he has to serve from the left side
Now talking about doubles:
- The serving team can score points and keep serving until they commit a fault
- The first serve is always made from the right side of the court as the score is 0
- After the point is scored, the first server must switch sides as they have an odd score then
- As the points rack up, the first server keeps switching sides and serve until they commit a fault
- When the first server loses the ball, the second server gets a chance
- The same rules apply to the second server
- After 2 faults from one team, the service is shifted to the opposition where the same rules apply
The Two-Bounce Rule
After the ball is served, the ball must bounce when before it is played by the receiving team. When that ball is returned, the server side must again allow the ball to bounce once before playing it. Thus, the two bounces are completed, one in each side’s court. After that, the players may volley the ball or hit it after a bounce. This allows for longer rallies, entertaining start and reduces unfair advantage for initial servers.
The Kitchen or Non-Volley Zone
This is the area within 7 ft. of both sides of the net. In the Kitchen, players aren’t allowed to volley. Players can be in the kitchen at any time but they must let the ball bounce before hitting it in this zone. No Volleys!
Where Can You Play Pickleball?
Firstly, it is important to notice that the Pickleball court is almost the size of a badminton court. Most people play pickleball on tennis courts!
In case you don’t find many spots around, you can easily make a court for yourself. You can do so in accordance with the rules I have mentioned above regarding the court dimensions. A badminton court and net can also be used. You just need to lower the net to around 36 inches i.e. 3 ft. your driveway. A small ground or a wide pavement can all make for fine surfaces for pickleball.
The Future of Pickleball
Pickleball is continually gaining popularity in foreign countries. These include Canada, England, China, Indonesia, Thailand, Hong Kong, Singapore, Malaysia, Japan, Korea, Australia, and New Zealand. So we can say that its popularity is spread all around the globe. It’s such a fun and tempting game after all!
Furthermore, it’s now popular throughout America, in almost all the states. USA Pickleball Association is doing a great job of increasing the exposure to this sport. The USAPA is making a very precise list of all pickleball leagues and courts in your area.
I recommend that you hit the Official USAPA website regarding playable places, to find nearby courts. All you have to do is insert your location, city, state or zip code and let the website algorithm do the rest of the work.
After checking the USAPA list and local directories of your town, if you still don’t find a league, then you can start your own. Your fellows will love this game and join you. It will increase the overall amount of players slowly until courts, leagues, and tournaments begin in your area too.