what is pickleball

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 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 IslandWashington.[4] In 2022 pickleball was adopted as the official state sport of Washington.

The spread of the sport is attributed to its popularity within community centers, physical education classes, public parks, private health clubs, YMCA facilities and retirement communities. There are thousands of pickleball tournaments throughout the United States, including the U.S. Pickleball National Championships, U.S. Open Pickleball Championship, Major League Pickleball, as well as numerous international championships.



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

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.

When Pritchard and Bell returned from golf one Saturday afternoon they found their families bored.[6] 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.[7]: 9 

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.[7]: 11  The table tennis paddles were quickly replaced with larger and more durable plywood paddles fabricated in a nearby shed.[8][9][10] McCallum continued to experiment with various paddle designs in his father’s Seattle basement workshop.[7]: 66  One paddle, he called the “M2”, or McCallum 2, became the paddle of choice for most early players of the game.[4]


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.”[8] Other sources state that the name “pickleball” was derived from the name of the Pritchard’s family dog, Pickles.[10] 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 has shown that the dog Pickles was born after the game had already been named.[11]

Jennifer Lucore and Beverly Youngren, authors of the book, History of Pickleball; More then 50 Years of Fun!, were not able to conclude conclusively whether the game was named for the dog, or the dog was named for the game.[7]: 65  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.[7]: 64 

Shortly after the game was invented, some of the founders and their friends brought pickleball to Hawaii where the game became known as pukaballPuka, meaning hole in Hawiian, initially was used to refer to the ball since pickleballs are covered in holes, but eventually became synonymous with the game itself.[7]: 41 


Soon after its creation, pickleball became popular with local neighbors and relatives of the inventors. In 1972, McCallum formed Pickle-Ball, Incorporated, and began manufacturing wooden paddles and pickleball kits to satisfy demand for the game.[9] Interest in pickleball continued to grow, and spread from the Pacific Northwest into warmer areas as “snowbirds” brought the sport south to ArizonaCaliforniaHawaii and Florida. McCallum’s son, David McCallum, now runs the business, which is headquartered in Kent, Washington.[12] Early sponsorship also came from Thousand Trails, a Seattle company which installed courts along the West Coast.

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.[13] 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.[14][15] The U.S. Open Pickleball Championships are played in another hub of pickleball, Naples, Florida, and started in 2016.[16] Estimates for active players have grown to 3.3 million in 2019 up 10% from 2016.[17] As of 2021, there were 58 member countries overseen by the International Federation of Pickleball.[18]

The sport grew during the COVID-19 pandemic as an outdoor alternative to indoor activities. A survey by the Sport and Fitness Industry Association found a 21.3 percent increase in the number of American respondents who started playing pickleball in 2020.[19] It was named one of the country’s “fastest-growing sports” with a reported 4.8 million active players. By March 2022 the International Federation of Pickleball had 70 member nations,[20] but by April eleven countries had withdrawn their memberships bringing the total member nations down to 59.

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.[21]

Court and equipment[edit]

Dimensions of a pickleball courtA 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,[22] 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.[23] 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.[24]


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.[25]

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.[15]


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.[26]

Order of play[edit]

Service inService 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[edit]

Before each serve the score is announced 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”.


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 (as in the “court dimensions” figure). Two types of serves are permitted, a rally serve or a drop serve.

  • Rally 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 level 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.

Doubles: At the beginning of a doubles game the side serving first is allowed only one fault before their side is “out”, called a side–out, and the serve passes to their opponents. After the first side–out each of the players on a doubles team has the opportunity to serve before the serve passes to the other team and a side–out is called. The first serve of the game, and 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.

Two-bounce rule[edit]

A serve must land in the diagonal service court on the opponent’s side of the net. 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.[27]

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[edit]

Doubles: A server continues serving, alternating between the right and left serving areas, until the serving team commits a fault. At that point the serve passes to the server’s teammate, the serving team′s second server. The second server continues alternating the serve from each serving area, until the serving team commits a second fault and a side–out occurs.

Singles: Each player continues to serve until the serving player commits a fault and a side–out occurs.

The first side scoring 11 points, leading by at least two points, wins the game.[28] 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[edit]

The score[edit]

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 stated 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”.

Player positioning[edit]

Other than the server, there are no rules regarding where each of the other players position themselves on the court, 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, or when returning a serve, it is critical that each player remembers their game starting position. Serving from the wrong side of the court, or the wrong player returning a serve, are both faults. Whenever players are in their starting position, their team’s score will either be zero or an even number. When players have switched to the opposite service court from where they started, the score will always be an odd number. For example; 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.[24]: A-15 

The non-volley zone[edit]

No player may volley a ball while standing in the non-volley zone, or while touching any of the non-volley zone lines. 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,[24]: A-22  but the player must re-establish both feet outside the non-volley zone before playing a volley.

The rally and fault[edit]

After the serve a rally continues until one side commits a fault resulting in a dead ball.[29] 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 out of bounds
  • stepping into the non-volley zone, or touching the non-volley line, in the act of volleying the ball
  • touching the net with any body part, clothing, paddle, or assistance device

Rule variations[edit]

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.[30] The previous rule on a “let serve” was borrowed from tennis, where a “let” call is always replayed.

