Origins of Pickleball Courts
The origins of pickleball courts look something like a recipe for soup: take one part of this and mix with one part of that and so on. The history of pickleball takes one part from table tennis, one part from wiffle ball baseball, one part from badminton, and one part from racquet sports to ultimately create a legitimate sport that is the fastest growing sport in the USA and perhaps the world.
When Bill Bell and Barney Mccallum and Joel Pritchard put their collective heads together and invented what they called pickleball, they could not foresee the explosive growth and dynamic popularity of the game today. This game that the whole family can play is setting the stage for active and enthusiastic play in gyms, public courts, and retirement communities (among other places).
The Beginnings of America's Newest Racquet Sport
William Bell and Congressman Joel Pritchard and their friends all had homes on Bainbridge Island, Washington. Joel's bored teenager was looking for something to do and they had an unused badminton court that was begging for some sort of use. From this very humble beginning, a new sport was born.
The Dog Story
The name pickle ball did not evolve from the Pritchard family dog "Pickles" contrary to popular belief. But Joel Pritchard's wife does deserve the credit for naming this new sport.
Just off the coast of Bainbridge Island, it was common for rowing races to be held. When teams would have extra rowers, they would combine them into boats so they too could race. A boat holding these extra rowers was called a pickle boat.
So, for a game started with leftover stuff it seemed logical to be named after a sport using leftover athletes in a pickle boat. The dog story was a joke told to the media in the first mass media exposure and it stuck for quite a while.
A Badminton Court was the Original Pickleball Court
To play pickleball you need a court and the Prichard's newly paved badminton court (as rain made a grass court useless) was ideal. The dimensions stuck.
Use of Badminton Net
The first net was the badminton net, but today's net has much more exacting standards for height and width.
First Permanent Pickleball Court
The first permanent court wasn't set up on Bainbridge Island until 1972 some 7 years after the game started. A very detailed examination of the history of pickleball would reveal some tweaks in the recommended peripheral area around a court, but the old badminton court dimensions have remained the same.
Early Pickleball Stuff
Like other racket sports, you need a ball of some kind and something to hit it with to play pickle ball.
Table Tennis Paddles
The first pickle ball paddles were actually ping pong paddles, but they simply did not hold up at all. So, the Bainbridge Island gang got together and constructed some solid wood paddles as enthusiasm grew in places like the South Center Athletic Club.
Today, modern paddles are made with fiberglass composites, carbon fiber and graphite.
Perforated Plastic Ball
While fun for a while, the classic old whiffle ball simply was impractical in that the spin caused such radical curves, dips and rises that pickleball was evolving into very short points - the very opposite of what the founders wanted. Once a custom drilling machine was created to drill holes evenly all over the ball, the game "pickleball" became much more accessible to everyone.
USA Pickleball Association
Those who played pickleball in the early years quickly realized the need for some standard rules and for some kind of pickleball association to operate equipment standards. A short-lived Pickle Ball Inc. was not the answer. But Pickle Ball Inc. did set the stage for what became the strongest regulatory body in the history of pickleball: USAPA.
Sid Williams began playing pickleball in the very earliest phases after a successful racquetball career. As the first Executive Director of the USAPA, he was a driving force growing pickle ball.
Pickleball Hall of Fame
With a couple of sites for a Hall of Fame, the recognition starting to come to the pioneers and emerging superstars is impressive. As time goes on and the sport continues to grow, the USAPA will continue to take a leading role.
Pickleball Tournament History
Local events mostly in the Pacific Northwest were held with the first known pickleball tournament held in Washington in 1976 mostly with college tennis players. In 2001 the Arizona Senior Olympics was the first nationally visible tournament with the National Senior Games association endorsement coming right after that.
The first USAPA national tournament was held in 2009 and the first US Open soon thereafter.
USAPA Rules Committee
With so much growth came the need for standards for rules and equipment. For the most part, the USAPA and their close cousin: the International Federation, everyday players and most tournaments follow the standards from the Rules Committee.
Pickleball invented some unique rules in order to encourage widespread play and extended rallies. While other sports reminded pickleball that competition is fine and good but like playing golf, sportsmanship is front and center of every aspect of the game.
Non Volley Zone
Since the pickleball court is so much smaller than a tennis court, the founders felt that points would be too short unless a zone was created where players could not enter to hit the ball in the air. The result is the non volley zone or "kitchen" where players cannot make contact with the ball unless it bounces first.
This has created an entire technique around hitting "dinks" and drops in order to foil an opponent's power game. One of the key shots every player must learn is the third shot drop.
Two Bounce Rule
With an interest in extending rallies, the two bounce rule requires both the serve and the return of serve be allowed to bounce before being struck.
Proper Service Court
Like tennis, the serve must travel diagonally across the court to the opponent's service court. But unlike tennis the service courts are at the back of the court and behind the kitchen.
A pickleball service must be hit below the waste while the paddle is pointing down toward the court. The server may bounce the ball or hit it out of the air but the paddle must be pointing downward.
A doubles team may only win points on their serve. If a serving team loses a rally, the server's partner takes the next serve or, if the second partner loses the rally, there is a "side out" and serve goes over to the opponents.
Prior to serving, the server announces their score, the opponent's score and then whether the server is the first server for that team or the second. The exception is in the very first serve of a game where the first server is the only server for that team before a side out takes place.
The rules specifically require that any calls in doubt must go for the opponent. For instance, if one partner sees a shot as in and the other partner sees it as out, the call must be to give the benefit to the other team.
Where To Play
When Joel Pritchard and Bill Bell cooked up this game they didn't know it would be as popular as it is today. But there are courts everywhere now. Look for tennis courts with pickleball lines or community centers or gyms to find a place to play. Choices are expanding all the time!