Tennis is fun. Tennis can also be really, really hard. Slowing down tennis makes it more fun and less hard. That is how Pickleball has become a craze that has swept the nation over the last few years. These facts about Pickleball will help explain the rise of the sport as a fun and relaxing outdoor activity without the speed and stress of playing tennis.
What is Pickleball?
Pickleball is a sport that combines elements of other racket sports like tennis, badminton and ping-pong. Players use a small racket or paddle to hit a plastic ball similar to a whiffle ball over a tennis-style net on a badminton-sized court.
Now that you have the gist of things, here are 15 remarkable facts about Pickleball.
Facts about Pickleball:
- Pickleball is the fastest growing sport in America. Odds are good that someone you know plays pickleball. There were 2.6 million pickleball players in 2016. That number grew to 4.2 million in 2020. Given how lives played out during the pandemic (when sports like tennis and pickleball were seen as good socially distanced activities) it feels like that number will only keep growing. If you aren’t on the pickleball wagon yet, you are quickly getting left behind.
- It was named after a family dog. There are two theories on how pickleball got its name and neither has anything to do with pickles. The first (and most boring) is that the wife of co-inventor Joel Pritchard named it as such because the “pickle boat” crew was a name given to a boat with oarsmen made up from the remnants of other crews. This made sense as a name to Joan because the game was created from leftovers (equipment/rules) from other sports. However, the other option for the name seems to better fit the identity of what pickleball has become. The sport is so named because the Pritchards had a cocker spaniel who enjoyed interrupting the game by chasing down (and then running away with) the ball. This dog was named Pickles. This notion is also backed up by USA Pickleball itself.
- Pickleball is older than you think. Pickleball certainly feels like a new sport as more and more courts are repurposed from tennis or basketball to pickleball. This, however, is not the case. Pickleball was actually invented way back in the 1960s. The year was 1965 to be exact and that is when three fathers from Bainbridge Island in Washington developed the sport from items they found around their houses. They then adopted rules from other racket sports and a way to entertain their (occasionally rowdy) children was born.
- The “Double Bounce Rule” is key. The most important rule to the popularity of pickleball is the “DOUBLE Bounce Rule”. This rule dictates that the ball must bounce on both the serve AND on the return of serve before volleying can begin. It seems like such a minor tweak to the rules of tennis, but it stops the third shot (the second shot of the server) from dominating the whole game. With both players in position after that third shot, the rallies that make the game so much fun can begin.
- It can be played indoors and out. Badminton suffers because the wind makes playing outdoors almost impossible. Squash and racquetball can only be played indoors because of the design of the court and its layout. Pickleball shines because, like tennis, it can be played on indoor and outdoor courts. Many facilities will have both, which makes it a great sport for enjoying either at a very relaxed and social level while having a drink with friends in the summer or getting indoors to get a workout in when it is frigid outside.
- Pickleball popularity transcends gender. The majority of sports lean towards one gender or another in terms of popularity. Pickleball seems to buck this trend, especially among people playing at a recreational level. Studies have shown that the difference in the number of players that are male or female could be as low as a few percentage points. One such study found that 53% of players were men while 47% were women. This makes pickleball ideal as a sport for couples.
- Pickleball popularity transcends age. There is no way that the three co-founders could have known they were inventing a game that really does transcend age. The simple ruleset means that children too young for other, more technical sports can be found on the pickleball court. The (slower) speed of the game and relatively small size of the court means that people in their 80s and beyond often meet for games as a way of staying fitter later in life. Pickleball is massively popular within retirement communities as a showcase of its age versatility.
- The Kitchen is also a borrowed term. Most of the terminology in pickleball is fairly standard and easy to understand. One of the weird terms though is the no-volley zone known as “The Kitchen”.Practically, this area was designed so that players can’t just stand at the net and excessively smash the ball, winning games and ruining all the fun. This term likely comes from shuffleboard, when landing in “The Kitchen” (the area behind the primary scoring zones) results in a 10 point score deduction. Staying out of the kitchen is therefore important in both games. The is no information if the dog Pickles was allowed in the kitchen at this time.
- You can get “pickled”. This may be a slight slang term, but while you cannot pickle balls in pickleball you can still get pickled. This term is basically the equivalent of love in tennis, meaning that to be pickled you have to lose a match without scoring a single point. As you can only score on your own serve, this is easier than you might think. Avoid being pickled at all cost!
- There is a professional circuit. Pickleball may have started off as a purely recreational pastime but, like any sport that becomes popular, there is now a professional level. The Professional Pickleball Association (PPA) has ranking events that take place from coast to coast with over a dozen events to be played in 2022. The tour is even looking to expand its reach into other countries in the future because…
- Pickleball is worldwide. While we are not talking soccer or golf levels of popularity here, Pickleball is expanding its reach. What started with the first court being built in 1967 has become something of a phenomenon in terms of growth speed. There are courts in all 50 US states, while places like France, Canada, Great Britain, and Spain all have pickleball courts today. One place the sport could see huge growth is in China given the love of ping pong in the country.
- The health benefits of pickleball are real. From obvious benefits such as a higher level of muscle activity and improved cardio health, all the way through to stress management and better cognitive function, the website sixtyandme.com listed many health benefits for Boomers about pickleball. One specific ailment that they targeted is Parkinson’s disease. Hand-eye coordination work is considered to be an outstanding therapeutic tool for Parkinson’s sufferers and pickleball is about as hand-eye-based as a sport can possibly be. Add in that the ball travels just ⅓ the speed of a tennis ball and you have a game that can extend lives.
- Pickleball has found its way into schools. PE teachers are always looking for new sports and activities to add to the curriculum. One issue, however, is often the cost of equipment for a new sport to be learned. This has really stunted the growth of some sports (lacrosse is an obvious example) but pickleball is played mainly using items that schools already have. As a result, it is a huge boom sport in PE classes, especially in low-income school districts.
- Top-level Pickleball paddles are spendy. The business and technology around pickleball paddles have exploded in the last decade or so. While wooden paddles and entry-level plastic can still be had for less than $20, the top paddles are going to cost you 10 or more times that figure. You won’t be looking at much change from $200 for a top-end paddle, with it being made out of carbon fiber (you know, the same thing they use to make Formula 1 cars) and being made at different weights to best suit your style of play.
- Pickleball is the official sport of Washington state. In late March of 2022, Washington Gov. Jay Inslee signed legislation naming pickleball the state’s official sport. Fittingly, he signed the bill at the birthplace of the sport in Bainbridge Island.
If you liked these facts about Pickleball, check out 15 Fun Facts About Daylight Saving Time
Also, go ahead and share some interesting and fun facts about Pickleball that we might have missed below in the comments.