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What Is Pickleball and When Was It Invented?

What Is Pickleball and When Was It Invented?
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Pickleball is a fusion of paddle sports such as ping pong, badminton, and tennis, which has grown exponentially in the USA since 2018. It is estimated that about 36.5 million people played the game in America in 2023, making it the country’s fastest-growing sport. Pickleball has all the ingredients that lure both athletes and amateurs in. It requires athletic prowess, swift mobility, and fast reflexes ̶ obviously ̶, but it is also a game of wits and strategy, very much like chess, making people stay physically and mentally alert and providing competitive entertainment.

What is the Pickleball Game and its History?

What makes it so attractive to new and existing players? And what’s the secret behind its wildly growing support from the people? The answers lie in the game’s origins, much of which were impromptu dart shots that hit purely by chance.

The truth is the inventors of pickleball never intended it to be the phenomenon it is today. But the game defied their expectations. In this blog, we’ll be diving into the history of pickleball, discussing its rules, understanding its mass appeal, and providing further information to get anyone curious about the game acquainted with its basics.

When Was Pickleball Invented?

Unlike America’s mainstream sports like baseball and basketball, which Civil War soldiers played to kill time or college athletes in winter to avoid going outdoors, pickleball is a relatively new game that saw its nascent development in the 1960s and 70s. From an ad-hoc solution for family entertainment to developing business ventures and finding support from public institutions, the game followed a unique trajectory until its official recognition as the state sport of Washington in 2022.

The Bainbridge Island

The story of pickleball’s origin starts with a few families down in Bainbridge Island looking for entertainment during a bad weather weekend. Bill Bell, Joel Pritchard, and Barney McCallum were out playing golf and returned to see the kids getting bored on a badminton court.

That’s when they picked up some paddles and entertained the children with a made-up game. This was also when they came up with the initial pickleball rules. McCallum, who later founded Pickle-ball Inc., narrates, “It was a typical bad weather day on this beach. You know, rainy and wet. And so the kids were driving the adults crazy, so Joe said, take this ball and this paddle and go up to the Badminton court and hit it around.”

Bainbridge Island
Bainbridge Island: Where pickleball was invented in 1965.

Bell and Pritchard started passing a ball between each other using wooden paddles and then made up rules as the game went forward. The ball Bell and Pritchard used was a plastic baseball. If you’re wondering what ball is used in pickleball now, we must tell you that this initial game looked nothing like how pickleball is played today.

We also don’t know if it piqued the children’s interest. However, it was an instant success amongst the adults who wanted a chance on the court. Such was the enthusiasm that McCallum had designed prototype paddles the very next week to test out for the new game after deeming ping pong paddles inefficient.

At this point, however, nobody was talking about making it a game on record. According to McCallum, they were going with the flow and having fun with the rules and techniques.

How Did Pickleball Get Its Name?

Pickleball is a strange name for a sport, and we agree. However, the story behind how it got its name is even more fascinating. Everyone knows that the game was made exceptionally, but it was named in an even more peculiar way.

Two plausible accounts are generally accepted by the pickleball community, both coming from the members of the family who came up with the sport. The first account is from Joan Pritchard, wife of Joel Pritchard, who remembers calling the combination of rules in ping pong, tennis, and badminton pickleball. A competitive oarswoman in her early life, the game reminded her of the pickle boat whose crew was decided from the extra rowers in different ships. 

The second account comes from Barney McCallum who also helped build the first pickleball court ever. He opines the Pritchard’s daughter and his neighbors, the Browns, looked after a dog named Pickles. Pickles would run away with the wiffle ball used to play the initial games. Hence, it began to be associated with his name. Some argue that the dog did not come into the family a couple of years after the game’s inception, so it remains the lesser of two plausible theories.

Nevertheless, both accounts are accepted within the pickleball community. 

Seattle University and Joel Pritchard

Soon enough, the game became a thing of its own and left the bounds of the island. The rules of the game came out of logical necessity in the need of the hour rather than through round table discussions on the objectives of a play. For example, the pickleball court is the same size as the badminton court owing to the first play between Bell and Pritchard held on a badminton court.

Furthermore, the net between the two teams was established to be 36 inches tall because Pritchard calibrated the upright net to parallel his waist, which was 36 inches off the ground. Every time the net would sag because of constant hits or if the wind or people would toy with it, Pritchard would re-calibrate the height to his waist.

pickleball court and net.
A close-up view of a pickleball court and net.

