Mention Pickleball and you may very well be met by a blank stare from many in the United States (and for that matter by people across the globe), however, Pickleball is today one of the fastest-growing sports in the U.S. But how did it reach its current status - and just how is it played?
Let's first get the basics out of the way, the game itself. Pickleball is perhaps best described as a game that combines the skills of racquetball, tennis and ping-pong (the rules also take some of their cues from badminton). It's fast paces and is played on courts that are smaller than the standard tennis court (about the size of a badminton court) - and the net is lower. The rules to the game are unique - but for those who are keen to start their Pickleball journey it is comforting to know that those rules are easy to learn, you can be up to speed in next to no time. It's most often played as doubles - but a pickup game between two players is common. It's played using a 'Wiffle' ball and paddles that are larger than the standard ping-pong paddle but smaller than tennis racquets. Beginners usually start with a wood composite paddle - but can quickly move on to paddles made with hi-tech materials such as aluminum and composites.
How did this increasingly popular (player numbers have grown around 650% in the last six years) sport get started?
The history of Pickleball started way back in 1965 when Congressmen Joel Pritchard and his friends William Bell and Barney McCallum returned from a day of golf nearby Bainbridge Island. On returning home they found that the kids were bored and in search of a new distraction. They gathered some table tennis paddles and a Wiffle ball, lowered the net of their badminton court and Pickleball was born. The game attracted the attention of neighbors who wanted in on the fun - and soon homemade paddles made from Marine Ply had found their way onto the courts with their chalk outlines.
How did the game get its unique name? Accounts differ, but Barney McCallum (who was there for the first games) says that it was named after 'Pickles' - the Pritchard family
dog who had a habit of running off with the ball during those early days of the sport.
The popularity and simplicity of the sport, as well as the fact that it was a pastime suited for all ages and fitness levels, saw it grow extremely rapidly, and in 1972 'Pickle-ball Inc.' was formed to give the sport some structure and allow people easier access to equipment designed especially for the game.
Today Pickleball has found a home in PE classes, RV communities, public parks, campgrounds, retirement communities, and backyards across the U.S. and further afield. In America, there are currently 4,000 locations where those who enjoy the game can play on established courts (according to the U.S.A. Pickleball Association). It has been estimated that there are around two million players from all walks of life involved in Pickleball across the globe.
The game was for decades viewed as a pastime for the over 60 crowd - but in fact, the stellar growth of Pickleball has not been driven by this age group. The game really took off in the Sunbelt States around 2009 in retirement communities, but today most of the players are middle-aged - and there are an increasing number of much younger players that have been attracted to the fast-paced nature of the game. The small size of the court makes it suitable for those of all ages - and it can be either a sedate affair - or one requiring split-second timing and reactions. The attraction is also that games are usually completed in around 15 minutes - it's the perfect way to get some exercise in short bursts - and without overtaxing yourself.
Another attraction is that it's relatively cheap to get involved, basic wooden paddles and best pickleball ball
can be purchased online or at sporting goods stores for around $30. Pick up a box of chalk (for court markings) and find a suitable surface and you can be enjoying the sport almost immediately.
If you are in search of a pastime that is social, enjoyable and allows you to stay active then Pickleball would be a great choice. The stellar growth of the sport across the globe is a testament to just how much fun it can be.