November 1, 2015

What is Pickleball??

Pickleball Pros.jpg
Highest governing bodyInternational Federation of Pickleball[1]
First played1965, Bainbridge Island, Washington, USA
Team membersSingles or doubles
Mixed-sexYes, separate singles and doubles & mixed doubles
TypeOutdoor or indoor, racket sport
EquipmentPlastic pickleball, composite or wooden paddle, and net
VenueOutdoor or indoor, pickleball court
GlossaryGlossary of pickleball terms
Country or regionWorldwide
World GamesNo

Pickleball is a racket/paddle sport that was created by combining elements of several other racket sports.[2] Two or four players use solid paddles to hit a perforated hollow polymer ball over a net. The ball is much like a Wiffle ball,[3] with 26–40 round holes. A pickleball court is similar to badminton, with a net similar to tennis, and the paddles are similar to those in table tennis. Pickleball was invented in 1965 as a children's backyard game, on Bainbridge Island, Washington, USA.[4] In 2022 pickleball was adopted as the official state sport of Washington.

In 2021 and 2022 the sport was named the fastest growing sport in the United States by the Sports and Fitness Industry Association, with over 4.8 million players. The spread and growth of the sport is attributed to a number of factors including a short learning curve, appeal to a wide range of ages and fitness levels and low startup costs. There are now thousands of pickleball tournaments throughout the United States, including the US National Championships and the US Open Tournament, along with two professional tours and one professional league. Pickleball is also seeing a growth outside the United States with a number of other national and international competitions.


The game was created in 1965 on Bainbridge Island, Washington, at the summer home of Joel Pritchard, who later served in the United States Congress and as Washington's lieutenant governor.[5] Pritchard and two of his friends, Barney McCallum and Bill Bell, are credited with devising the game, and establishing the rules.

According to Joan Pritchard, Joel Pritchard's wife, “The name of the game became Pickle Ball after I said it reminded me of the Pickle Boat in crew where oarsmen were chosen from the leftovers of other boats.”[6] Other sources state that the name "pickleball" was derived from the name of the Pritchard's family dog, Pickles.[7] The Pritchards stated that the dog came along after the game had already been named, and it was the dog that was named for the game of pickleball. They said the confusion arose when a reporter, interviewing the Pritchards in the early 1970s, decided it would be easier for readers to relate to the dog rather than a pickle boat. USA Pickleball claims research on their part confirms that the dog Pickles was born after the game had already been named.[8]

Jennifer Lucore and Beverly Youngren, authors of the book, History of Pickleball; More than 50 Years of Fun!, were not able to conclusively determine whether the game was named for the dog, or the dog was named for the game.[9] They did however discover a third possibility. Bill Bell had claimed he named the game because he enjoyed hitting the ball in a way that would put his opponent in a pickle.[10]

Shortly after the game was invented, some of the founders and their friends brought pickleball to Hawaii where the game became known as pukaball. Puka, meaning hole in Hawaiian, initially was used to refer to the ball since pickleballs are covered in holes, but eventually became synonymous with the game itself.[11]


Aerial view of six pickleball courts with two tennis courts in the background

Invention of the game

When Pritchard and Bell returned from golf one Saturday afternoon in 1965 they found their families bored.[12] They had attempted to set up badminton, but no one could find the shuttlecock. Pritchard and Bell challenged their kids to devise their own game. Both the adults and kids ended up at the badminton court and they began experimenting with different types of balls and rackets including table tennis paddles. The 5 foot (1.5 metres) badminton net was eventually lowered to hip level to accommodate driving the ball.[13]

Initially a Wiffle ball was thought to be the ideal ball, but later the Cosom Fun Ball was found to be more durable and provided a better playing experience.[14] The table tennis paddles were quickly replaced with larger and more durable plywood paddles fabricated in a nearby shed.[6][15][7] McCallum continued to experiment with various paddle designs in his father's Seattle basement workshop.[16] One paddle, he called the “M2”, or McCallum 2, became the paddle of choice for most early players of the game.[4]

Pickle Ball, Inc.

Soon after its creation, pickleball became popular with local neighbors and relatives of the inventors. In 1968 Pritchard, along with McCallum's son David and two other friends, formed Pickle Ball, Inc.[17] The company filed its first annual report in 1972,[18] around the same time they trademarked the name Pickle-ball.[19] The company manufactured wooden paddles and pickleball kits to satisfy demand for the sport.[15] Interest in pickleball continued to grow, and spread from the Pacific Northwest into warmer areas as "snowbirds" brought the sport south to Arizona, California, Hawaii and Florida. In 2016 Pickle Ball, Inc. was purchased by,[20] which operates under the corporate name Olla, LLC.


