Pickleball, the fastest-growing sport in America for the third year running, is an accessible sport that combines tennis, badminton and ping-pong.

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. An important bonus: it gives players the chance to socialize during the game.

“It’s the right mix of exercise and fun competition with friends for a person my age,” said Armand Nadeau. Nadeau plays the sport several times a week at a local pickleball center.

How Pickleball Began

The game was first invented in 1965 on Bainbridge Island, Washington near Seattle at the home of former U.S. Congressman Joel Pritchard—who was then a state representative. He and two other dads returned from golfing to find their families bored. No one could find the shuttlecock for the badminton, so they used wiffleballs instead, lowered the badminton net and used ping-pong paddles to invent their own game. Thus, Pickleball was born.

The origin of the name has been debated. Some people have claimed the odd name for the sport was derived from the “pickle boat,” a nickname for the last boat to return from a fishing trip. This boat would carry the leftover oarsman and gear, similar to how pickleball began by using leftover equipment from other sports. However, a family friend has said the Pritchards had a cocker spaniel named Pickles who would chase after the balls while they were playing the game, so they named the game after him.

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

Pickleball Tournaments

The first known pickleball tournament was held in 1976, according to the USA Pickleball Association. USAPA was organized in 1984, and the first official rulebook 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 athletic events for older individuals in the early 2000s. Though the sport is now more than 50 years old, it’s grown rapidly over the past decade. It’s estimated that over 36.5 million people play pickleball in the U.S., and counting. And, there are nearly 14,000 known places to play in the United States, up from fewer than 50 places in 2003.

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

Why Is Pickleball so Popular? 

Move over, golf and tennis. Pickleball is now a favorite pastime in America.

Though especially popular in southern states where it can be played outdoors year-round, pickleball is popular in northern states as well. Some local athletic centers, such as YMCAs, now host leagues and mark pickleball lines on tennis courts so they can be used for both sports.

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.

Here are some reasons why:


Pickleball Is Accessible

A big reason for the popularity of the game among adults is that it helps 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 able to play tennis, but enjoy similar games.

For players of any age, pickleball offers the mental and physical challenge and hand-eye coordination required by a game like ping-pong while providing more physical activity—often outdoors.


Pickleball Is a Social Game

Playing pickleball is a great way to be social and build new relationships or strengthen existing ones. In fact, many retirement communities across the U.S.—particularly in southern states such as Florida and Arizona—have built on-site pickleball courts in recent years. They’ve also designated the sport as one of the main social activities they promote among their residents.

Many pickleball players can teach their grandchildren to play with them.


Pickleball Is Easy to Learn

Pickleball is generally easier to learn how to play than more-intense racquet sports like tennis, which can take months of practice to play well.

“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.”

Rules of the Game

Pickleball is played by two to four players using paddles and a plastic ball with holes, and can be played either as a singles or doubles game. The court can be either indoors or outdoors and is about one-third the size of a standard tennis court. 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, which take place when the opposite side fails to return the ball or commits other faults, such as hitting the ball out of bounds.
  • 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.
The sever starts the game
from the right side of the
court, serving underarm to
the opposite receiver box
on the other side.
The ball must clear the
no volley zone line and must
bounce once before the
receiver can return the ball
back across the net.
The highlighted section is
called the ‘non volley zone’.
A player cannot hit the ball
while in the zone unless
it bounces there first.
The return of serve can
land anywhere within the
serving team’s court. The
serving team must also
let the ball bounce once.
After this, the play is
much like badminton, but
you may hit the ball either in
the air or after a bounce
(excluding non volley zone).
In doubles, each player
gets to serve. If the serving
side scores a point, the
server swtiches sides with
his partner.
If the server loses the
point, he loses his serve
and it passes to his partner,
serving from whichever
position his is in.
After the second
player loses his serve, the
service goes to the
opponents, both of whom
will get to serve.
Games are played to 11
points, with a clear 2 points
needed to win the game.
Tournaments can be played
to 15 or 21 points.
Only the serving team can
score points in a game.

The sport also has rules specific to players in wheelchairs. Though many of the rules are similar to the standard rules, there are some basic differences, including getting up to two bounces of the ball on their side of the net instead of one.

