Pickleball: Everything You Wanted to Know (and More!)


No one knows why pickleball is called pickleball.

Some stories say it was named after the founding family’s dog, Pickles, who kept running with the ball.

Others that Pickles was born two years after the game began and that the name is instead a reference to a pickle boat—the boat in a race made up of leftover crews from other teams—like pickleball itself with its variety of equipment and borrowed rules from tennis, badminton and table tennis.

Complete with its quirky name, this wacky sport has begun to enter American mainstream culture and become the new thing.

The New Yorker asked if pickleball could save America, Ellen DeGeneres did a segment about her “obsession” with it on her TV show of the same name, Vanity Fair wondered how it had won over everyone, and the Kardashians played it up in theirs reality show.

Dubbed America’s unofficial pandemic pastime, more than a million Americans have picked up a paddle in the past two years.

The main goal of pickleball, as with other racquet sports, is to hit the ball over the net and prevent an opponent from hitting it back.

It can be played in singles or doubles, indoors or outdoors on a 20-foot by 44-foot court – about the size of a badminton court – and lasts until one side reaches 11 points, with a two-point cushion.

Pickleball got its ominous start in 1965 when future US Congressman Joel Pritchard and his friend Bill Bell tried to entertain their bored kids on vacation.

Staying on an estate on Bainbridge Island, Washington, with a paved badminton court, they gathered the available equipment – a wiffle ball, ping pong paddles and a badminton net which they later lowered to 36 inches, closer to the height of a tennis net. , once they found that the ball bounced well on the asphalt.

As the vacation progressed, they began creating rules for the game, with the help of another friend Barney McCallum.

Ping pong paddles were deemed too small and replaced the larger plywood paddles they made themselves and a no-volley zone was created seven feet from the net on either side to prevent crashing.

The no-volley zone, or “kitchen,” is what gives pickleball much of its uniqueness.

It minimizes running around, allowing older players to be just as competitive as younger, stronger players, and reduces the role of strength so kids can play alongside adults.

No volleys are allowed in the

“It’s really a sport for everybody,” Ben Johns, one of pickleball’s greatest professional players, told CNN Sport’s Carolyn Manno as they played on freshly cut pickleball courts at Squibb Park in Brooklyn Heights.

In the adjacent courts, oblivious to the presence of one of the sport’s superstars, a group of four middle-aged “penders” huddled alongside two women taking a lesson and a child preparing his kit for a match.

“I’ve never seen anyone who didn’t like it, and it spans a wide range of ages and people [different] backgrounds,” Jones added.

“So I’m surprised it took off so quickly, but I can understand why people love it so much.”

Pickleball’s popularity has skyrocketed in North America, in part due to the Covid-19 pandemic, as it offers a safe, socially distanced form of exercise.

It had initially found a firm footing among retirement communities, where it was loved for its social aspect, moderate exercise and simple fun.

Between 2018 and 2021, however, USA Pickleball participation nearly doubled, and the organization estimates that 4.8 million Americans now play the sport.

Much of this expansion has been concentrated outside pickleball’s traditional demographics – the fastest growth was among players under 24 from 2020 to 2021 due to the lockdown when portable nets were temporarily sold as people set up small courts in roads and gardens.

People play pickleball on an empty street in Charlotte during the early days of the coronavirus pandemic.

Many celebrities and athletes are among the young players who have picked up paddles in recent years.

In January 2022, Olympic legend Michael Phelps played NFL wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald in an exhibition game, while Stephen Colbert produces a “celebrity-packed” pickleball tournament.

“I think it’s kind of funny that the sport has caught on so much with celebrities and athletes,” Johns said.

“It’s something that levels the playing field, so you might have an NFL player playing with an NBA player and they’re like, ‘Hey, we can’t compete with each other in our sports, but we sure can in this sport. “”

Jones first picked up a pickleball paddle after growing up playing tennis and table tennis, becoming a professional hitting partner for his older brother on the pro tennis tour.

“And basically, the pickleball courts were built near the courts where I practiced [tennis]and I just saw it play and thought it looked like fun,” he said.

“So I tried it and like most people, I was hooked very quickly. I never stopped playing it after that, and the rest is history.”

In his already illustrious career, the 23-year-old has won over 50 Professional Pickleball Tour (PPA) titles and more Triple Crowns than any other male professional player – the Triple Crown refers to winning gold medals in all three divisions during a single tournament .

Johns is now sharing his expertise with TopCourt – a digital tennis teaching platform, which features players such as Iga Swiatek, Venus Williams and Nick Kyrgios and now includes pickleball – to provide lessons to help grow the sport to a new audience.

Jessie Irvine, one of the top players in the women's game, is another TopCourt instructor.

“I think one of the biggest things about this sport is because a lot of people enjoy playing it, they really want to get better and it’s hard to get better when you don’t really know … how to get better.

“It’s much easier to get better with top quality instruction and that’s essentially what TopCourt does. They bring you the best players.”

Professional pickleball tournaments like the ones Johns plays in are now broadcast on multiple networks including Fox Sports, Tennis Channel, CBS Sports and ESPN.

Aside from being on TV, pickleball seems to be everywhere else in the US.

There are designer paddles on store shelves, pickleball-themed weddings, viral TikTok posts, weekly features from national news outlets across the country, and even a pickleball-themed charity.

Pickleball has become popular among all age groups in the US.

Around the world, too, pickleball is growing, albeit at a slower pace. The International Pickleball Federation currently has 60 member countries as it moves towards the criteria to become an Olympic sport.

“I think it has a lot of potential, not just in the U.S. but around the world, just because it really is a sport for everyone,” Johns said.

“I don’t think it’s caught on quite yet in other parts of the world … but I think wherever it starts we’re going to see a similar trend in the U.S., which is just rapid growth and once that happens in other areas, I think it would be a perfect fit for Olympic Games. You just can’t rush development.”

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