Variety is what gives it that extra something when it comes to sports. So if you like badminton, Frescobol or tennis, but are looking for a slightly different, but still similar ball sport, we have something for you: pickleball. Although the sport is still not very well known in Europe, millions of people worldwide already play pickleball. If you want to learn more about the sport with the unusual name - which has nothing to do with pickles or pickled veggies - just read on.
What is pickleball?
Pickleball is a fairly young serve/return play that originally comes from the United States. Put simply and somewhat vaguely, it is a mixture of badminton, frescobol and tennis. The playing field is as large as the double court in badminton. The net is about the same height as in tennis and the rackets look similar to those used in frescobol. Pickleball can be played both singles and doubles, but the size of the playing surface - unlike many other ball-rebound games - remains identical. Because the ball is allowed to bounce once, as in tennis, both indoor floors and hard pitches or asphalt courts are equally suitable as playing fields. By the way, for a few years now there has also been a variant for ball sports enthusiasts with physical disabilities, the para pickleball.
The invention of pickleball
The roots of pickleball go back to 1965. Actually, the US American Joel Pritchard wanted to play some badminton with his friends Bill Bell and Barney McCallum and some family members. However, no one could find a shuttlecock. So they improvised and chose a perforated plastic ball that was just at hand as a playing instrument. However, this proved to be relatively unsuitable for the badminton rackets. So the friends went to the nearby shed and made rackets out of plywood. They also hung the net a little lower. The improvised game was great fun for everyone and was soon named pickleball. Joel Pritchard's wife Joan was indirectly responsible for the name. She explained: "It reminded me of the Pickle Boat in crew where oarsmen were chosen from the leftovers of other boats.”
The history of pickleball
In the early years, pickleball was simply a lot of fun. A society for the protection of the sport was therefore only founded in 1972. It took another twelve years before the USA Pickleball Association (USAPA) was founded. But then pickleball spread rapidly in North America and became one of the fastest growing sports in the United States. By 1990, it was played in all 50 states of the USA. In 2009, the first major tournament started, with around 400 players from 26 US states and Canada taking part. In Europe, the first association was only founded in 2013 in Germany. Five years later, fans of the sport founded the German Pickleball Association. Finally, in 2019, more than 350 players from almost 30 countries competed in the first German Open in Essen. However, the sport is still most popular in North America. Here alone, there are said to be around 3.5 million players. Worldwide, there are probably as many as eight to ten million active players.
The net and the field
As in tennis, the net in pickleball is slightly lower in the middle. While it measures only 34 inches there, the net height at the sides is 36 inches. Thanks to the increasing popularity, several manufacturers now offer special nets or portable net constructions. These can often be set up and taken down in a few minutes. Alternatively, badminton nets can be used, but they should then be hung lower according to the specifications.
Initially, the play equipment used for pickleball was a stopgap solution. However, that has changed in the meantime. Today, all the equipment is professionally crafted. For several decades, there have not only been special balls but also variants for outdoor and indoor courts. What all types of balls have in common, however, is that they are made of plastic, have several holes and are visually resembling the play equipment used for wiffle ball. They are manufactured using a rotary injection moulding process, whereby the holes are only created by boring them after the plastic has cooled down sufficiently. The purpose of these perforations is to ensure an even and stable trajectory during every rally.
The rackets used for pickleball (the so-called paddles) have also changed a lot since the invention of the sport. To some extent, wood is still used as a material. However, high-quality paddles are now also made of lighter functional materials and have specially coated surfaces. The spectrum here ranges from graphite, which is very light and ideal for strokes with a lot of spin, to aluminium and glass fibre to various composite materials, which are primarily intended to provide more power during the stroke. In addition, many modern paddles have a special honeycomb core inside. However, beginners and recreational players can also have fun with simple wooden paddles without any problems. A paddle is about 40 cm long and 20 cm wide, similar to a frescobol racket. The shape of the hitting surface is shaped like a rectangle with rounded corners, unlike the more oval shapes of tennis, frescobol or badminton rackets.
The most important rules
Since pickleball has only a relatively sparse set of rules, the game is very beginner-friendly, especially since most of the rules should be quite familiar to fans of badminton and the like. Points can only be scored by the server or respectively the serving team. The serve always goes over the net into the diagonally opposite zone at the back. As in badminton, the serve is always hit below the hip. The receiving player must let the serve touch the ground once and can then place the ball anywhere in the opponent's court. The following ball may also not be played as a volley. After that, such restrictions are removed from the ball game so that players can either bounce the ball once or take it as a volley directly from the air. To win a set, usually eleven - rarely fifteen or 21 - points and a lead of at least two points are required. As a rule, it is necessary to win two sets to win a match. A special feature of pickleball is the 2.12-metre (seven-foot) wide non-volley zones located on both sides of the net. Players are allowed to enter these zones but may only play the ball after it has touched the ground.
What is special about pickleball
Pickleball is a sport that is perfect for playing with friends and the whole family because it is suitable for almost all age groups. Although the game is dynamic, it is not quite as physically demanding due to the smaller playing field compared to tennis. In addition, the pace of play is generally somewhat slower. This means that there are hardly any quick points but rather long and thrilling rallies. Because of the non-volley zones and the underarm serve, rallies are less likely to end abruptly as in tennis, for example. In addition, pickleball can be played well with each other instead of against each other. The aim is to keep the ball in play for as long as possible.
Do you feel like playing pickleball? Just give the sport a try! For testing the sport or for a little game in between, you can simply improvise the equipment - after all, that's what the inventors of this sport did. If the fun is great, it is recommended to buy some special equipment.