An introduction to pickleball

If you’ve never heard of pickleball, you may be wondering what it’s all about – after all, it sounds like it could just as easily be the name of a new cocktail as a sport or game! But pickleball is in fact a new sport that’s sweeping the nation – and the world – and based on its record so far, it might not be long at all until you not only know exactly how to play, but are perhaps even a bit of an expert. So with this in mind, let’s take a closer look at this record-breakingly popular sport…

What is pickleball?

Pickleball is a fun and addictive paddle ball sport that combines elements of tennis, table tennis, and badminton. The game was first invented in the summer of 1965 by US Congressman Joel Pritchard and his friends Bill Bell and Barney McCallum. While trying to entertain their children on Bainbridge Island, just off the Washington Coast, they used whatever sporting equipment they had access to and combined elements of sports their kids were familiar with.

And that’s how pickleball was born – though it wasn’t until a decade later that the first official pickleball tournament was held. Since then, the popularity of pickleball has exponentially grown throughout the US, but it wasn’t until the pandemic hit that this sport really began to boom – and now, word has spread to the UK.

Since people looked for new ways to stay fit and active during lockdown, pickleball has transcended its humble beginnings as a back garden sport to an extraordinarily popular game – one that looks set to become an Olympic sport within a few years. To find out more about how pickleball began on a small Washington island in the mid-60s, you may want to watch the video below.

Why is pickleball so popular?

So why exactly is pickleball so popular? It’s partly due to its accessibility: you can play it indoors and outdoors, and as doubles or singles. The rules are really simple to pick up and the game is easy for beginners to get the hang of it – but as you develop your skills and improve your technique, it can just as easily be played as a fast-paced and competitive game.

But pickleball is also just really fun – and unlike other sports like tennis, where you often need to take lessons to become adequate, you can get the hang of it in minutes, and it’s possible to progress your skills very quickly.

You don’t need to wear any fancy sporting gear – all you need to play are solid paddles (usually made from wood), a perforated polymer ball, and a low-hanging net. Plus, because pickleball is not a contact sport, you can have a great time playing while still abiding by social distancing rules!

Another reason pickleball has become so popular over the last year is because it’s so sociable. With gyms and fitness centres closed for the best part of a year, people have had to look for new ways to stay active – and for many of us, there are only so many online exercise classes we can do before we’re itching to try something different.

Pickleball can be played in your local park, or even your garden if it’s big enough (it’s usually played on a badminton-size court, but people have been making do with smaller areas for the time being). Have a watch of the video below for a quick overview of the game.

But don’t just take our word for it. This is what 74-year-old pickleball player and Rest Less member, Anna Cherry, has to say about why she loves the game…

“The health benefits of pickleball are real and rewarding. They include improvements to cardiovascular fitness and the emotional well-being that comes from interacting with a group of like-minded people.

“As an older adult, playing doubles allows you to work on your balance, agility, reflexes, and hand-eye coordination without putting excessive strains on your body. It’s a wonderful fun social way to exercise, even if you have physical limitations such as joint problems.

“Plus, there’s increasing evidence that mentally stimulating physical activity – pickleball being a good example – can slow cognitive decline. What’s not to love!”

Anna Cherry, 74, Pickleball player

Anna Cherry pictured centre after winning Gold at 2021 English Nationals [in the 3.5 19+/4.0 60+ combined event] Credit: Pickleball England

Who can play pickleball?

The beauty of pickleball is that almost anyone can take it up – it’s even been adapted so people in wheelchairs can play. While it started as a fun game for children, it’s become most popular with adults – particularly older adults who want to stay fit and active, but also don’t want to put too much pressure on their bodies. Because a pickleball court is smaller than a tennis court, it’s less strenuous to play – and because the ball is perforated, the game isn’t played at such a high speed as tennis.

Having said that, pickleball can still be a fast and exhilarating game that’s guaranteed to get your heart racing, especially once you’ve got the hang of it!

What are the rules of pickleball?

So now we know the basics of what pickleball is, how do you actually go about playing it? If you’re playing on a proper pickleball court, this will be a badminton-size court that’s split into two sides by a low net. Coloured lines show the players where to stand and where to serve the ball. Points can only be scored by the side that’s serving, and points are scored if the opposing player:

  • Fails to return the ball.
  • Volleys in the non-volley zone.
  • Hits the ball out of bounds.
  • Hits the ball into the net.
  • Volleys the ball before it bounces at least once.

The start of each pickleball game begins with a serve – and the player standing on the right side of the court always serves first. To serve, you must hit the ball underhanded into the opposing player’s court – but importantly, the serve must clear the net and not land in the ‘kitchen’. The ‘kitchen’ is the nickname of the non-volley zone closest to the net. This is marked by a clear line, so you’ll always know where you should and shouldn’t stand.

A crucial pickleball rule is the double bounce rule: this states that the ball must bounce once before either player or team can volley the ball over the net. When returning the serve, the opposing player or team must also let the ball bounce once before returning it over the net. Essentially, the whole point of the game is to hit the ball back and forth until someone makes a mistake – it’s that simple!

The game is won when one side reaches a score of 11… as long as they’re leading by at least two points. If they’re not, the game continues until one side is two points ahead. Because of this rule, pickleball can never end in a draw – which should make the more competitive people among us happy! Of course, seeing pickleball being played is usually a better way to understand the rules and techniques, so have a watch of the video below to find out more.

How can I play pickleball?

If you want to have a go at pickleball and see if it’s for you, the good news is that it couldn’t be easier! You don’t need any expensive equipment, and regular, comfortable clothing is fine to wear (though trainers or tennis shoes are recommended).

To find your nearest Pickleball club, head over to the Pickleball England website and simply use the ‘Club Locator’ feature. There are clubs in England, Wales and Northern Ireland listed here, although there are currently no listed pickleball clubs in Scotland. If you live in Scotland, just head over to Pickleball Scotland to begin your pickleball journey. Pickleball clubs are known for being exceptionally welcoming and friendly, so it doesn’t matter if you’re going alone: just get in touch and arrange to join a session – and who knows? You could end up making some great new friends this way.

Where can I get the equipment? 

You generally can’t buy pickleball equipment on the high street just yet, but you can buy everything you need online from The UK Pickleball Shop. All you need to get started and join a session is your own paddle and ball, although if you’re lucky enough to have a big garden – or you want to play in your local park – you can always buy your own pickleball net, too! You can also buy pickleball paddles from Amazon.

Final thoughts...

Whether you’ve never heard of pickleball before or have already picked up on its soaring popularity across the pond, one thing’s for sure – it’s the fastest growing sport in the US for a reason! Pickleball is accessible, social, enjoyable and extremely addictive, and as the weather warms up and many of us look to spend more time outdoors, it probably won’t be long before it takes off throughout the UK, too. So if you’re looking for a new, fun way to keep fit and catch up with friends (or make new ones), while still complying with social distancing – then pickleball may be for you!

Have you heard of pickleball before? Or are you looking forward to giving it a go? We’d love to hear about your thoughts! Leave us a comment below or join the conversation on the Rest Less community.

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