Picture this: an extremely oversized ping pong table, with a huge ball with holes. Or try to imagine this: a slightly smaller tennis court, but rather than rackets, you’ve got ping pong-like paddles and ball that never bounces the same way twice. What game do you see? It’s pickleball of course! Is a pickle involved? No, sorry but we can give you more information anyway.
It’s a little bit of tennis, ping pong, racquetball, and badminton rolled into one, and it’s addictive fun for any age and any set of skills, or lack thereof. Rules are easy to learn, and like tennis, you can play singles or doubles. You can also play indoors or outside if the weather is enjoyable. Who can resist fun and easy? The goal and the reason behind its creation is pure fun. For those of us who can’t fully understand a game with no goal, we’ll hit you up with some info shortly.
Pickleball was born in 1965 by three dads with bored kids in the Seattle, Washington area. How did this funky name appear? Well, there’s a couple of stories. Frist, one dad’s cocker spaniel’s name was Pickles, so many believe that the game was named after the dog. Another story is that one wife of the team members recalls that she named it because it reminded her of pickle boats and the method of selecting oarsmen. As you can see, there is some inconsistency surrounding how the game acquired its unusual name.
In any case, the original game, which made its way across the United States and into Canada, was played with homemade equipment. Now, the game is recognized internationally in many Asian and European countries, too. The Sports & Fitness Industry Association, or SFIA, reports that there are over 2.5 million players nationwide. The United States of America Pickleball Association, or USAPA, reports there are more than 15,000 courts across the country. The game is showing up in both middle and high school physical activities, and many retirement communities have added the game to their list of approved activities to help keep residents active and socializing. There are also regular local, regional, and national tournaments for those who love the competition.
The Devil in the Details
Getting down to the dirty details, the playing court is the same size as a badminton court, which is 20 by 44 feet. The net stands 34 inches tall in the middle of the court and 36 inches on either end. Much like a tennis court, there are stripes painted on the court providing right and left service courts including a seven-foot no-volley area in front of the net. The no-volley area on both sides of the net is called the “kitchen” and courts can be constructed from scratch Or, you can use tennis or badminton courts that are already in existence.
Of course, you need a net and a paddle. In the original game, the paddles were made of wood; however, today they are made of lighter weight materials like graphite or aluminum. A ping pong paddle is smaller than a pickleball paddle. And the pickleball paddle is smaller than a tennis racket. The International Federation of Pickleball (IFP) has set specific standards for both the paddle and the ball, and in 2010 it created an official rulebook. Without getting too far into the weeds, these are some essential points from the IFP’s handbook:
- Always serve underhanded
- The paddle may only connect with the ball below player’s waistlines
- The fault rules broadly align with tennis; as do the line calls
- The serving team is determined by a coin toss
There are also kitchen and double bounce rules. The ball resembles a whiffle ball, lightweight with holes.
There are points to be scored in the game, so it isn’t a free-for-all, and they are awarded in a tennis-like manner. There are some players with higher competitive goals, and they tend to set personal goals for themselves every time they hop on a court. Examples are:
- Improving partner communication skills
- Identifying a weakness and working to make it better
- Focusing on a strength and kicking it up a notch
- Trying to improve your back or forehand swings
- Watching your shots and ball placement can be another focus area
- How you hold the paddle and how the ball connects with the paddle
- Consider your techniques, speed, and consistency
When it comes to goal setting, it’s totally at your discretion; it’s okay just to have fun! If it appeals to you, physical goal setting is another option. There are also several strategies to employ whether you’re playing singles or doubles inside or out.
Referees and Ratings
When it comes to official tournaments, expect to see certified referees and line judges. They also have a rulebook and responsibility for keeping the score with accurate information documented on each card. Things like player names, type of game and event, court information, which team serves first, and certainly the referee’s name, are all included. It’s all highly official, including player ratings based on the level of ability of each player as defined by the IFP. You aren’t required to have a rating if you want to enter a tournament; however, you can be assigned a rating by the tournament directors. The rating assignments ensure that you are teamed with other players of a similar skill level. There are three rating types:
- Self-rated players give themselves a rating based on the IFP rating guidelines; however, these ratings are subject to change by a tournament director.
- Appealed rating is the process of requesting a review of your rating, and there are established procedures in place for the method to appeal and how the appeal should be managed.
- Tournament ratings are granted once you have entered your first event. This type of rating is created by the tournament directors as well as other rated players.
Not all events are rated, so if that is something important to you, be sure to check before registering.
About the USAPA
A not for profit organization, the USAPA, is governed by a 12-member Board of Directors, organizational officers/staff, and various committees. Each comes from different states across the nation. The USAPA is based in Surprise, Arizona. Surprise is a community in Maricopa County with a population of about 30,000 people as of 2000; however, with a crazy high growth of 281 percent, population jumped to more than 117,500 by the year 2010. The area is home to many retirees, at least partially due to the presence of Del Webb’s resort-like, age-related communities.
Think we’ll see pickleball at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics? Well, several new sports have already been added, such as surfing, karate, skateboard, softball, baseball, and sports climbing. There is an effort to get pickleball on the agenda, and we are getting closer to meeting the basic minimum requirements. In 2016, the first successful US Open Pickleball Championship was held, so it’s certainly being taken seriously.
No pickleball courts in your community? Be a trendsetter, set one up a court today and invite the neighbors over for a barbeque!