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Pickleball is a paddleball sport that combines elements of badminton, tennis, and table tennis. The game is played on a court that is approximately one-third the size of a tennis court, with a net that is lower than a tennis net. Players use a solid paddle made of wood or composite materials to hit a perforated plastic ball, similar to a Wiffle ball, back and forth over the net. The game can be played in singles or doubles, and the first player or team to score 11 points, and lead by at least two points, wins the game.
The origins of pickleball can be traced back to the summer of 1965 when Joel Pritchard, a congressman from Washington state, returned home from a game of golf with his friends, Bill Bell and Barney McCallum, only to find that his family was bored and looking for something to do. Pritchard had an old badminton court on his property, but they couldn’t find a shuttlecock, so they improvised and used a Wiffle ball instead. They lowered the net and created paddles by cutting the handles off some old ping pong paddles and gluing them onto plywood, and Pickleball was born.
According to Pritchard’s wife, the game was initially named “pickleball” because it reminded her of the “pickle boat” in crew racing, where oarsmen are chosen from the leftovers of other boats. However, there is another story that the game was actually named after the Pritchards’ dog, Pickles, who used to chase the ball and hide it in the bushes. Despite the uncertainty surrounding its name, the game quickly caught on among the Pritchards’ friends and neighbors.
By 1967, the first official pickleball court was built on Bainbridge Island, where the Pritchards lived, and by the 1970s, the game had spread to other parts of the United States. Pickleball enthusiasts began to organize tournaments, and the first national championship was held in 1984. In the 1990s, the game began to attract a more diverse group of players, including seniors and those with physical limitations, who appreciated the slower pace and lower impact of the game compared to tennis.
As the sport grew in popularity, changes were made to the equipment and rules to make the game more competitive and appealing to a wider audience. Paddles made from wood were replaced by composite materials like graphite and aluminum, which are lighter and more durable. The size of the court and net were standardized, and rules were developed to govern the service, scoring, and gameplay.
Today, pickleball is one of the fastest-growing sports in the United States, with an estimated 3.5 million players and more than 8,000 places to play across the country. It has also gained a following in other parts of the world, with pickleball clubs and tournaments popping up in Canada, Mexico, Europe, and Asia. In 2016, the International Federation of Pickleball was established to promote and govern the sport on a global level.
One of the reasons for pickleball’s popularity is its accessibility. The game is relatively easy to learn, and the slower pace and smaller court make it less intimidating for beginners, especially seniors and those with physical limitations. Pickleball also fosters a sense of community and social interaction, as players often play in groups and frequently rotate partners, allowing players to meet new people and make friends.
In recent years, the sport has also gained recognition from major organizations and institutions. In 2019, the Pan American Games in Lima, Peru, included pickleball as a demonstration sport, and the USA Pickleball Association has been working to get the sport recognized as an Olympic event.