A 1976 tournament held at the Southcenter Athletic Club in Tukwila, Washington is credited with being the first formal pickleball tournament. It was billed as "The World's First Pickleball Championship" by Joel Pritchard and received a mention in the July 1976 edition of Tennis magazine.[21] The United States Amateur Pickleball Association (U.S.A.P.A.) was formed in 1984, which is when they published the first official rulebook for the sport and held the first National Doubles Championships in Tacoma, Washington. By 1990 the sport was being played in all 50 states.[22] In 2001 pickleball was included as a demonstration sport in the Arizona Senior Olympics (ASO) with 100 participants. The pickleball tournament was held at the Happy Trails RV Resort in Surprise, Arizona and within 5 years included 275 participants. Inclusion of pickleball in the ASO was seen as a major contributor to the growth of tournaments in the United States.[23]

The U.S. Pickleball National Championships are held near Palm Springs, California co-hosted by Larry Ellison, co-founder and CEO of Oracle and owner of the Indian Wells Tennis Garden, where they have been played since 2018.[24] They had been previously played in Arizona, from 2009 to 2017. The tournament has the oversight of the U.S.A Pickleball Association, itself reincorporated with an updated rule book in 2005 after its foundation in 1984.[25][26] The U.S. Open Pickleball Championships are played in another hub of pickleball, Naples, Florida, and started in 2016.[27] Estimates for active players have grown to 3.3 million in 2019 up 10% from 2016.[28] As of 2021, there were 58 member countries overseen by the International Federation of Pickleball.[29] Currently there are over 8000 pickleball locations in the United States[30]

Pickleball was named the official state sport of Washington in 2022 by the state legislature. The legislation was signed by Governor Jay Inslee on the original Pritchard family court where the sport was invented.[31]

Growth of the sport

Since its inception the number of people playing pickleball has grown each year and after 2010 started being mentioned as one of the fastest growing sports in the United States. Starting in 2019 the COVID-19 pandemic is thought to have given an extra boost to the growth of the sport as people sought alternatives to indoor activities.[32] In 2021 and 2022 the Sports and Fitness Industry Association (SFIA) officially reported that pickleball had become the fastest growing sport in the United States two years in a row.[33] Over those years the number of players increased almost 40% to 4.8 million players. Some estimates predict there could be as many as 40 million players by the end of the decade.[34]

The growth of pickleball has been attributed to a number of factors, including;[35]

  • A new player can start enjoying the sport at the first introduction
  • People of varying ages and physical abilities can enjoy the game together
  • The sport is relatively inexpensive to start playing, if a public court is available
  • A strong social aspect has developed within the sport
  • Experience in other racket sports can easily transfer to pickleball
  • Competitive players find the strategic aspects of the sport an exciting challenge

In addition, installing new outdoor courts is relatively inexpensive when compared to other racket sports. A single tennis court requires over 3 times as much space and construction material as a pickleball court, and unused tennis courts can easily be converted to multiple pickleball courts, or courts can be marked for dual use. These cost factors are particularly attractive to local Parks and Recreation departments.

Court and equipment

Dimensions of a pickleball court
A pickleball paddle with one 26–hole pickleball (blue) and one 40–hole pickleball (yellow)


The regulation size of the court is 20 feet (6.1 m) by 44 feet (13 m) for both doubles and singles,[36] the same size as a doubles badminton court. The front service line in pickleball is seven feet from the net, six inches further than the badminton front service line. In pickleball, the front service line is called the non-volley line, or “kitchen line”, and the back service line is called the baseline. The area bounded by the non-volley line, the sidelines, and the net, inclusive of the lines, is known as the non-volley zone, or “kitchen”. The centerline runs from the non-volley line to the baseline, bisecting the rest of the court into the right and left service courts.[37] Each service court includes the lines enclosing that service court, except the non-volley line, which is part of the non-volley zone.


