There is an old saying that describes perfectly how the sport of pickleball came into creation—necessity is the mother of invention. The game was created one day during the summer of 1965 when three men in Washington, Joel Pritchard and Bill Bell, returned home from a round of golf to find their families bored and looking for something to do.
They set up a badminton net for everyone, but they didn’t have a full set of rackets. So they improvised. They got some ping pong paddle and an old Wiffle ball. Initially they kept the net at badminton height (five feet). But after discovering how well the ball bounced off the asphalt, they lowered it to three feet.
The following weekend, they introduced another friend, Barney McCallum, to the game. It was such a hit, the three devised a set of rules for it (based on badminton rules). Two years later, they built the first official pickleball court in Pritchard’s backyard.
In 1972, they formed a corporation to protect their new sport. The first tournament was held in 1976. By 1984 the sport was popular enough for the USA Pickleball Association was formed and the first rule book published.
By 1990, the game was being played in every state in the country and even began being played in other countries. National organizations now exist in Holland, Great Britain, Spain, India, France, the UK, and Canada.
The first tournament was held in the United States in 2009. Over 400 players from 26 states and several Canadian provinces participated. An international competition, the Bainbridge Cup, featuring Team North America versus Team Europe, is scheduled to begin play in September 2017 in Madrid, Spain.
The 2017 USAPA National Championship will be held from November 4-12 at the Palm Creek Golf and RV Resort in Casa Grande, Arizona. According to the USAPA website, there are over 4000 places across the country where people can play pickleball. There were only 1400 in 2009.
The game sounds like a cross between tennis, badminton, and ping pong. It doesn’t involve pickles in anyway—so, how in the world was that name chosen? There are different stories.
According to one, Pritchard’s wife, Joan, started calling it pickleball because the sport reminded her of the pickle boat in crew where the oarsmen were chosen from who was left from other boats. But McCallum tells a more interesting origin story for the name. He says the Pritchard family dog, Pickles, liked to run after the ball when they were playing, snatch it up with his mouth, and run off with it.
“The Pritchard’s had a dog named Pickles, and you’re having fun at a party, right? So anyways, what the hell, let’s just call it pickleball (USAPA).”
A third origin story combines both stories. In the early years, there was no name for the sport. A year or two after its creation, the Pritchard’s bought a cocker spaniel and named it Pickles. As the popularity of the game spread a name was needed—and the name ‘Pickleball’ became official.
How to play Pickleball
The rules of the game are simple:
- Only the serving team can score.
- Points are scored when an opponent commits a fault.
- Faults include but are not limited to: hitting the ball out of bounds, not hitting the serve in the opponent’s diagonal service zone, failure to get the ball over the net, letting it bounce twice before hitting back over the net, etc.
- First player or team to 11 points wins; you must win by at least two.
- At the start of a game, the serve switches after one fault but otherwise switches after two faults.
Servers must stand behind the baseline of the court and hit the ball diagonally to their opponent’s serve zone to start play.
The game can be played by singles, doubles, and by participants in wheelchairs. In the wheelchair version of the game, the ball can bounce twice before players have to return it.
To play pickleball, you need a set of paddles (which are smaller than tennis rackets and bigger than ping pong paddles) and a perforated ball. The first paddles were made out of wood, but they are now made of lightweight material, i.e. aluminum, graphite.
Pickleball courts are the same size as doubles badminton courts, 20 feet wide and 44 feet long, and are the same size for doubles pickleball as singles. Nets are 36 inches high on each sideline and 34 inches in the middle. The seven feet closest to the net on each side are called the non-volley zones.
The service zone is the area 15 feet long by 20 feet wide towards the end of each side of the court. The area is split in two to create two service zones, 15 feet by 10 feet each.