What?! You’ve never heard of pickleball? Then clearly you fall somewhere between too young (under 55) and too old (over 15). If that’s you, you’re missing out! Because although pickleball has been around for nearly 50 years, it’s finally enjoying its moment in the sun as the popular and exciting sport topping the recreational charts at opposite ends of the age spectrum: kids and active seniors.
Pickleball can best be described as a fun, fast, and quirky combo of tennis, ping pong, and badminton. It’s played inside or out on any hard surface at least the size of a badminton court (20′×44′). A net, similar to tennis, is mounted 36” high on the ends and 34” in the middle; and a large wooden paddle, resembling something Paul Bunyan might need for a ping pong match, is used to volley a special polymer wiffle ball back and forth over the net.
A History Almost as Fun as the Game Itself
Pickleball was invented during the summer of 1965 on Bainbridge Island by Joel Pritchard, then Washington State congressman, and his two friends, William Bell and Barney McCallum. The three returned from golf to a yard full of bored kids. Unable to find any birdies for badminton, the men scrounged up a wiffle ball, lowered the net, and cut out over-sized paddles from discarded plywood.
Watching the men improvise a game made from leftover scraps, Joel’s wife, Joan Pritchard, said it reminded her of the sport of crew’s “pickle boat”, the boat in which the team of oarsmen are made up from the leftovers of the other boats. Unfortunately instead, an erroneous — but ever-popular — story is told today, which claims the game was named after the family dog. In this misconstrued version, the wiffle ball belonged to Pickles the dog, who would chase after errant shots and then run off with it. It’s said that “Pickles’ Ball” morphed into “pickleball”. It’s a good story, but the truth is that the Pritchard family didn’t even own a dog until 1967 and actually named the dog after their personally-invented favorite family sport. Joan Pritchard attempted to correct the inaccurate story in later interviews, but this version persists nonetheless.
The Popularity of Pickleball
Children and seniors are particularly attracted to pickleball because of it’s accessibility. First, the speed of the ball typically moves at about one-third the speed of a tennis ball; and second, the size of the court is about one-third of the area of a tennis court. These two factors make pickleball much easier to play.
The game’s popularity in retirement communities is due in part to its lack of stress on the body. The smaller court requires far less lateral movement than tennis, and when playing doubles, players have only one small area to protect, rather than running back and forth to defend a large space. The game is also easy on the wrists. The lightweight wiffle ball pops off the hard wooden paddle, so even the lightest tap sends the ball over the net, negating any strain on the joints. According to Ted Robbins of National Public Radio, pickleball has inspired many players to petition that it become part of the Senior Olympics.
A paddle ($10 to $80), a dozen balls ($12 to $25), and a net (if needed: $60 to $200) are the three basic pieces of equipment essential to the game, but they are no more important than proper eye protection, especially considering the game’s popularity as an outdoor sport for children and seniors:
- Because children in their first 18 years receive 50% of their lifetime exposure to sunlight, children and teens playing outdoor sports should wear high quality sunglasses with 99% – 100% UVA and UVB protection at all times. The Pyramex Mini-Ztek Safety Glasses with Blue Mirror Lens would be a great choice.
- As for seniors, since the majority of their age group wears prescription eyeglasses, they need to protect them from scratches or breaks inflicted by the ball or a paddle. Wearing racquet sports eyewear, such as over-the-glasses or wraparound eyeguards, in clear or sunglass styles, offer the best protection.
How to Play Pickleball
As seen in this YouTube video, a physical education teacher introduces the game of pickleball played with either 2 or 4 players. The ball is served underhand, diagonally, starting from the right-hand side of the court to the opponent’s serve zone. Points may only be scored by the serving side and occur when the opponent fails to return ball, hits it out of bounds, etc.. The server continues, alternating serving zones, until they flub. The first side to eleven points, ahead by at least two, wins.
When your pickleball game is good enough to try some advanced moves, this funny YouTube video featuring Dirty Dick and Halo Herb will demonstrate a few trick shots you’ll definitely want to work into your game!
Give Pickleball a Go!
So get out there with your friends and grandchildren and try something new this spring and summer! Take the fastest-growing sport in the country for a spin, and remember to wear your eye protection for sun and safety while enjoying the fun of camaraderie, fresh air, and exercise.