The net is 36 inches (0.91 m) high on the ends and 34 inches (0.86 m) high at center. The net posts should be 22 feet (6.7 m) from the inside of one post to the inside of the other post.[38]


The original ball used when the game was invented was a wiffle ball. USA Pickleball (USAP) and the International Federation of Pickleball (IFP) have since adopted specific ball standards unique to pickleball. Balls must be made of a durable molded material with a smooth surface, and must have between 26 to 40 evenly spaced circular holes. They must weigh between .78 and .935 ounces (22.1 and 26.5 g) and measure between 2.87 and 2.97 inches (73 and 75 mm) in diameter. Tournaments sanctioned by the USAP and IFP must choose from a list of preapproved balls found on the USAP and IFP websites.[39]

Balls with smaller holes are generally used for outdoor play to minimize the effects of wind, but any sanctioned ball can be used for either indoor or outdoor play.[26]


For sanctioned games USAP and IFP paddle size standards say the combined length and width of the paddle shall not exceed 24 inches (0.61 m), and the length cannot exceed 17 inches (0.43 m). There are no requirements regarding thickness or weight. The paddle must be made of a noncompressible material and the surface of the paddle must be smooth with no texturing. Paddles used in sanctioned tournaments must be on the list of preapproved paddles found on the USAP and IFP websites.[40]

Order of play

Service in
Service out

Any equitable method for determining which team or player will serve first, and which side of the net each team or player will be on, is acceptable.

Announcing the score and serving

The score is announced before each serve by the official overseeing the match. If a match is not officiated, the server announces the score.

Doubles: In doubles the score has three parts; the serving team’s score, the receiving team’s score, and the server number, a “1” or “2” that indicates whether the server is the serving team′s first or second server. The first server of the game is always considered the serving team's second server and may call the server number as “start” or “2”. The starting score in doubles is either announced as, “zero zero start”, or “zero zero two”.

Singles: In singles the score only has two parts; the serving player′s score, and the receiving player′s score. The starting score in singles is always announced as, “zero zero”.

The first starting server of the game initiates the first serve of the game from their team's right service court, also called the even service court. Serves are always served to the diagonal crosscourt of their opponent. The diagonal crosscourt of one team's right service court, is also the other team's right service court. The converse is true for the left, or odd, service court.

Two-bounce rule

A serve must land in the diagonal service court on the opponent's side of the net (see "service in" diagram). The serve receiver must allow the ball to bounce once before returning the ball to the server′s side of the net. Once the receiver has returned the ball over the net, the serving side must also allow the ball to bounce once before returning the ball back to the non-serving side. This is known as the two-bounce rule.[41]

After the first two returns either side may volley the ball; return the ball before it bounces. The ball can never bounce more than once before it is returned. No player is allowed to volley the ball while standing in the non-volley zone, or while touching any of the lines around the non-volley zone.

Remainder of play

A server continues to serve, alternating between the right and left service courts, until their team commits a fault.

Doubles: At the beginning of a doubles game the side serving first is only allowed one fault before their side is “out”, called a side–out, and the serve passes to their opponent. After the first side–out of the game each team is allowed two faults before a side-out is called, giving each of the players on a doubles team the opportunity to serve before the serve passes to the other team. The second server on a team must continue alternating between the right and left service courts from wherever their partner left off. For example, if their partner's last serve was from the right service court, then the second server must start serving on the left service court. The first serve after a side–out, is always initiated from the right serving area.

Singles: In singles, a side-out is called each time the serving side commits a fault. If the score of the serving player is zero or even, they must serve from the right, or even, service court, otherwise they must serve from the left, or odd, service court. Depending on the current score, the first serve after a side-out can be from either the right or left service court.

The first side scoring 11 points, leading by at least two points, wins the game.[42] Tournament games may be played to 11, 15 or 21 points with players rotating sides at 6, 8 or 11 total points respectively.

Manner of play

The score

Pickleball utilizes side-out scoring meaning only the serving side may score a point. The serving team earns one point each time the non-serving team commits a fault. Neither team earns a point when the serving team commits a fault. Since the score is always called as the serving side's score followed by the receiving side's score, the two scores are reversed whenever a side-out occurs. For example; if a doubles team faults when the score is “five three two” (two indicating second server), the other team becomes the new serving team and the score is stated as “three five one”.

The serve

When serving, the server must be behind the baseline on one side of the center line and serve the ball to the opponent's diagonal service court. Two types of serves are permitted, a volley serve or a drop serve.

  • Volley serve: When a ball is struck by the server's paddle without the ball contacting the ground, it must be served with an underarm stroke so that contact with the ball is made below waist in an upward arc, and the highest point on the paddle head must be below the wrist. Waist level is defined as the navel level.
  • Drop serve: When a ball is dropped to the ground and allowed to bounce before it is struck by the server's paddle no other requirements apply, except the ball cannot be tossed or impelled by the server in any way.

Player positioning

Other than the server, there are no rules dictating where each player must stand when the serve is initiated, but serve receivers usually start behind the baseline until they know where the serve is going to bounce. The receiver's partner usually starts near the kitchen line. The server's partner usually stays behind the baseline with the server until they know where the first service return is going to bounce.