The island is connected to Seattle by ferry. On a visit of Father Fitterer’s to Bainbridge, then president of Seattle University, the families introduced the still amateur game rules, and he was so impressed by its simple method and easy pick-up that he introduced the game to the university’s gym in 1969.

Simultaneously, Pritchard, a politician running for Congress, set up matches in his political events. He introduced pickleball rules to the people present, and the game found new enthusiasts. Through his and Father Fitterer’s efforts, the game came off Bainbridge Island.

Pickle-ball Inc.

As the press began to take notice of this growing phenomenon, McCallum started receiving mail with cash in exchange for pickleball starter packs. He set up Pickle-ball Inc. in 1972 with Pritchard and Bell to deal with an increasing demand for the game. This was also around when the game’s rules had somewhat solidified as many people were playing it. We break down the standard pickleball rules Bell, Pritchard, and McCallum set below.

The Rules

Pickleball is played on a court and follows a scoring system similar to paddle games. We break down the basic rules of the game below:

Pickleball Court

The initial game played by Bell and Pritchard was on a badminton court. Following that line of tradition, a pickleball court has the exact dimensions as a badminton court, which is 20 feet wide and 44 feet long. The court is divided into left and right serving areas ̶ each 10 feet wide and divided by a centerline. The net is 36 inches tall. Each side of the net has a kitchen line indicating a non-volley zone before the service areas.

Scoring Rules

In Pickleball, games usually go up to 11 points, and a team needs to secure a victory with a minimum two-point lead. A team may consist of one (singles) or two players (doubles). 

Serving

The serving team can only score a point during a serve. In doubles, the first serve from each team starts from the proper serving court according to the current pickleball rules. In singles, a player switches between right and left depending on whether their score is even or added. A server must serve from the serving zone and aim the ball in the diagonally opposite service court. The diagonal serving is similar to that in ping pong.

The server can continue serving until it commits a fault. In doubles, the serving player must switch between left and right serving courts after each serve until their turn ends. Once a server commits a fault, the serving passes to the opponent (in the case of singles) or the teammate (in the case of doubles).

Side-Out

Whenever a team gives up the serving turn to the opposite side of the pickleball court, it is called a ’side-out.’ For doubles, a side-out happens after both team players have committed a fault while serving. A side-out is an integral part of the competitive spirit of pickleball. This is when the opposite team can outscore the first team. 

Side-outs allow teams to serve until one of the teams scores 11 points with at least a double-point lead. 

No Volleying Zones

pickleball court
A tennis court repurposed as a pickleball court.

The non-volley zones are regions of the pickleball court that prohibit players from hitting the ball back without bouncing (volleying). Unlike the non-volley zones, volleying is allowed in the service courts. Each team must play their first shot after a bounce. This is called the “double bounce” rule.

When a team serves to the diagonal opposite, the opponent must pass the ball after a bounce. Similarly, the serving team must pass the ball after a bounce. If any team returns the ball without bouncing during the first two hits after a serve, it is considered a fault. After the first bounce by each team, the ball can be either volleyed or returned after a bounce.

Pickleball Faults

A fault is anything that violates the pickleball rules. Common faults include not clearing the net, landing the ball out of the baseline, double bounce, volleying in the non-volley zone, etc.

What Is the Difference Between Indoor and Outdoor Pickleball?

There are no complex rules that dictate differences between indoor and outdoor pickleball. The only notable difference is the material and density of the balls used indoors and outdoors. However, before we break down the differences between indoor and outdoor pickleballs, let us briefly discuss what ball is used in pickleball.

The pickleball ball is a plastic ball made with small holes on its surface that control the speed of the ball. These holes are intended to reduce the time the ball is in the air. Think of a typical wiffle ball, except the holes on pickleball balls are round.

indoor pickleball court
A series of matches going on in an indoor pickleball court.

The indoor and outdoor balls are each designed to perform optimally in their respective environments. The differences in their texture, material, and weight are all designed to aid players in aiming accurately on the court they’re playing on.

