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Pickleball: A Game Created by Chance

Most people have heard of pickleball, but likely haven’t played it. It is one of the many racquet sports in existence. It takes elements from several games and combines them together to form the oddly named sport.

The creation of Pickleball happened by accident, but has since become a recognized sport that is overseen by the USA Pickleball Association (USAPA). Its popularity continues to grow, what was a simple backyard recreational game at the start has now turned into a competitive sport. The reason for its growth? Pickleball not only had influential people behind its creation, but they were also very organized.

Pickleball’s creation goes back to the summer of 1965 at the home of Washington state congressman Joel Pritchard. After playing golf with businessman Bill Bell, the pair returned to Pritchard’s home in Bainbridge Island, Washington. The two men were looking for something to keep their families entertained and the property had an old Badminton court. The problem they faced was that they had no Badminton equipment, so they improvised. They used ping pong paddles and a Wiffle ball. The net was lowered from the Badminton height of 60 inches to 36 inches. They initially played using Badminton rules as that was their original intention, but after noticing the ball could bounce nicely on the court the evolution began. They clearly felt they had something because the full rules for the game were created soon after and by 1967 the first Pickleball court had been created.

The rules of the game are similar to other racket sports. The serving side is the only side that can score a point is the most obvious of them. When play begins in a game of Pickleball, all serves are underhanded and must be done behind the base line and to the right or left of the center line. The ball is hit to the side diagonally from where it is served.

During play the following things will stop the action and reward a point to the serving team. Not serving the ball diagonally to the opposing side, not getting it over the net, letting the ball bounce more than twice, hitting the ball out of bounds, volleying the ball in the no volley zone, and volleying the ball on the first return. The game is played until one team reaches 11 points, and they must win by two points. Tournaments are played to 15 or 21 points. Games are typically played one vs. one or two vs. two.

The action can get very fast paced, especially during an exciting rally, but it seems that in serious competition strategy is key. Players are more focused on ball placement rather than hitting it as hard as they can. A pickleball court measures 20 feet wide and 44 feet long for both singles and doubles matches. This is likely part of the reason you don’t see as many fast-paced rallies similar to Tennis, there is not much room for movement compared to a tennis court. In Tennis, the court is 78 feet long, while the width for a single player game is 27 feet, and when it is doubles the width is 36 feet. The difference is evident in how they move across the court in both sports.

When Pickleball was created it was done with family in mind, and as the game developed the main principal was that it needed to be a game the whole family could enjoy. To help make sure this would always be the case, in 1972 a corporation was formed to protect the sport. Four years later the first Pickleball tournament was held in Tukwila, Washington. The USAPA formed in 1984 with the simple mission of helping the sport of Pickleball grow. The USAPA has been instrumental in the sports growth in The United States. They also look to help the sport grow to an international level.

Currently there are 4,000 places to play Pickleball listed on the USAPA’s map.  It has rapidly gone from a backyard game to a sport. The fact that it isn’t very complex to play is easily one of the reasons for this, but the USAPA’s push to help it grow is the key factor. They have done solid work creating junior divisions, ambassador programs, even a grant program. Yes, you read that correctly. You can receive a grant for playing Pickleball, that’s not something many sports offer.

The USAPA’s grant program provides member up to $250 in reimbursement for purchases of qualified equipment for a specific location. To qualify for the program, you need to be 18 years of age and the location needs to be listed on their “Places-to-Play” list at the time of submitting the application. You might think that the reason to do this is so they can make you join the USAPA and they will make money off of you that way, but memberships are only $20 a year. It is a very affordable sport to play which makes it more appealing to people. Equipment you will need are a paddle and balls and they are very affordable.

A set of two paddles and balls can run you around $20. In other popular ball sports such as baseball your starting equipment is going to run you almost $100. There is more expensive equipment for Pickleball, some paddles run as high as $80. By the time you are considering paying $80 for a paddle you are pretty much a professional or a frequent player.

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There you have it. The start and rise of Pickleball. Yes, the name is funny, but there is nothing stopping the Pickleball take over. Next time you are looking for a new sport to play, you might want to give Pickleball serious thought. It has plenty going for it and as you have read it is very well organized. So, go get a set of paddles and a Wiffle ball, find a friend, get to a court and start playing.

Andrea H

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