When serving, and when returning a serve, it is critical that each player remember their game starting position. The wrong player serving, serving from the wrong side of the court, or the wrong player returning a serve, are all faults.

Doubles: A team's score should always be an even number when their starting server is serving from the right service court, and an odd number when serving from the left service court. The reverse is true for a team's non-starting server.

Singles: In singles a server's score will always be even (0, 2, 4, 6, 8, 10...) when serving from the right service court, and odd (1, 3, 5, 7, 9...) when serving from the left service court.[38]: A-15 

The non-volley zone

No player may volley a ball while standing in the non-volley zone, or while touching any of the lines around the non-volley zone. A player may enter the non-volley zone to play a ball that has bounced and may stay there to play other balls that bounce,[38]: A-22  but the player must re-establish both feet outside the non-volley zone before playing a volley. The non-volley zone is the highlighted area and numbered lines shown in the "Service out" diagram.

The rally and fault

After the serve a rally continues until one side commits a fault resulting in a dead ball.[43] In non-refereed matches, players are responsible for making line calls on their side of the net. If there is any doubt whether the ball is out or in, the call should be made in favor of the opponent.[44]

Faults include:

  • the wrong server serves the ball, or serves from the wrong side of the court
  • either of the server's feet step over or touch the baseline, or are outside the imaginary extensions of the centerline or sideline
  • not hitting the serve into the opponent's diagonal service court
  • the wrong receiver returns the ball
  • volleying the ball when returning a serve
  • volleying the ball when returning the first service return
  • not hitting the ball beyond the net
  • not hitting the ball before it bounces twice on one side of the net
  • hitting the ball lands out of bounds (outside the court lines)
  • stepping into the non-volley zone, or touching the non-volley line, in the act of volleying the ball
  • touching the net with any part of the body, clothing, paddle, or assistance device

Professional pickleball

The popularity of pickleball has spurred the growth of investors and sponsors. As a result, two pro pickleball tours were independently formed in 2019, and a professional pickleball league was formed in 2021.[45]

Association of Pickleball Professionals: The APP was formed by Ken Herrmann who aligned his tour with USA Pickleball (USAP), the governing body of pickleball in the United States. All games are sanctioned by USAP, and must abide by USAP rules.[45] The 2022 APP Tour includes 32 tournaments in five countries and has attracted an average of 800 players in each tournament. Total prize money is expected to be $2 million.[46]

Professional Pickleball Association: The PPA was formed by Connor Pardoe and based in Draper, Utah. Desiring independence to shape the tour to his liking, Pardoe did not align with USAP. Initially the PPA required all players to sign a one–year exclusivity contract, preventing PPA players from participating in any non-PPA tours. In late 2021 Thomas Dundon purchased the PPA and extended the exclusivity contracts to 3 years. Pardoe remained CEO of the PPA Tour.[45] The 2022 PPA Tour is expected to include 20 tournaments with total prize money of $2.5 million.[47]

Major League Pickleball: The MLP organization was formed in 2021 by Steve Kuhn in Dripping Springs, Texas.[45] In its first year the League consisted of 8 teams and included both APP and PPA players. The second year expanded to 12 teams, but the PPA no longer allowed their players to participate in the League. Each team consists of two men and two women. Team members are chosen by a dual snake draft designed to make teams as competitive as possible.[48] Three separate competitions are scheduled for 2022, and the winning team at each competition will win $25,000 for each team member. The winning team is also awarded the Pritchard Cup.

International status

Pickleball is not currently an Olympic sporting event[49] and it is not yet represented in the Global Association of International Sports Federations (GAISF).[50] There are two pickleball federations with multiple national members, the International Federation of Pickleball (IFP) and the World Pickleball Federation (WPF).[45] Both the IFP and WPF are pursuing efforts to have pickleball featured as an Olympic sport, possibly as a demonstration sport. The IFP is specifically working towards the Paris 2024 or Los Angeles 2028 summer games.[51][52] An article by Sports Illustrated concluded the game would not likely be seen at the Olympics before 2032.[45]

Pickleball was accepted as a demonstration sport at the July 2022 Maccabiah Games, considered the third largest sporting event in the world. This marked the first time pickleball appeared at an event sanctioned by the International Olympic Committee.[53]

International Federation of Pickleball

The IFP was established in 2010 by the USA Pickleball Association to serve as the World Governing Body of pickleball. The IFP had 63 national members as of July 2022.[54] The IFP had 70 member nations at the end of March 2022, but a conflict in the organization resulted in 7 of 8 full member nations, and 2 associate member nations, withdrawing, including USA Pickleball.[55]