The indoor pickleballs have holes that are larger in diameter but less in number than outdoor pickleballs. Indoor balls are also made of softer material than outdoor balls. The following table helps break down the significant differences between indoor and outdoor pickleballs. Please note, however, that the exact number of holes, weight, and material depends on the manufacturers.

infographic image indoor and outdoor pickleballs
What is the difference between indoor and outdoor pickleballs?

What Is the Difference Between Tennis And Pickleball?

Pickleball has notable similarities with tennis. Especially when it comes to courtside rules and placement of the net. However, pickleball is different from tennis, with significant differences between the two. Are you wondering what the difference is between tennis and pickleball? Read on to find out.

One of the significant differences is the difference in the type of ball used in tennis vs pickleball.

The tennis ball is pressurized and matted with felt to sustain pressure, while a pickleball ball is a hollow plastic ball with holes on its surface to increase the drag force on it and reduce its time in the air. Apart from that, tennis players use a racquet, while pickleball requires paddles. A tennis court is also bigger than a pickleball court. 

The tennis court also doesn’t have a non-volley zone; in fact, volleying is prohibited in tennis. In that sense, there is no double bounce rule in tennis like there is in pickleball. This is important because double bounce defiance is one of the common violations of the pickleball rules. It’s also noteworthy that only the serving team can score until there is a fault and consequent side-out. In tennis, points can be scored by either team regardless of the serving turn.

USA Pickleball Association

Established in 2005, the USA Pickleball Association (USAPA) is the primary organization for pickleball in the United States, overseeing the sport’s development and ensuring standardized rules. Since its inception, the association has collaborated with players, ambassadors, and organizations to enhance the sport’s accessibility and popularity. 

USAPA launched a website later in 2005 and created a database of all the locations within the United States where pickleball was played. It helped consolidate information on pickleball sites across the web and displayed it on their web pages.

outdoors pickleball court.
Players playing pickleball on an outdoor pickleball court.

The association’s role does not end here. In its efforts to grow pickleball’s popularity within the country, the USAPA organizes competitions throughout the country and regularly updates the official pickleball rules. It also maintains the regulations surrounding pickleball equipment, like the weight limits of pickleball in competitive sports. Other efforts have been poured into developing skills amongst new players to encourage a growing interest in the game. 

With a focus on inclusivity and community, the USAPA plays a pivotal role in advancing pickleball as a widely enjoyed sport, fostering camaraderie among players of all ages and skill levels.

Major Tournaments

We have witnessed the game’s popularity surge while discussing the history of pickleball. Its mass appeal is also reflected in the emergence of significant tournaments that showcase the sport’s competitive spirit. The US Open Pickleball Championships, inaugurated in 2016, stands out as one of the largest and most prestigious events, attracting top players globally. Another significant pickleball tournament is the Tournament of Champions, held annually in Brigham City, Utah, drawing elite competitors vying for big titles.

Frequently Asked Questions

Got any more questions? In our experience, pickleball lures people in instantly. So, if you’re curious, we answer some commonly asked questions from readers below. 

There is no major difference between the two per se. The pickleball paddle is bigger than the ping-pong paddle. The larger paddle owes to the pickleball court, which is much bigger than a ping pong table.

The Pickleball US Open 2024 will happen in April. You can find more information about the schedule here.

Need help understanding how to start? Don’t worry! You only need paddles and a pickleball to get started. And, of course, some friends. Find a pickleball court near you.

The USAPA has a database containing information about all the pickleball courts in the country. Visit here to find a site near you!

Pickleball: A Family Sport To A League Of Its Own

Pickleball’s journey from a family backyard invention in 1965 to a national sensation in 2022 is remarkable. Its unique blend of elements from various sports, such as ping pong, tennis, and badminton, has fueled its growth, creating a vibrant community of players. 

As we reflect on the history of pickleball, it’s clear that the game has evolved into much more than just a sport ̶ it’s a social phenomenon. Now, as we ponder the future of pickleball, we ask you: Have you played this dynamic sport, and if not, are you intrigued to give it a shot? Share your thoughts and experiences. The pickleball community can always welcome new enthusiasts!

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Charles Melton
Charles Melton
Charles has competed professionally for the past 11 years, having picked up the sport in sophomore high. He remembers the first time he held the paddle and made a shot toward his P.E. coach. Since then, he hasn’t looked back. He likes to write and play with Darcy the pug in his free time. He is associated with The Pickleball Professionals.