It’s a game with a funny name, and the ball makes a funny sound, but no one is laughing at how the racquet sport of pickleball is growing.
Pickleball marked its 50th anniversary in 2015, and it’s come a long way from a made-up game that’s a hybrid of tennis, badminton, and ping pong to an activity taking place in parks, physical education programs and retirement communities all over the country.
An NBC Nightly News report even declared Pickleball the “fastest-growing sport in America.”
But, should you make room for pickleball courts in your community’s park or recreation center? We certainly think so! Here’s a closer look at a game many of its fans call “addictive.”
The Pickleball Story
Most sports come from humble beginnings. As the story famously goes, John Naismith hung peach baskets inside a YMCA gymnasium one rainy day and basketball was born.
Boredom during the summer of 1965, and the inability to locate a shuttlecock, led to the birth of pickleball. Joel Pritchard, a congressman from Washington State, and his friend, Bill Bell, wanted to play badminton with their families because the kids were sitting around doing nothing.
However, since they were missing some equipment, they decided to get creative.
According to the USA Pickleball Association (USAPA), the families used a wiffle ball with ping pong paddles and decided to lower the badminton net to three feet in height. Eventually, rules were developed, larger wooden paddles were handcrafted, and a permanent court was set up in a neighbor’s yard.
The story is often told that the Pritchard’s named the game after their dog, Pickles. But the family has set the record straight. Pickleball predates Pickles the dog, who was actually named after the game.
“Nobody remembers how it came to be called ‘pickleball,’ but I think somebody needed a reason why it had that name and the dog story sounded good and eventually stuck,” Joel’s son, Frank Pritchard, said in 2005.
A decade after that first game, Tennis magazine wrote about the emergence of pickleball and the first-known pickleball tournament took place in 1976. By 1990, it was being played in all 50 states, and today it is catching on in countries around the world. In fact, the first-ever US Open Pickleball Championship took place in 2016.
Pickleball 101: The Basics
Pickleball is played on a surface that looks a lot like a badminton court with dimensions of 20’ by 44’. Markings are similar to a tennis court, except the outer sections of the pickleball court are split in half instead of the portion adjacent to the net.
The inner court is a “non-volley zone,” which prevents players from smashing hits inside that area.
Serves are hit underhand, must clear the non-volley zone, and the paddle should make contact with the ball from below the waist. Each side lets the ball bounce once after a service before volleying can begin. This is what’s known as the “double bounce rule.”
Only the serving team can score points, and both members of a doubles team are given a chance to serve. The serving team switches sides of the court each time a point is scored. When the serving team commits two faults (one by each player), service goes to the opposing team.
Pickleball games are played to 11 points, and teams usually need to win by two points. Find out more about the rules of the game in the video below, or visit the USAPA’s pickleball rules summary page.
Who is Playing Pickleball?
While people of all ages enjoy pickleball, it has become exceptionally popular with the baby boomer generation.
A Sports & Fitness Industry Association (SFIA) participation report from 2015 indicates there are around 2.5 million pickleball players in the nation. That’s expected to jump to an estimated 8 million players by 2018. The USAPA says about two-thirds of current pickleball players are 60 or older.
Justin Maloof, the executive director of the USAPA, told City Lab from The Atlantic that he even hears about people choosing where to retire based on the local pickleball scene.
One possible reason for its popularity with mature adults is that the sport allows participants who once enjoyed playing tennis to play a similar game despite injuries or other physical limitations. While pickleball can be fast paced, it’s also low impact and takes place on a smaller surface area, making it easier for seniors to compete.
However, pickleball is gaining steam with younger players as well. Teen tournaments are popping up in cities around the country, and older advocates of the game are teaching young people how to play. Pickleball was, after all, invented as a game for the whole family.
More and more people are discovering pickleball thanks to the fact that an increasing number of parks and recreation departments are adding courts and starting programs. The chart below from USAPA shows the growth of places to play over the last several years. Data only includes pickleball courts that are registered with the association.
Growth of Places to Play Pickleball
Choosing the Right Sports Surface for Pickleball Courts
If you think pickleball courts would make a nice addition to a park in your community, or if you’re planning a new outdoor recreation area, make sure you’re choosing the right surface and location.
In some cases, the Parks and Rec department chooses to use existing tennis courts and adds pickleball lines. Four pickleball courts can fit nicely into the area used for one tennis court.
However, it’s important to note that there can be tension between the tennis and pickleball communities. Some tennis players feel pickleball infringes on their space. For that reason, you may want to plan for separate pickleball areas.
Action Floors offers Action Herculan® TC, which provides an eco-friendly cushioned court that has excellent shock absorption and can minimize the risk of injury. That’s an important benefit for older athletes. Action Herculan® TC can be used as an indoor or outdoor pickleball sports surface.
If you’re considering pickle ball courts in an indoor facility and prefer the look of hardwood maple flooring, pickleball can also be played on our sports floor systems for squash and racquetball.
Have questions about pickleball courts? Need help finding a qualified sports flooring dealer in your area? Contact Action Floors today or give us a call at 800-746-3512.