What Is Pickleball? And How Do You Play?

What Is Pickleball? How Is It Played?

Pickleball is a paddle sport, that combines a bit of ping-pong (table tennis), and elements of tennis. It’s played on a badminton-sized court with a net that is 34 inches off the ground, with a paddle that looks similar to a table tennis paddle but much larger and a wiffle ball.

However, many pickleball rules are unique to the game.

Although pickleball games are often associated with retirement communities these days, pickleball is actually a game that was originally invented by three men in 1965 to keep their kids busy during the summer and according to the Fitness Industry Association, it’s now one of the fastest-growing sports in the United States. In recent years, it’s become popular with younger people and is included in many high school sports classes.

While summering on Bainbridge Island, not far from Seattle, Washington, Congressman Joel Pritchard, Bill Bell, and Barney McCallum were looking for a fun activity that the entire family could play together.

When Joel, William and Barney came home from a game of golf one day to find their kids bored and restless, they set out to create a game that would be challenging but suitable for everyone to play.

They started playing with table tennis paddles (ping-pong paddles) and a wiffle ball (large perforated plastic ball), and a lowered badminton net, on a badminton court.

The kids and parents all enjoyed the game and had fun playing throughout the summer.

This video interview with Barney and his son does a fantastic job of explaining the history and evolution of the pickleball game.

Why Do They Call It Pickleball?

According to the United States Pickleball Association, pickleball was given its name for either one of the following reasons, or it’s possible that both accounts are accurate:

1. According to Joel Pritchard’s wife (Joan), she started calling the game pickleball because “the combination of different sports reminded me of the pickle boat in crew where oarsmen were chosen from the leftovers of other boats.”

2. According to Barney McCallum, the game was officially named after the Pritchard family dog Pickles, who would chase the ball and run off with it. According to McCallum, “The Pritchard’s dog was named Pickles, and you’re having fun at a party, right? So anyway, what the hell, let’s just call it pickleball.”

Pickleball Court Dimensions

The USA Pickleball Rule book states that the dimensions of a standard pickleball court are 34’x64′ and the minimum size for the suggested playing area is 30′ x 60′. The USA Pickleball Rule book also states that the actual playing lines are 20’x44′.

  1. The official pickleball court size is a rectangle that is 20′ wide (6.10 m) and 44′ long (13.41 m) inclusive of the court lines.
  2. The court size for singles and doubles is the same. Indoor courts and outdoor courts are the same size.
  3. The suggested minimum total playing area is 30 feet wide (9.14 m) and 60 feet long (18.28) but the better size is 34’x 64′ long allowing for room to move outside the court’s playing area.
  4. The pickleball court dimensions that you use to create your court should provide you with adequate space to move around and stand outside the court giving you enough room to serve the ball.
  5. For recreational play, you can make the size of the court as big or as small as the space that’s available to you but it’s suggested that you have at least 20′ wide (6.10 m) and 44′ long (13.41 m) inclusive of the court lines.

How To Play A Game Of Pickleball

Pickleball is an easy and fun sport to learn how to play. The basic concept is the same as tennis.

You play with a pickleball ball and a pickleball paddle. Wooden paddles were originally used are still used today by recreation departments and recreation centers because of their low price point.

But these days, pickleball paddles made of composite materials are much more common.

You hit the ball over the net, diagonally, and try to keep it in bounds and then your opponent hits the ball back to you. Simple, right?

And because the court is not as large as a tennis court, it’s easier to cover half of the court with your partner when you’re playing doubles.

Easy, peasy. Without a ton of strain on your body.

Pickleball Rules

Now, it’s easy to play pickleball but it does get a little bit more involved from a rules perspective because there are a few rules that are unique to pickleball. These rules are governed by the USA Pickleball Association.

Remember, when I said that the sport was created to allow all family members to play?

Well, in order to be sure that pickleball players don’t play too aggressively, the non-volley zone, often referred to as the kitchen, was created.

Non-Volley Zone Rule in Summary

The non-volley zone is a 7 ft area on either side of the net that extends the width of the net. You can’t stand inside the non-volley zone when hitting the ball unless it has bounced first.

I know, it’s a strange rule, but once you start playing pickleball, you’ll realize that this rule actually means that you need to play more strategically because you can’t just easily smash the ball over the net as you can in tennis.

The non volley zone rule really does force you to think about how to play the ball.

It’s easy to learn and with a bit of strategic thinking, you can outsmart and outplay your competitor.

Remember the history lesson from above, pickleball was created as an activity for everyone to play (the whole family) .

The non-volley zone rule was created to help enforce the idea that the sport should be accessible to everyone and a fun sport for all skills to play together.

Double Bounce Rule

There’s another rule that’s unique to pickleball and it’s called the double bounce rule.

The double bounce rule does not refer to not allowing the ball to bounce twice on your side of the net, although, this is not allowed either.