Pickleball Rules CTA

How to Start Playing

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.

What Equipment Is Needed to Play?

Beyond having access to a pickleball court (or a tennis court with pickleball line markings), you’ll also need some basic equipment to start playing.

Paddle: A pickleball paddle is between the size of a tennis racket and a ping-pong paddle. You generally have a choice among several different types of core materials, including fiberglass (often called composite), graphite, aluminum and wood. The material of the paddle can affect its price, but also its performance.

  • Aluminum is lightweight and provides a high level of control, but it may lack the power provided by a heavier paddle made of fiberglass.
  • Wood paddles are often the cheapest, but they are also the heaviest, making them somewhat harder to control.

A beginner may want to choose a lighter-weight paddle with an oversized head as it will provide more control and increase the odds of hitting the ball. A more experienced player, on the other hand, may be willing to choose a heavier paddle but one with more power. Ultimately, however, you should choose the paddle that feels most comfortable for you. It’s worth trying out at least a few options before settling on one.

Pickleball: Pickleballs have holes like wiffleballs and come in two basic designs for either indoor or outdoor use. The balls with larger holes are typically for indoor use, since wind is less of a concern. They come in a large variety of colors, but yellow is the most popular color for outdoor balls because it stands out nicely against blue or green courts. Indoor pickleballs come in a wide range of colors. The International Federation of Pickleball requires that pickleballs not be more than one color.

Net: The court you use may already have a pickleball net of the right size and length, but if not, you can buy a portable net system that’s easy to carry and set up.

What Do You Wear to Play?

Beyond the equipment, you may also want to buy some apparel and accessories that will make playing the game more comfortable. Pickleball apparel and accessories worth considering include:


Breathable Sportswear

You’ll want to wear clothes that give you a good range of motion while keeping you cool even if you work up a sweat. Many clothes designed specifically for tennis and pickleball include wicking fabric that draw moisture away from the body, so you can stay protected from the sun without getting too sweaty.


Shoes and Shades

When on the court, it’s crucial to protect your feet. Running shoes have ridged soles that help propel you forward but can cause slipping when you’re using them for other types of motions. Cross-training sneakers have grooves on the bottom that can stick to the court’s acrylic surface and also cause you to trip. Therefore, tennis sneakers will generally be the safest and most comfortable choice. They typically have rubber soles that provide cushioning for the hardcourt surface but also have tough materials in the right places to support your feet and ankles during sudden starts and stops.

And if you play outdoors, having a pair of shatter-proof sunglasses designed for athletic wear will prevent the sun’s glare from interfering with your game while also protecting your eyes.


Carrying Bag

Though not a requirement, a pickleball carrying case will make it easier to carry your paddle, balls and any other gear or personal items (such as keys, a towel or sunscreen) you choose to bring along. Look for a bag that fits the amount and type of equipment you’re bringing, as some can hold multiple paddles and balls. Also consider getting one that includes a cooler that can hold your water bottles or snacks.

The USAPA offers the official USA Pickleball Association Store, which has a complete line of pickleball clothing along with other merchandise emblazoned with the official association logo.

Pickleball Terms You Need to Know

Like most sports, pickleball has special terminology that its players use to describe various shots and situations. Some of the terms overlap those used in tennis and other racquet sports, but others are unique. You will surely begin to learn these terms as you start playing, but it’s helpful to know some key phrases beforehand, like:

  • Groundstroke: When a player hits the ball after it bounces once. There are two basic kinds, forehand and backhand groundstrokes.
  • Dink: A shot that clears the net and lands within the “non-volley” zone on your opponent’s side.
  • Lob: A shot that moves in a deep, high arc over the net and often forces the opponent to back up to the baseline.
  • Dead ball: The ball is out of bounds and the current point is over.
  • Fault: A violation of a rule that stops the play.
  • Side out: When the person or team serving the ball loses the point. A “side out” is declared and the opponent begins to serve.

No Better Time to Start Playing

Pickleball combines exercise and an opportunity to socialize and have fun. There’s no time like the present to get started!

Have you played Pickleball? What did you think? What other sport or hobby keeps you active? Let us know in the comments section below.