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What is Pickleball?

What is Pickleball? What would you do with a pickleball? If you already know, then you're ahead of the curve! Fast paced, quick to pick up, fun and sociable, pickleball is the next big thing in racket sports. Well established in North America since the 1960s, the game hit the UK over a decade ago and in the last couple of years has experienced massive growth. If you'd like to start playing or you want to get informed about this cool sport, you can get the key facts on the game of pickleball in our fact-packed guide below.

An overview of what is pickleball

Pickleball is a racket sports game that has similarities with badminton, tennis and table tennis. You can play with two or four players. The basics game is hitting a perforated ball across a net using hard rackets (called paddles) on a marked out court of 20 feet X 30 feet, the same size as a badminton court. Each player or pair of players tries to defeat their opponents by hitting an unreturnable shot within the court. 

The perforated ball travels more slowly than a tennis or squash ball and players serve underarm. That means it's easier to get started and play a good game with basic skills. But don't be fooled by the simplicity - pickleball can be a fast, fierce and highly tactical game when experienced players get together on a court. 

The history of pickleball

Pickleball was invented in 1965 Washington State, USA, by congressman Joel Pritchard and his businessman friend Bill Bell. It started as a bit of fun for their kids, improvising an outdoor sports game with equipment they had to hand, including table tennis bats. By 1967 the friends had designed and laid out a pickleball court and as more players joined in, the sport acquired its own official corporation in 1972. 1976 saw the first known pickleball tournament in the world in Tukwila, Washington.

By 1990 the steady growth of pickleball in the USA meant that manufacturers had started making official pickleball paddles and other special equipment. The first composite bat was designed by Arlen Paranto, using his materials and construction knowledge as a Boeing industrial engineer. The USA Pickleball Association (USAPA) was launched in 2005, maintaining a comprehensive list of courts and clubs in the USA. 

The first national tournaments took place in 2009, with players from Canada taking part as well. The sport continued to grow through the 2010s, with official leagues, player rankings, televised championships, official referee and coach training and a massive increase in player numbers in North America. Pickleball hit Europe and the UK around 2011 and has enjoyed steady growth ever since - some people say it will become the world's biggest sport in a decade.

Pickleball went professional in 2019 and has two tours - the Association of Pickleball Professionals (APP) and the Professional Pickleball Association (PPA). 

What you need to play pickleball - the basic requirements 

Play singles or doubles on a hard indoor or outdoor court the same size as badminton doubles court. Use a net similar to a tennis net - it's 34 inches high in the centre. You need a total area of around 20m X 12m. Find the full specification for a pickleball court here

Each player needs a pickleball paddle - they have short handles but a larger and more flexible hitting surface than table tennis bats. You'll also need a Wiffle ball - a special plastic ball with holes in to hit across the net. Lighter balls are used for indoor play: there are slightly heavier balls for outdoors. Wear sports shoes suitable for an indoor or outdoor court. 

Who can play pickleball

Players of any age of skill can take part. It's a great sport for family and friends of mixed abilities or ages. In the USA pickleball has been embraced by communities of older people, who enjoy the short games and ability to play at their own pace. For capable racket sport players, it's a chance to use your skills in a new and fast-paced environment. Energetic youngsters enjoy the quick rallies and simple rules. It doesn't take long to grasp the key techniques, so you can enjoy a satisfying game at any level. 

How to play pickleball - the rules

- For a casual game, the first player or pair to 11 points with two in hand is the winner.
- Start a game by serving underarm from the right-hand court. Move between alternate sides after that. There are no second serves. 
- There's a non-volley zone seven feet either side of the net - it's referred to as 'the kitchen'!
- The service ball must bounce in the receiving court beyond the non-volley zone before it's returned, then it must also bounce in the service court before it can be returned again. This is called the two-bounce rule.
- After that, the rally can continue with any combination of colleys (except in the kitchen) and groundstrokes.
- Only the server or serving pair can win a point. If they fault the serve goes across to the opponent.
- In doubles, player one serves until they fault. Their partnet then serves until they fault. Service then passes to the opponents, who also both get a turn to serve, the same way.

Those are the basics - for a more detailed set if rules visit the USA Pickleball official site

How to find a place to play pickleball

There are over 120 venues for pickleball in England and number is growing all the time. Leisure centres, racket sport centres (including some David Lloyd clubs) and sports halls are getting in on the act to meet the demand for new players. Find a pickleball club and courts on the official Pickleball England website. You can also give pickleball a go on a tennis court or a badminton court, if you can lower the net. In Europe and the rest of the world you'll often find courts at sports centres and in parks. 

But one of the great things about the game of pickleball is that you don't need a special court or club membership to take part in the sport. If you have a flat space in your garden, driveay, a recreation area or indoor sports hall, you can mark out a temporary pickleball court with chalk or tape and set up a portable net

How pickleball got its name

There are two stories about how the game got its unusual name. Thinking back to when pickleball was first invented in a Washington backyard, some family members say it was named after the 'pickle boat' in rowing, referring to a thrown together crew made up of those who aren't chosen for the main competitions or those who are available on the day. This reflects the casual nature of the game and its easy accessibility for diverse groups of players. Another memory recalls that the game was named after the inventor's dog Pickle, who would chase the ball around when the families were playing!

What does a game of pickleball look like?

There's nothing like watching more experienced players to help you get a feel for the game. If you want to see some pickleball players in action, check out Pickleball England's tournament and event calendar for live play. Or enjoy some skilful performances on-screen on the Pickleball Global YouTube channel

The best pickleball equipment to get started

It's worth choosing a good quality pickleball paddle. It will be strong and durable so if you look after it, you will get a lot of use from it. For beginners, we recommend this starter paddle - it has a central sweet spot that helps you hit great shots and a grippy surface for accuracy and control. You'll need perforated pickleball balls - choose from indoor balls or outdoor balls, depending on where you intend to play. Racket sports shoes with good support and grip are essential - you could wear multipurpose trainers or special pickleball shoes that are designed for the specific pace and movement of the game. Comfortable and breathable sports clothing will give you maximum range of movement and keep you cool when the pace hots up!

Pickleball equipment for advanced and intermediate players

Once you've committed to the game of pickleball and improved your skills, you may want a more advanced racket. As you progress, you will discover your strengths and weaknessess and can prioritise different features to help you play a winning game! Different head shapes, weights and materials will all affect the power and accuracy of ypur pickleball paddle. Choose from a range of intermediate pickleball paddles or if you're even more proficient, take a look at these expert pickleball paddles

Pickleball gifts and presents

With the growing fame of the game in the UK, pickleball equipment, clothing and accessories could be a real hit if you're looking for a sporting gift. Branded equipment is always popular, we have the latest paddles from Adidas, Head and Gamma. Or there's always the safe option of a sports equipment gift voucher for the pickleball fan in your life - guaranteed to be a winner every time!

8 October 2020

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