The double bounce rule means that when you are serving the ball, your opponent must let the ball bounce once on their side of the net before making a return shot.

When the return shot is made over the net to the original server’s side, the ball must also bounce once before the shot is returned.

This rule exists to discourage pickleball players from making smash shots immediately after the first serve and quickly ending the play.

This connects back to the history lesson from above, pickleball was created as an activity for everyone to play (the whole family) .

The video below provides a basic overview of the pickleball game and how to play.

You can read more about pickleball rules in this article that highlights 7 key rules.

Pickleball Scoring

Learning how to score in pickleball can sometimes seem a bit daunting but it does get easier, the more often you play. Here’s an overview of the key pickleball scoring basics:

  1. Scoring is done sequentially (1,2,3,4 etc).
  2. The score goes to 11 points (in some tournaments, the score goes to 15 or 21).
  3. The winning team must win by at least 2 points. So, if the score is 10 – 10, the winning team must get at least 2 more points to win or in this case, at least 12 points.
  4. Only the team that is currently serving can score points.
  5. Each team gets to serve at least twice, once per player. Except for the very first serve of the game where the player gets only one serve and once the rally is lost, the opponent gets the ball to serve.
  6. You score a point when your opponent doesn’t successfully return the ball.
  7. When you score a point, you switch sides with your partner and serve again.
  8. You continue to serve and score points until your team misses a shot.
  9. The server must always say the score before serving.

Pickleball Scoring – doubles

Scoring in pickleball is different than other racquet or paddle sports and confuses players who are new to pickleball and even more, seasoned players can easily question the score.

Have a look at the scoring examples below that will help clarify how to keep score and help you understand why there are 3 numbers to call out when announcing the score.

The server will say the score, as follows, before serving the ball:

0 – 0 – 1 (neither team has a point, and the 1st player on a team is scoring – the last number)

1 – 0 – 1 (the serving team has 1 point, the receiving team has 0 points, and the 1st player on a team is scoring)

1 – 1 – 2 (the score is tied and the 2nd player on the serving team is now serving)

Pickleball Scoring – Singles

Pickleball scoring when playing pickleball is similar to scoring in a game of doubles but a bit simpler. The biggest differences are:

1. When the score is called out, only 2 numbers are called. The number of points for the serving team and the number of points for the receiving team.

2. As soon as the server loses a rally, the receiving team earns the right to serve. Play alternates every time the serving team loses a rally.

Facts About Pickleball?

Before I began playing pickleball, I had heard a lot about it but didn’t understand why it would be fun.

But, I knew that pickleball’s popularity over the last few years had been for some good reasons:

  • Doable – almost anyone can get on a court and play
  • Fun – It’s fun and easy just to want to keep playing and playing – some pickleball players say it’s addictive and I agree
  • Social – Regardless of skill level and age, many people play pickleball for the social interaction
  • Low impact exercise – suitable for those prone to injury
  • Recreational or more serious – Play for fun, just hit the ball around or play in tournaments

Who Plays Pickleball?

Pickleball really is a sport for people of all ages and skill levels who want to expand their social network, have fun, and get physically fit, all at the same time.

You don’t need to have an excellent fitness level to start playing and having fun.

If you aren’t accustomed to playing racquet sports, you’ll likely find that you are using muscles that you haven’t used often, but that’s okay.

You’ll adapt and it’s always a good idea to introduce warm-up and stretching exercises to your routine.

As mentioned above in the history of pickleball, the game originated as a game for kids and adults and was intended to be a game that was accessible and a great way for everyone to have fun playing together.

Over time, the game evolved throughout retirement communities and as a result, many people have the impression that it’s a game for older adults.

But that’s not the case. It’s really a game for many people, including young people and families – and this was the original intent of the game.

And since pickleball is a low-impact and low-cost sport, it’s very accessible to many people.

This video below, of a mixed doubles game from the US Open tournament, is with a team of 12 and 14-year-olds playing in the 19-49 division.

In pickleball, players can play up in age but not down. This is a fantastic example of how various age groups and skills can play together.

The video is a game between experienced players but there are many, many recreational players who are just playing to have fun, get fit and socialize.

Remember, you can play as hard as you want or you can play casually and just enjoy the camaraderie of being on the courts.

How To Play A Game Of Pickleball

Pickleball is an easy sport to learn how to play.

The basic concept is the same as tennis.

You play with a ball and a paddle. You hit the ball over the net, diagonally, and try to keep it in bounds and then your opponent hits the ball back to you. Simple, right?

And because the court is smaller than the size of a tennis court, it’s easier to cover half of the court with your partner when you’re playing doubles.

Easy, peasy. Without a ton of strain on your body.

Now, it’s easy to play pickleball but it does get a little bit more involved from a rules perspective because there are a few rules that are unique to pickleball.

