Pickleball: The Hottest Sport for Boomers

Kelly Spors

A growing number of people are playing pickleball—a sport that combines tennis, badminton and ping-pong. It is played by two to four players using paddles and a plastic ball with holes, on either an indoor or outdoor court about one-third the size of a standard tennis court.

The game has become particularly popular among people in their 50s, 60s and 70s looking for an activity that offers good aerobic exercise without being as strenuous as traditional racket sports—which affords players the chance to socialize during the game.

Move over, golf and tennis. A new favorite pastime is taking off with American Boomers.

How Did Pickleball Start?

The game was first invented in 1965 on Bainbridge Island, Washington, just outside Seattle. Three dads returned from golfing to find their families bored. No one could find the shuttlecock for the badminton, so they used Wiffle balls instead, lowered the badminton net, and fabricated some paddles from plywood. Thus, Pickleball was born.

According to legend, the odd name for the sport appears to have been derived from the “pickle boat,” a nickname for the last boat to return from a fishing trip. However, the origin of the name is debated. The other story is that the owner of the home where the sport was invented, then-state Rep. Joel Pritchard—a future congressman and lieutenant governor of Washington—had a family dog named Pickles.

No matter where the name came from, pickleball soon became extremely popular among Pritchard’s neighbors, spreading from there to become a worldwide sport.

Keep reading to learn the rules of playing pickleball.

Pickleball History

The first known pickleball tournament was held in 1976, according to the USA Pickleball Association. USAPA was organized in 1984, and the first official rule book was published that same year. By 1990, pickleball was being played in all 50 states. The sport continued to spread as it became increasingly popular in senior athletic events in the early 2000s.

Catching On Across the U.S.

Although the sport is now more than 50 years old, it’s grown rapidly over the past decade. The USAPA estimates that more than 2.815 million people now play the game nationwide and there are nearly 5,883 known places to play, more than doubling since 2010.

The association hosts tournaments around the country, allowing more people to learn about and watch the sport.

A big reason for the popularity of the game among older adults is that it lets them stay physically active, albeit on a smaller court, with a slightly lower net and larger, slower-paced balls relative to tennis. This means it can be enjoyed by people who may not be in good enough physical shape to play tennis, but still enjoy similar games.

The sport also has rules specific to wheelchair-bound players.

Another allure: It’s easy to learn to play pickleball, and many adults teach their children and grandchildren to play with them.

“This is an easy sport to learn,” Jay Schofield, a retired high school physical education teacher who lives on Martha’s Vineyard, told the island’s paper. “You can develop some proficiency pretty quickly. I’ll get someone who’s never played, and they will be playing competitively within a couple of sessions.”

The sport has particularly taken off in retirement communities in southern states, such as Florida and Arizona, where the game can be played outdoors year-round. But it’s also starting to grow in popularity in northern states. Some local athletic centers, such as YMCAs, have even begun hosting leagues and marking pickleball lines on tennis courts.

The game has gotten so popular in some areas that lines can form outside pickleball courts, causing many enthusiasts to urge their communities to add more courts.

What Are the Rules for Pickleball?

Pickleball can be played as either a singles or doubles game. For both singles and doubles, the size of the court is 20×44 feet, the same as a double badminton court.

Rules of the game include:

  • The serve must be underhand and below the waist. It must be made at least one foot behind the baseline, struck diagonally.
  • The serve must land within the opposite diagonal court.
  • Only the team serving the ball is able to score points. Points are earned when the opposite side fails to return the ball or commits other faults, such as hitting the ball out of bounds.
  • The ball must bounce once when the ball is served. The receiving team must let the ball bounce once before hitting it back, as must the serving team when returning it.
  • Once the ball has bounced once in each team’s court, it is permitted to volley the ball (i.e., hit it before it bounces)
  • Games normally go to 11 points, with the leading team needing to be 2 points ahead to win

Where Can I Play Pickleball?

Thanks to the fast-growing popularity of the game, it’s easier than ever to start playing and to find other players in your area.

USAPA’s website has many helpful resources, including a map of places to play and contacts for “ambassadors” of the sport and local pickleball clubs. They can connect you with others in your area who are already playing and may be willing to teach you.

Given that pickleball offers a nice mix of physical activity and socialization, it’s a great sport to try out. Good luck perfecting your “kill shot”!

Looking for more activity and hobby ideas to embrace? 

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Learn about:

  • Unique activity ideas to get you outside
  • Making your home entertaining and safe for your grandchildren
  • Hobbies for the young at heart

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4 Responses to "Pickleball: The Hottest Sport for Boomers"

  • Extra Mile Staff | January 28, 2019 at 2:46 pm

    Thanks for sharing your experience, Anita!

  • Anita Monahan | January 25, 2019 at 10:14 pm

    If in doubt...try it out! I had back surgery 1 1/2 years ago...I am so much stronger and way more flexible. Better alternative to tennis. Made a ton of new friends in just 3 months. Doesn't take very long to get the hang of it. Enjoy!!

  • Extra Mile Staff | January 22, 2019 at 2:03 pm

    We are glad you love pickleball John! Thanks for sharing your experience.

  • John Bishop | January 21, 2019 at 11:06 am

    Pickleball is great for us seniors because it requires a lot less fitness compared to tennis and is easier on the joints. My wife and I just started playing in our local community and love it. Seemed a bit odd at first and I had dismissed it for years, but we read through some simplified rules and guides over on https://www.picklesball.com and have not looked back. One thing I would add to the article is that it is really a very social sport and a great way for us seniors to make new friends as well as stay active. I really had got to a low point being 74 and not able to play tennis anymore but Pickleball has really made a difference to our lives. I wish I had started playing 20 years ago!

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