Grab a racquet and get in on the fastest- growing sport in the U.S. No previous athletic experience required
It’s fun. It’s addictive. And practically anyone can play it. These are just a few reasons why pickleball has become the fastest-growing sport in the nation.
Pickleball originated in the 1960s, when a group of neighbors on Bainbridge Island, Washington State, including former Congressman Joel Pritchard, were looking for a fun family activity that everyone could play together. Using only what they had available – a badminton court, a ping-pong paddle and whiffle ball – they made up the rules as they went along. Soon, the adults were dominating the court, and rumor has it that they named the game after one of the participant’s dogs, Pickle, who was chasing the balls across the court.
While pickleball has been around for more than 60 years, it really took off during the pandemic, says Sharon Voelzke, who along with her husband and another couple, opened the Mercer Bucks Pickleball Club in New Jersey in February.
Voelzke had just retired from her job as the president of a consultancy before the pandemic hit, and she and her neighbors suddenly found themselves with no way to socialize or get exercise.
“One day, we striped a court in our cul-de-sac and started playing pickleball,” she says.
The game caught on quickly in the neighborhood. “People were going stir crazy inside, and this was something they could do safely outdoors without a lot of expensive equipment or training.”
Voelzke, who says she’s never been an athlete, found herself “beating people of all athletic abilities and body types” after playing the game for just a few months. “It’s really about strategy, which makes it fun for anyone,” she says.
And although it’s not difficult to play, pickleball is a great workout: It allows you to work on your balance, agility, reflexes, and hand-eye coordination without putting excessive strain on your body.
Voelzke and her business partners launched the club earlier this year, and it’s already grown to 950 members, hosting both cutthroat competitions and just-for-fun social events. Meanwhile, indoor and outdoor courts and clubs are quickly springing up throughout the country. So, how to get in on the craze? Here’s a pickleball primer to get started:
How to Play
First, find a pickleball court in your area and at least one person to play with. The sport can be played indoors or outdoors on a badminton-sized court (20 feet by 44 feet), with paddles and plastic balls that have holes (adapted from ping-pong).
A single game lasts about 15 to 25 minutes, and you can play singles, doubles or mixed doubles. Only the serving side scores points, and the first side to score 11 points and lead by at least two points wins. Servers swing their paddles underhanded, below waist level, to land balls diagonally across the court.
The receiver must allow the served ball to bounce once before it’s returned, and the server must let the first return bounce once, before the ball can be volleyed or played off the bounce. Players can incur a fault by hitting the ball out of bounds, not clearing the net, volleying from the non-volley zone, or volleying before a bounce has occurred on each side. When a fault occurs, the pickleball becomes dead and the rally immediately ends.
When the game concludes, players congratulate one another by tapping their paddles together. This is an important gesture, as the pickleball culture is about fun and friendship.
Pickleball paddles vary in design, quality, weight, grip and price. It’s usually recommended that beginners select a mid-weight paddle. One option to try: Baddle Pickleball Advance Paddle ($100, baddle.com), which features a graphite plate surface and polymer honeycomb core to provide a balance of power and control.
Choose a ball suitable for where you’ll be playing. Indoor balls are softer, easier to control and have larger holes than outdoor balls. Outdoor pickleballs are heavier and have 40 holes drilled into each ball to help handle the wind.
While you can choose from a variety of ball colors, orange is the most popular, while yellow and white are growing in popularity.
What to wear? You can play in virtually any comfortable clothing that allows for movement. Just make sure you’re wearing a comfortable pair of tennis shoes that allow for quick stops and starts.
Players who want to show their enthusiasm for the game (and exhibit their fashion sense) might opt to purchase pickleball-themed athleticwear from the just-launched brand, Varsity Pickle. They offer unisex tops, sweatshirts and hats that proudly sport “Varsity Pickle” across the front. The label is also starting to make soft, short-sleeved T-shirts customized with your city’s name. The collection is the perfect way to rep your love of the game. varsitypickle.com