Remember, when I said that the sport was created to allow all family members to play?

Well, in order to be sure that some players weren’t playing too aggressively, the non-volley zone, often referred to as the kitchen, was created.

Diagram of the non-volley zone, also known as the kitchen

The kitchen, formally called the non-volley zone, is a 7 ft area on either side of the net that extends the width of the net. You can’t stand inside the kitchen when hitting the ball unless it has bounced first.

The non-volley zone is marked with the non-volley zone line that extends on both sides of the net to both side-lines.

I know, it’s a strange rule, but once you start playing pickleball, you’ll realize that this rule actually means that you need to play more strategically because you can’t just easily smash the ball over the net as you can in tennis.

The kitchen rule really does force you to think about how to play the ball.

It’s easy to learn and with a bit of strategic thinking, you can outsmart and outplay your competitor.

Remember the history lesson from above, pickleball was created as an activity for everyone to play (the whole family).

The kitchen rule was created to help enforce the idea that the sport should be accessible to everyone and fun for all skills to play together.

There’s another rule that’s unique to pickleball and it’s called the double bounce rule.

The double bounce rule does not refer to not allowing the ball to bounce twice on your side of the net, although, this is not allowed either.

The double bounce rule means that when you are serving the ball, your opponent must let the ball bounce once on their side of the net before making a return shot.

When the return shot is made over the net to the original server’s side, the ball must also bounce once before the shot is returned.

This rule exists to discourage players from making smash shots immediately after the first serve and quickly ending the play.

This connects back to the history lesson from above, pickleball was created as an activity for everyone to play (the whole family).

The video below provides a basic overview of the pickleball game and how to play.

You can read more about pickleball rules in this article that highlights 7 key rules. You can always refer to the US Pickleball Association for the official rule book.

Is Pickleball Good Exercise?

Pickleball is a great, low-impact sport for all-around fitness.

The pickleball court is a reasonable size (20 ft x 44 ft), making it easy enough for two people to cover the breadth and depth of the court without feeling too physically taxed.

 

 

pickleball+court+dimensions
pickleball+court+dimensions

There’s quite a bit of moving around so you’re likely going to get a cardio workout.

Not only that but it will work the major muscle groups.

And because there’s quite a bit of back and forth, you’ll be able to work on your mobility, agility, and balance.

If you play singles, you’ll play the entire court which is sure to have you running, a lot, and getting plenty of cardio exercises.

Where To Play Pickleball?

Many communities have places to play pickleball.

Sometimes there are courts that have been built specifically for pickleball but quite often, the pickleball courts are shared with tennis, basketball, or badminton courts.

Essentially, the existing courts are re-purposed or turned into multi-functional courts with the addition of pickleball lines.

This works well and is a cost-efficient way of getting pickleball started in a community and making it easily accessible.

Some courts have a cost to play but if you are looking for places to play pickleball near you that are low cost, there are definitely courts that charge a nominal fee or are free.

To easily figure out where to play pickleball, take a look at 5 Simple Ways To Find Pickleball Courts Near You which outlines several really easy ways to quickly find places to play pickleball near you.

Some people will also figure out places to play near them which makes it really convenient. As an example, they’ll set up pickleball courts with portable pickleball nets on their driveways, backyards, cul-de-sacs or even at the local basketball court.

All you need to setup a pickleball court is a hard surface, chalk to mark the court lines and a pickleball net.

If you want to find an established pickleball club or courts that are already established, use the Places To Play application.

Is Pickleball Expensive?

Pickleball is a reasonably inexpensive sport and doesn’t require a lot of pickleball equipment which makes it accessible to a wide range of people.

And as mentioned above, you can often find places to play near you that are inexpensive or free.

And pickleball equipment does not have to be expensive. You can pay $150 for a pickleball paddle, but it’s certainly not necessary.

Pickleball paddles can be bought for as low as $30 for a wood paddle although you will likely want a non-wood paddle and they typically start at approximately $40+. And pickleball balls are relatively inexpensive at approximately $3 / ball.

You may want to consider buying a pickleball paddle set because there are some great paddle sets available for beginner players.

Have a look at The Best Pickleball Paddles For Every Budget + Game because it simplifies paddle selection for you.

I’ve already done a deep analysis of the pickleball paddles and sets available and provided you with three of the top choices, simplifying the overwhelming chore of reviewing hundreds of paddles just to find the one that you think will work best for you.

And you don’t need special clothing but court shoes are helpful if you want to avoid ankle injuries.

Running shoes are not recommended because they don’t give you the support you need to move from side to side on the court. The best shoes for playing pickleball are court shoes of some sort.

Summary – What Is Pickleball

Hopefully, you’ve become more interested in learning and playing pickleball.

It’s a fun game that gives you the opportunity to get fit and socialize.

Consider playing even just one game and see what you think.

Maybe you’ll become hooked.

 

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