  • Bainbridge Cup: The annual Bainbridge Cup, named for the island where pickleball was invented, was established by the IFP in 2017. It became the sport's first intercontinental team event. The inaugural event was held in Madrid, Spain and pitted North America against Europe. The winning team earns the Bainbridge Cup trophy.[56] Both the 2020 and 2021 Bainbridge Cup team competitions were cancelled due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

World Pickleball Federation

The WPF was established in 2018 and had 34 member nations as of July 2022. Part of the WPF's stated mission is to "govern the infrastructure of pickleball". The WPF declared October 10th of each year World Pickleball Day and set the goal of introducing 10,000 new players to the game of pickleball every October 10th.[57]

  • World Pickleball Games: The World Pickleball Games were first announced by the WPF in 2021 and are intended to serve as a format for possible future Olympic games.[58] The inaugural World Pickleball Games had been scheduled for May 2022 in Austin, Texas,[52] but due to on-going impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic the games have been postponed until 2023.[59]

Rule variations

As the game is relatively new, rule modifications are being made frequently. In 2021 a rule change was made for a "net serve," so that a serve that touches the top of the net and lands in the proper service court is no longer replayed.[60] The previous rule on a "let serve" was borrowed from tennis, where a "let" call is always replayed.

Para pickleball

Para pickleball, sometimes called adaptive pickleball or wheelchair pickleball,[61] was officially recognized as a competitive branch of pickleball by USA Pickleball in 2016. Rules for those in wheelchairs are similar to the standard rules with minor modifications. A player's wheelchair is considered part of the player's body and all rules that apply to the body also apply to the player's wheelchair. A pickleball player in a wheelchair is allowed two bounces instead of the one. When a player in a wheelchair is serving the ball, they must be in a stationary position. They are then allowed one push before striking the ball for service. When the player strikes the ball, the wheels of the wheelchair must not touch any baseline, sideline, center line or the extended center or sideline. When a game involves both wheelchair and standing players, each player must abide by their respective rules. Standing players will adhere to the standing pickleball rules and the wheelchair players will adhere to the wheelchair pickleball rules.[62]

Professional tour rules

APP Tour games are sanctioned by USA Pickleball and follow all rules established by USA Pickleball. The PPA Tour is not sanctioned and has chosen not to adopt some recent rule changes for professional and senior professional matches. Non-professional PPA Tour matches will continue to follow all rules in the USAP rulebook. The specific rules that the PPA deviates from for professional matches are: the drop serve, the paddle swipe or chainsaw serve, and let serves.[63]

The PPA has not instituted the drop serve and does not permit them in professional PPA matches. New USAP rules only allow a player to touch the ball with the hand releasing the ball, thereby making the chainsaw serve illegal in APP games. The PPA continues to permit the chainsaw serve in professional PPA matches. Let serves, serves that hit the net but land in the correct service area, are considered valid serves by USAP rules, but such serves must be replayed in PPA professional matches. If a second let serve occurs when the serve is replayed, it is a fault for PPA servers.[64]

Video of a pickleball game
A pickleballer returning a serve with backhand

Noise controversy

When the hard pickleball paddle strikes the hard ball a sharp popping sound can be produced. The constant sound during play has generated conflict between pickleball court owners and other nearby property owners.[65] An intense backlash in many communities has coincided with the rapid rise in popularity of pickleball.[66]

In September 2020 one park in the Portland metropolitan area had to institute a ban on pickleball, despite having just installed new pickleball courts five months earlier. Residents nearest to the pickleball courts said they were unable to hold conversations inside their homes due to the noise from the pickleball courts. Despite the ban, the next year people were still making use of the pickleball courts. In June 2021, at a West Linn City Council meeting, one resident said the noise resulted in family gatherings being, "... wrought with discord and physically debilitating stress." Some described the noise as "trauma-inducing".[67]


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  • Lucore, Jennifer; Youngren, Beverly (2018). History of pickleball : more than 50 years of fun! (First ed.). Oceanside, CA: Two Picklers Press. ISBN 978-1-7320705-0-9.
  • Movsessian, Richard; Baker, Joe (2018). How to play pickleball : the complete guide from A to Z : illustrated stroke techniques and winning strategies. Las Vegas, Nevada. ISBN 978-1-7239-9308-4.
  • Pickleball Courts : Construction & Maintenance Manual 2020 (Second ed.). Forest Hill, MD: American Sports Builders Association. 2017. ISBN 978-0-9816862-3-3.
  • "USA Pickleball 2022 Rulebook" (PDF). USA Pickleball. 2022. Retrieved May 31, 2022.