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A Brief History of the Country’s Largest ‘Up and Coming’ Sport

The Impact

As of the last few years, pickleball has taken over the country as the simple nature of the game has attracted young and old players alike. The Association of Pickleball Professionals (APP) revealed through research that 48.3 million Americans have played pickleball at least once in the last 12 months. The number of people that play pickleball has doubled in the  past seven years, from 2014 to 2021.


According to Pickleheads.com, the game has had a growth rate of 158.6 percent over the last three years. The appeal lies in how accessible the game is becoming. It can be played on designated pickleball courts or on modified tennis courts with just a wiffle ball and a few paddles. In fact, a new study revealed that in a list of sports popularity, pickleball only falls behind running and biking. As if coming out of nowhere, online searches for pickleball have increased by 467 percent over the past four years.


The question on a lot of our minds is, “Where did pickleball even come from?”


The History

The game was founded by three Washington natives in the summer of 1965. Joel Pritchard, William Bell, and Barney McCallum returned home after a day of golfing. They wanted to play badminton but found that they didn’t have a shuttlecock. The game of pickleball was born when they laid down their rackets, picked up ping pong paddles and a wiffle ball. 


They lowered the net to make it easier to get the ball over and marked the court with some chalk. They lowered the original badminton net from a height of 60 inches to 36 inches. In the following weeks, the men created rules loosely based off those of badminton. They created the rules with the intent of creating a game that their family could enjoy over the summer


The story goes that they named the game, “Pickleball” after the Pritchard family dog, Pickles, who often would interfere with the game. 


The game gained popularity in their neighborhood, Bainbridge Island, and community members would go to Pritchard's house to play it in his backyard.


In 1967, Pritchard’s friend, Bob O’Brian, built the first ever permanent court in his backyard. From there, the newest racquet sport slowly grew to other households, neighborhoods, states and eventually the whole country knew about this new game.


By 1976, the first known tournament was held in Tukwila, Washington.


In 1984, The United States Pickleball Association (USAPA) was formed to establish standardized rules and promote the sport. 


By 1990, pickleball was being played in all 50 states and by 2009, the first USAPA National Tournament was held, which drew nearly 400 players. 


Today, pickleball is not only a family sport to play on the weekends but has grown in many other capacities. It is now played in schools, community centers, retirement communities, and sports clubs across the United States and in many countries worldwide. This March, the USA Pickleball and the Professional Pickleball Association announced that the 2023 USA Pickleball National Championships will be held in Dallas this November.


While pickleball's origins are in the United States, the sport has gained international popularity. It is played in numerous countries around the world and international competitions have been organized around the sport, including the World Pickleball Championships. The International Federation of Pickleball (IFP) works to promote and govern the sport globally.


The Game

The set up of the game is easy. Each player has one paddle, usually made of wood, composite materials or graphite. The ball used is similar to a whiffle ball but a bit smaller in size, with larger holes.


The court itself is smaller than a tennis court with modifications but it can be played on a tennis court nonetheless. The dimensions of the court are 20 feet wide and 44 feet long. The ‘kitchen’ is the area of the court between the net and the playing areas in which players cannot volley the ball in. In other words, players cannot step within 7 feet of the net to hit the ball unless the ball fell into the zone beforehand. 


The game can be played in singles or doubles, though doubles tends to exert less energy as you have less space to move around in. The rules are the same for both singles and doubles.


The game begins with an underhand serve from one corner of the court and it must land in the opposite corner of the court. From this point on, the entire court can be played on. According to the official rules, only one serve attempt is allowed per player, however, some players want a more casual game and allow the server a redo several times. The starting server can simply be determined by a coin toss.


The ball must first bounce into the opposing team's corner before being returned. Similarly, once it is returned, the team that initially served the ball must let it bounce as well. After this, the game can be played as normal and letting the ball bounce is not required. 


To score a point, you must be on the side serving at the time the other team fails to return the ball. If the opposing team begins the volley with the serve and ultimately fumbles the ball, no point is won on either side.


If the ball touches any part of the line, with the exception of the kitchen line, it is considered “in” and playable. A serve that touches the kitchen line is a fault and the server loses their serve but no point is assigned. The order of serving moves clockwise around the court. 


Most games are played to 11 points where the winning team must win by two.


The Appeal

The game itself, especially in higher levels, takes immense agility and hand-eye coordination. Advanced players are even able to accomplish specialty hits. However, the true intent of the game for Joel Pritchard, William Bell and Barney McCallum was for the sake of family fun, and an opportunity to get some exercise in friendly competition. Whether you're a beginner or a seasoned player, pickleball offers a fun and engaging experience that can be enjoyed at various levels of play

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