Para pickleball[edit]

Para pickleball, sometimes called adaptive pickleball or wheelchair pickleball,[31] 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.[32][33]

Beach or Sand Pickleball & Lawn or Grass Pickleball[edit]

Pickleball is played on a hard surface, with the most common being a cement base topped with a specialized acrylic coating. In 2021, a new game called Sandy Pickle was introduced as a modified version of pickleball designed for playing on sand and grass. Sandy Pickle is played using standard pickleball paddles and balls, however, since a bounce is not possible on sand and grass, modifications were made to the base pickleball rules to accommodate for an all-volley version of the game. See for a rules comparison between pickleball and Sandy Pickle.

International status[edit]

Pickleball is not currently an Olympic sporting event[34] and it is not yet represented in the Global Association of International Sports Federations (GAISF),[35] but there are two pickleball federations acting as governing bodies across multiple nations:

  • The International Federation of Pickleball (IFP) was established in 2010 by the USA Pickleball Association and as of April 2022 had 59 national members.[36] 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.[37]
  • The World Pickleball Federation (WPF) was established in 2018, and as of April 2022 has 34 member nations.

The IFP and WPF are both 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.[38][39]

Bainbridge Cup[edit]

The annual Bainbridge Cup, named for the location where pickleball was invented, was established by the International Federation of Pickleball in 2017. It became the first intercontinental team event in the history of the sport. The inaugural event was held in MadridSpain and pitted North America against Europe. Additional continents/teams are expected to participate as the sport grows in popularity. The winning team earns the Bainbridge Cup trophy.[40] Both the 2020 and 2021 Bainbridge Cup competitions were cancelled due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

World Pickleball Games[edit]

The World Pickleball Federation had scheduled the inaugural World Pickleball Games for May 2022 in Austin, Texas,[39] but due to on-going impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic, they have postponed the games until 2023.[41] The World Pickleball Games are intended to serve as a format for possible future Olympic games.[42]Video of a pickleball gameA pickleballer returning a serve with backhand

Noise controversy[edit]

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.[43] An intense backlash in many communities has coincided with the rapid rise in popularity of pickleball.[44]

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 before. 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 nearby resident said the noise had made family gatherings become “wrought with discord and physically debilitating stress.” At least one resident described the noise as “trauma-inducing”.[45]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ “International Federation of Pickleball – IFP”
  2. ^ Pritchard, Joan (July 22, 2008). “Pickle Ball Featured on the Morning show”The Parkersburg News and Sentinel. Retrieved July 27, 2008.
  3. ^ “Ball List | Paddle and Ball Site”. Retrieved October 14, 2020.
  4. Jump up to:a b Kane, David (October 21, 2015). “Food for Thought:The Evolution and Growth of Pickleball” The Tennis Media Company. Retrieved January 30, 2018.
  5. ^ Lyons, Gil (August 24, 1990). “Pickle-ball: Founders of game say paddle sport simply is a barrel of fun”The Seattle Times. p. C7. Retrieved January 25, 2020.
  6. ^ “Pickleball: The racquet sport experiencing a pandemic boom”. March 15, 2021. Retrieved March 16, 2021.
  7. Jump up to:a b c d e f 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.
  8. Jump up to:a b Pritchard, Joan (July 27, 2008). “Origins of Pickleball”The Parkersburg News and Sentinel. Archived from the original on March 22, 2012.
  9. Jump up to:a b “The History of Pickleball”PICKLE-BALL INC. Archived from the original on February 22, 2022. Retrieved April 18, 2022.
  10. Jump up to:a b “The History of Pickleball”. Hoffman Estates Pickleball. Retrieved March 1, 2014.
  11. ^ “History of the Game”. Official USAPA Website. June 27, 2013. Retrieved July 3, 2019.
  12. ^ “Pickleball Paddles by Pickle-ball, Inc. | Free Shipping Offer!”
  13. ^ “Pickleball began on Bainbridge Island…” The Seattle Times. September 20, 2020. Retrieved December 27, 2020.
  14. ^ “U.S. National Pickleball Championships”. USA Pickleball Association. Retrieved December 27, 2020.
  15. Jump up to:a b “USA Pickleball/IFP Official Rules”. USA Pickleball Association. June 28, 2013. Retrieved December 27, 2020.
  16. ^ “History”. Spirit Promotions. Retrieved December 27, 2020.
  17. ^ “Pickleball Participation Report 2019”. The Sports & Fitness Industry Association. Retrieved December 27, 2020.
  18. ^ “Member Countries”. International Federation of Pickleball. Retrieved December 27, 2020.
  19. ^ O’Brien, Jane (March 15, 2021). “Pickleball: The racquet sport experiencing a pandemic boom”BBC News. Retrieved March 4, 2022.
  20. ^ Mullen, Shannon (February 19, 2022). “America’s fastest-growing sport is a cross of tennis, pingpong and badminton”NPR. Retrieved March 10, 2022.
  21. ^ Zhou, Amanda (March 28, 2022). “Pickleball officially named WA state sport”The Seattle Times. Retrieved March 28, 2022.
  22. ^ Pickleball Courts, p. 2.
  23. ^ “All About Pickleball Court Dimensions”The Pickleball Paddle USA Website. The Pickleball Paddle Inc. June 11, 2018. Retrieved June 11, 2018.
  24. Jump up to:a b c Leach, Gale H. (2013). The Art of Pickleball (4th ed.). Two Cats Press.

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