How many sports can you list where the name was chosen after a family dog running down a ball? Not many I presume.
Joel Pritchard’s family and friends were bored one lazy afternoon in 1965. The group picked up a few ping-pong paddles a perforated plastic ball, and headed to the family badminton court.
Pickleball was on its way
The Pritchard family fell in love with their discovery. However, Pickles the dog was having way too much fun chasing down balls!
The group dropped the net to 36 inches on the sides, and to 34 inches in the center. The original badminton height was 60 inches. However they kept the length of a badminton sized court at 44 feet. The perforated whiffle ball now volleyed much better, and remained in play longer.
The following weekend a family friend Barney McCollum came to their Washington home to play. This marked the day that Pickleball was officially invented in 1965 on Bainbridge island.
Considered the fastest growing paddle sport in the United States, Pickleball can now count almost 2.85 million players. Eight million more players expected to join in the next few years.
The family’s fundamental purpose for creating Pickleball that weekend on Bainbridge Island, “construct a game the entire family can play.” The group relied heavily on badminton to develop the sport. Badminton nets are 24 inches higher, and the game employs a plastic ball rather than a shuttlecock.
Pickleball, characterized as ping-pong on the floor, uses hard, solid pickleball paddles instead of racquets. Paddles are made up of aluminum and graphite. Scoring is comparable to ping-pong and action is fast-paced providing great workouts.
Pickleball, tennis, and badminton
Pickleball, tennis, and badminton have several things in common; however, there are distinct contrasts.
- Pickleball courts are the size of doubles badminton at 20 feet by 44 feet with left and right service areas.
- Pickleball is played with a hard wiffle ball
- Courts are one quarter the size of a tennis court, and players serve underhand.
- Pickleball has its NVZ line at 7’ from the net, and the area is referred to as the “Kitchen”.
No one is quite certain how the No Volley Zone in front of a Pickleball net derived its nickname, the Kitchen. The NVZ area is meant to eliminate spikes.
Players can return the ball if it hits in the Kitchen on their either side of the court first. A shot is considered a fault if the player hits the ball while standing in the Kitchen. If you are on the sidelines cheering your favorite team, and everybody suddenly stops to yell Kitchen you‘ll know why.
A new rulebook from the USAPA created on February 1, 2019, is available for download here. Publishing a complete set of pickleball rules has gone a long way to promote it. Pickleball has now become an international sport for people of all ages.
U.S. Open Pickleball Championships
The largest tournament in the history of the sport is taking place in Naples’s Florida on April 27 2019. Pickleball U.S. Open Championships is an international competition for all age and skill levels. Staying faithful to the central facet of the game, age divisions from 19+ to 80+ are set up. Pro Singles and doubles, mixed doubles and Senior Pro competition are just a few of the competitive events
Tennis vs. Pickleball
Tennis executives are glancing over their collective backhands at the rise of a sport with a whimsical name. Is Tennis afraid of Pickleball, more than they want to acknowledge? Skyrocketing recognition of any sport usually entails youthful, buff athletes in the prime of their competitive careers.
Seventy five percent of all Pickleball players are over 55 years old. That single statistic fulfills the Pritchard’s goal of everybody being able to Play!
Head to any Pickleball court without equipment, and within minutes there will probably be a player inviting you to play. The USAPA is doing everything right to promote and expand the sport. They even added an Ambassador program.
Springing Up Everywhere
Pickleball courts are springing up everywhere, even the Cook County Jail. The sport offers inmates a brief escape from their difficult lives.
Players can start playing as kids and compete their entire lives. Playing past retirement age has become very common. The USAPA just recently recorded over 100 new courts and facilities opening per month!
The sport appeals to retirees, former tennis players, and older adults. Pickleball provides a natural transition, challenging workout and much older adults can stay active much deeper into their lives.
Pickleball buzz is growing stronger every day. Parks and clubs are opting for Pickleball courts as they are smaller, and appeal to all ages.
The game is flourishing everywhere. The majority of players are concentrated in the Pacific Northwest. The next areas of development seem to be the North East Central States.
As one would expect, the popularity of Pickleball is exploding in Central Florida. The area has been crowned, the Pickle-Ball Capital of the World.
There are over 200 recreation centers, and 200 pickle-ball courts. The “Village Senior Games” attracted over 500 participants in a recent tournament. Three hours south, the US Open Pickleball Championships.
Upcoming Changes for Pickleball
With a vast numbers of new players, and new facilities popping up across the country, what is next for Pickleball?
- The speed of the game will increase; it must if the game wants to retain a younger crowd.
- The evolution of power and strategy.
- Higher levels of competition as player skill increases.
- Equipment becoming more advanced.
Will Pickleball become an Olympic Sport? If skateboarding can be added as an Olympic sport, the idea of Pickleball getting in is not at all far-fetched. However, do not expect inclusion anytime soon.
Right now it does not meet the criteria to join the Olympics. First, people in 75 countries across four continents must play the sport. Pickleball is not there yet.
There is no chance for the 2020 Olympics. Experts are predicting strong consideration for at least the 2028 games. The USAPA needs to keep doing exactly what it has been doing to promote the sport.
Pickleball is one of the great American sport success stories. Pickles the dog would be proud!