What is pickleball and why do people play?

Pickleball is a paddle sport that over the last 50-plus years has drawn in nearly 3 million enthusiast across the country and now has an international following. In fact, efforts are underway to make it an Olympic sport. The game was invented in Washington State in 1965. Read more about the origins of the game here.

Pickleball utilizes a combination of components used in other sports. It’s basically ping pong meets tennis on a badminton court. The game is played on a surface the size of a badminton court with a tennis-style net, and the balls are similar to those used in Wiffle ball. When invented, the originators used ping pong paddles, but the regulation paddles used today are much larger.

Pickleball offers health benefits because it keeps players physically active. However, people play the game because it’s fun! Competitors of all ages play it, and there is a social aspect to it that keeps people coming back for more.

And while the sport has an element of highly sought after spirited competition, the best players are more focused on strategy than they are on strength and speed.

What does pickleball look like?

The first thing you’ll probably notice about pickleball is a similarity to the surface that tennis players use. Furthermore, the net is only six inches lower than the ones used in tennis. While the pickleball court has a look and feel similar to that of a tennis court, it has the dimensions of a badminton court, which is 20 feet by 44 feet (roughly half the size of a tennis court).

The court has the same markings as a tennis court, only there is a “non-volley line” seven feet from the net on either side of the court. Pickleball players refer to this area as the “kitchen,” and it’s designed to keep players from excessively smashing the ball. The origin of the use of the word “kitchen” is suspected to have come from the game of shuffleboard, which has a “kitchen” area behind the primary scoring zones.

Diagram of Pickleball Court Dimensions & Layout

Who is pickleball good for?

People of all ages and skill level play pickleball. The rules are easy to understand, which means beginners can get up to speed quickly. It’s not uncommon for first-time players to get bitten by the pickleball bug and become instant enthusiast who keep coming back for more.

While the game is less physically taxing than more intense sports, it is fast paced and stimulates the brain, which is another reason people have become so drawn to the sport.

The USA Pickleball Association (USAPA) reported in 2018 that core participants, those who play eight or more times per year, were 73 percent male compared to 27 percent female. The numbers are slightly more equal among casual players, which are those playing one to seven times per year. As for the age groups, around 75 percent of core participants are 55 and older.

How many people play pickleball?

Pickleball can be played with one person on each side of the net (singles) or two people on each side of the net (doubles).

When playing singles, you’ll probably resort to a more offensive strategy because you’re relying more on speed and power to win points. And because you’re covering more of the court in singles, you’ll find it more physically demanding than playing doubles. In doubles, it’s not unusual to see longer rallies. But since you’ve got a partner covering have the court, it’s definitely less of a workout than you’ll have in singles.

Regardless of whether you’re playing singles or doubles, you’ll have a great time, and by the looks of numbers from the USAPA, there are around 2.8 million pickleball players in the U.S. who can attest to the fun. The USAPA has also determined that there are just fewer than 6,000 places to play pickleball throughout the U.S. with roughly 16,549 courts.

Pickleball: Fastest growing sport in America

Ask a regular player why they are pushing the sport to newcomers and they’re likely to offer up a host of reasons, and this is why pickleball is one of the fastest growing sports in the U.S. That’s why you see games of pickleball popping up in YMCAs and other recreational facilities across the U.S. It has enjoyed a fast-growing reputation as an entertaining activity that doesn’t require a lot of money to play and can be enjoyed among friends, family and new acquaintances alike.

Because the court is roughly half the size of a tennis court, there is less of a burden in terms of real estate, which is also a factor in the rapid spread of the sport.

Further proof that the sport is growing quickly is that the first National Pickleball Tournament, which was hosted in 2009, included 400 players. By 2017 that number had grown to 1,300 competitors registering for the tournament.

Is pickleball an Olympic sport?

Could pickleball be an official Olympic sport in the 2028 Olympics? While it doesn’t meet the criteria to make the list right now (it has to be played in 75 countries in four continents for the men’s competition and 40 countries on three continents for women’s competition), the rate at which it’s being adopted here makes pickleball in the Olympics a real possibility, so keep your eyes peeled for it when the Summer Olympics return to Los Angeles in 2028.

While we’re waiting on the best players from nations far and wide to compete on an Olympic pickleball court, we can enjoy seeing some of the finest players in the U.S. on CBS Sports, as the network airs the USAPA National Championships in September each year.

About professional pickleball

There are ways to be involved in the sport of pickleball and make money, such as coaching, but because the sport doesn’t have big sponsors clamoring to sign athletes to massive deals, you won’t see anything close to what professionals athletes earn in other sports like tennis, basketball, baseball or football.

For example, Matt Goebel, recognized as one of the best to play the sport, has won bronze, silver and gold medals in 12 tournaments through 2017 and 2018. He’s a high school math teacher, but plays some of the best pickleball players around the country throughout the summer months.

Another outstanding player, Michelle Esquivel, who won gold at the USAPA Margaritaville Nationals women’s singles and doubles competition, and a host of bronze, silver and gold medals in other tournaments throughout 2018, recently switched from coaching tennis to coaching pickleball as her day job.

The USA Pickleball Association (USAPA)

Organized to promote the development and growth of the sport, the USAPA is also focused on promoting pickleball internationally. The USAPA, which was established in 1984, is also responsible for providing players with official rules and sanctions official tournaments, handles rankings and promotional materials.

The International Federation of Pickleball

Yes, pickleball has gone international. The International Federation of Pickleball (IFP) is the world governing body of the sport. And like the USAPA, it was established to promote the growth of the sport.

Purthermore, the IFP is on a mission to introduce pickleball to “all nations so that they may embrace the sport as one of their national sports,” according to the IFP website. One of the goals of the IFP is to achieve official recognition by the International Olympic Committee to establish the game as an Olympic sport.

Where is pickleball played

The number of pickleball courts being built across the country is growing. In 2017, there were approximately 94 new courts per month established in indoor and outdoor facilities. The USAPA fact sheet says there are 5,883 places to play pickleball (22,154 total courts), but that number is increasing by the month.

Weather plays a factor in your ability to play outdoors. Obviously, a snowy outdoor court or frigid temperatures during the winter months would push your play indoors, as would excessive heat or rainstorms in the summer. Windy conditions also force you to take your game indoors, but adjustments can be made. For example, if the wind is at your back, you are far more prone to hitting longer shots. The ball you use outdoors is different for this reason - the holes are smaller and the balls are made with harder plastic than the indoor variety.

If you’re interested in playing pickleball and don’t have the space, time or energy to build a court of your own, the easiest way to find a court is through our “where to play” page. Simply enter your location and you’ll get a list of places to play. If your community doesn’t have a court, try entering nearby towns or cities to see what’s available.

Do you need information about pickleball?

If you’ve got questions, we’re here to answer them. Just contact us at Pickleball Rush and we’ll get back to you.