Pickleball is a sport played on a court that combines elements of tennis, badminton, and ping pong. The game can be played outdoors or indoors on a badminton-sized court with a net set to the height of 34 inches in the center. The game is played with a perforated plastic ball similar to a Wiffle ball. The paddles used in the game are about twice the size of ping pong paddles and are usually made of composite materials. Pickleball can be played as singles or doubles, and the rules of the game have been designed to not include fast serves or spiked volleys so players of all ages and abilities can play together.1

Pickleball has its origins as a backyard game devised to relieve the boredom of the children at a gathering of family and friends. In 1965 Joel Pritchard, a Congressman from Washington State, and his friend Bill Bell returned to Joe’s summer home on Bainbridge Island near Seattle from a golf game to discover their families sitting around with nothing to do. Since they had an old badminton court on the property, they sent their children out to play on the court with the only equipment they could find: ping pong paddles and a perforated plastic ball. The children stayed occupied for hours, and when they discovered that the ball would bounce well on the asphalt, they lowered the net from the original badminton height of 60 inches to 36 inches. The following weekend another friend, Barney McCallum, joined the group, and the three men devised a set of rules that relied heavily on badminton rules with the intention to provide a game that the entire family could play together.2

Soon the adults were enjoying the game as much as the children, and they introduced the game to other friends and neighbors. Players began making their own paddles using jigsaws and plywood and setting up their own courts in their driveways and backyards marking their courts with chalk or using available badminton courts.

As the game’s popularity grew, the players of the game began to experiment with different materials for the paddles. Today’s paddles are primarily made of lightweight composite materials, including aluminum and graphite.3 The ball is similar to a Wiffle ball, and there are different models intended for indoor and outdoor play. The plastic balls are between 2 7/8 inches and 3 inches in diameter, and the official balls must be a single solid color.4

The pickleball court is the same size as a doubles badminton court. It measures 20x44 feet and is striped like a tennis court with right and left service courts and a 7-foot non-volley zone in front of the net, commonly referred to as the “kitchen.” The net height is 36 inches at the sidelines and 34 inches in the middle.5

To play the game the ball is served diagonally starting with the right service court. The serves are always done underhand below the waist of the server with the server standing behind the back line when serving. For a successful serve the ball should be hit into the air without being bounced and land in the diagonal service court of the opposing player. If the served ball touches the net but still lands within the opposing side’s service court, the serve may be taken over without a fault declared. This is called a “let.”

The ball must bounce once on each side of the net before volleys are allowed. To volley means to hit the ball in the air without first letting it bounce. The players cannot have their bodies within the non-volley zone area to hit the ball unless it first bounces in that area.

A fault it committed when the ball touches any part of the non-volley zone on the serve, is hit out of bounds, does not clear the net, is volleyed before a bounce has occurred on each side, is volleyed from the non-volley zone, or is hit when the ball bounces more than once on a side. The server continues to serve, alternating service courts, and scoring points for each time the opposing player faults, until he commits a fault himself.6 In singles play the server serves from the right service court when his score is even and from the left when his score is odd.

In doubles play both players have the opportunity to serve and score points until they commit a fault, except for the first service sequence of a new game, when only one team member can serve until faulting and the service passes to the other team. In doubles, service starts from the right service court and then switches to the left side alternating back and forth while successfully scoring. When the first team member loses the serve, the second team member then takes over serving until he faults and the service is passed to the opposing team. When the serving team’s score is even, the first server plays from the right service court; when odd, he plays from the left service court.

Points are only scored by the serving team. Games are usually played to 11 points with the team winning by 2 points, continuing the play if necessary to meet the 2 point requirement. Tournament games may be played to 15 or 21 with a win by 2 points.

The sport gained in popularity over the years and became officially incorporated in 1972 to protect the creation of the game and give it a proper hub for players.7 The USA Pickleball Association (USAPA) was organized in 1984 to promote the growth and development of pickleball with official rules, tournaments, rankings, and promotional materials. The game is played in community centers, physical education classes, YMCA facilities, and retirement communities in America.8 The International Federation of Pickleball (IFP) officially formed in 2015 with the inaugural member countries of the United States, Canada, Spain, and India. Other countries soon joined, and with the continued interest in pickleball throughout the world, the membership continues to grow.9 This nonprofit organization is committed to promoting international play and competition of pickleball.10

In 2016 the Sports & Fitness Industry Association reported that 2.5 million people across the United States were playing pickleball.11 The surge in popularity has been attributed to the appeal of pickleball to older adults, who enjoy being active and playing a competitive game without the physical toll on their bodies that can result from tennis and other sports. The game gives a good workout to the players, and the health benefits can include lowered blood pressure, improved balance and eye-hand coordination, and weight loss. The game also promotes social interaction with other players of all ages and abilities.12

  • 1. “2017 Pickleball Fact Sheet.” USAPA Pickleball. < https://www.usapa.org/pickleball-fact-sheet/ > 26 July 2017.
  • 2. “History of the Game.” USAPA Pickleball. < https://www.usapa.org/history-of-the-game/ > 26 July 2017.
  • 3. “What is pickleball: Description of equipment.” USAPA Pickleball. < https://www.usapa.org/what-is-pickleball-description-of-equipment/ > 26 July 2017.
  • 4. Op. cit., “2017 Pickleball Fact Sheet.”
  • 5. “What is pickleball: The layout of the court.” USAPA Pickleball. < https://www.usapa.org/what-is-pickleball-the-layout-of-the-court/ > 26 July 2017.
  • 6. “How to Play the Game.” Pickle-ball, Inc. < https://pickleball.com/pages/rules-how-to-play-the-game > 26 July 2017.
  • 7. “How Pickle-ball Came to Be.” Pickle-ball, Inc. < https://pickleball.com/pages/history > 26 July 2017.
  • 8. Op. cit., “History of the Game.”
  • 9. “History of Pickleball and the IFP.” International Federation of Pickleball. < http://ifpickleball.org/history-of-pickleball-and-the-ifp/ > 7 Aug. 2017.
  • 10. “About the IFP.” International Federation of Pickleball. < http://ifpickleball.org/about-the-ifp/ > 7 Aug. 2017.
  • 11. Op. cit., “2017 Pickleball Fact Sheet.”
  • 12. Peale, Virginia. “Generation Us: Pickleball’s fitness and fun appeal to all ages.” The Daily Progress. < http://www.dailyprogress.com/lifestyles/generation-us-pickleball-s-fitness-and-fun-appeal-to-all/article_afb4e2b8-52b0-11e7-ba5f-c398f374692b.html > 7 Aug. 2017.