Learn to Play Pickleball

Pick up the all-ages, easy-to-learn sport this summer

My friend Erika invited me out to play pickleball with her and her family last summer, but when she first described the sport to me, I really couldn’t paint a good picture of it. “So it’s part ping-pong, part badminton, part tennis?” She nodded, but then just as quickly said, “Well kind of. It has some additional rules to those games — you kind of just have to try it. It is a lot of fun. It’s pretty addictive.” This from the woman who liked to drag me running up hills on frosty mornings to train for road races. I’m not certain our idea of fun quite lined up. However, on a bright summer morning, I joined Erika, her husband, their kids and her in-laws for a rousing match of pickleball.

First off, if you are reasonably good at either ping-pong or tennis, that may or may not help you here. All bets are off. The paddles you use in pickleball are different from those you would use for tennis or ping-pong, but more similar to a ping-pong paddle. You have to get used to how the ball hits the paddle and adjust your swing accordingly. There’s a point system to learn, the rotation. And something about being “in the kitchen,” which is not a good thing. And she was right. It is tons of fun for any age, fast-paced and just as enjoyable to watch as it is to play.

A Brief History

While this may the first time you’ve heard of it, pickleball has been around for a while. According to the USAPA (USA Pickleball Association), the sport was invented in 1965 by Joel Pritchard, a congressman from Washington State who was relaxing one weekend with friends at his home on Bainbridge Island and needed to find something to keep everyone occupied.

He and his friend Bill Bell looked around the property for some badminton rackets but they didn’t have enough for a game, so they improvised with ping-pong paddles and “a perforated plastic ball” that “bounced well on the asphalt surface.” Then they brought the badminton net down to 36 inches from its regular 60, rules were written out (with people of all ages in mind) and the game of pickleball was more or less born. The first permanent pickleball court was installed in 1967 in Pritchard’s neighbor’s back yard and the first known pickleball tournament was held in Washington in 1976. Joan Pritchard, Joel’s wife, is credited with the game’s name when she said, “It reminded me of the Pickle Boat in crew, where oarsmen were chosen from the leftovers of other boats.”

Expert Advice/Basic Rules of the Game

While a pickleball court is the best place to play, you could get creative and make your own temporary court in a driveway or other level surface. But wherever you play, you’ll want to follow some basic rules. Erika Villemure of Manchester says, “Pickleball can be played as doubles or singles, but doubles seems to be more common.” The game is played on a court a little smaller than a tennis court. With doubles, the ball is served underhand (from below the waist) diagonally to his/her opponent. A player serves until he/she loses the point, and then it goes to his/her partner. Once that player loses a point, then the other team begins serving. Points can only be scored on the serving team. The game goes until 11, winning by two.

By the way, “in the kitchen” describes an area that extends seven feet out from the net on either side. It’s called a “no-volley” zone — which explains why it’s not a good thing. The best way to know why pickleball is a good thing is to play it.

Now go have fun. 

Categories: Outsider, Summer Sports