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History of Pickleball (Timeline): Origins, Going Mainstream, and More!

What do you get if you were to combine tennis, badminton, and ping pong into one game? Voilà! You get Pickleball. In recent years, the sport has been recognized as the fastest-growing sport in the US by the Sports and Fitness Industry Association. But, have you ever wonder how did it all start?

Pickleball started in Bainbridge Island, Washington during the summer of 1965. The idea was born when Congressman Joel Pritchard and businessman William Bell, got to Prichard’s home on one Saturday from a game of golf only to find their children bored and restless, so they needed a game that would engage them during the lazy days.

Video Source: Pickleball Channel / YouTube

1. The Early Days of Pickleball

In the process of finding out the best activity to engage their kids, who were bored out of their minds, the two gentlemen thought of badminton since the property had a badminton court. However, they could not find badminton rackets or the shuttlecock, so they improvised with a wiffle-type ball. They played with a perforated plastic ball and improvised wooden paddles that resemble ping pong ones.

As the game progressed, it was proposed that players besides hitting the ball on the bounce, could also do so out in the air. In the subsequent days, the two gentlemen decided to lower the net from badminton‘s height to 36 inches to make it fun and easier for kids to play.

Why is it called Pickleball?

But, they also had to resolve the dog dilemma. Once, again necessity became the mother of invention. They had to include the dog in the game. Luckily, Pritchard’s cocker spaniel, Pickles took an interest in the new game.

Its main interest was the ball. However, the problem was that Pickles would run with the ball to the bushes. Instead of the children yelling ‘I’m bored’ to their parents, children would yell at the dog: ‘Pickles, bring back the ball.’ While this dog was not the most essential part of the game, at least the sport was named after him.

The Other Version

Now, it’s important to mention that there is another version of why they called it Pickleball. According to Joan Prichard (Joel’s wife), she began calling it Pickleball because the game, which combines several racquet sports, reminded her “of the pickle boat crew, where rowers were chosen from the remainders of other boats.”

2. Pickleball Becomes a Sport

Pritchard, Bell & McCallum

Kids became happy while dads were impressed by their new invention. After a week, the two gentlemen introduce another gentleman, Barney McCallum, to the game. Now the three gentlemen sit down to make the rules. Most of the rules were borrowed from badminton.

When the three men came up with the first set of rules, they started to introduce the game to their network of friends and family. By 1967, Pritchard had already built a more customized pickleball court. In the years that followed, and as the game became more popular, several courts were made within the broader Seattle region.

Although there were courts specially made for Pickleball, the game was, also, played on volleyball, tennis, basketball courts, or any other type of court with a hard surface.

Pickleball is a game designed for the whole family. It is also easy to learn and requires less equipment. For this reason, the game became popular with families. Children who had difficulties playing other racquet sports enjoyed pickleball. Likewise, seniors who had given up on badminton and tennis started to put up their nets for pickleball.

1972 – USA Pickleball Association

It grew to the point that the three Pickleball inventors were forced to copyright the rules and put up formal structures. In 1972, Pritchard, Bell, McCallum formed the USA Pickleball Association. The sport that was meant to keep children active had transformed into a real sport with a rulebook.

3. The Spread of Pickleball

1975 – It Get Media Attention

Media began to give attention to the sport. The National Observer published a piece about the game in 1975, and in the following year, another reputable magazine published an article about the new racket sport that got America by storm.

The sport soon found its way into senior retirement centers, as well as, school physical education programs. And as the game became widely practiced within these communities, it became inevitable to have Pickleball competitions.

1976 – First Pickleball Tournaments

Florida became the host of the first pickleball national tournament. It was held in a retirement center that had 36 courts. After that, pickleball found its spot in senior game competitions in different states.

With that said, the first pickleball tournament was actually held in 1976 in Washington at South Center Athletic Club. During that competition, David Lester and Steve Paranto were, respectively, the champion and finalist of the men’s singles tournament.

Interestingly, most of the participants were tennis players who had limited knowledge of the sport. Some were even practicing using softball-sized balls and large wooden paddles.

1984 – USAPA reaches 15,000 members

The USA Pickleball Association, the association, started by the three gentlemen in the 1970s, became the governing body for the sport in 1984. By then the association had 30 registered courts in 12 states and about 15,000 members nationwide. Being the origin of the sport, Washington became the epicenter of pickleball.

1984 – First Composite Paddle

A Boeing Industrial Engineer, Arlen Paranto, made the first composite paddle in 1984. The paddle was made from honeycomb/ fiberglass (they were mainly used by airlines to firm up the floors and other parts of the aircraft structural system). During that period, Arlen produced more than 1000 paddles before he sold his company to Frank Candelario.

4. Pickleball Goes Mainstream

Early 1990’s – Pickleball It’s Played Nationwide

By the early 1990s, the sport was already being played in all 50 states. In 1997, Joel Pritchard, who had just finished his terms as the Lieutenant governor of Washington from 1988 to 1996, passed away. Within the sports community, he is famous for being one of the inventors of pickleball.

Early 2000’s – Played in the Senior Olympics

In 2001, through the efforts of Earl Hill, the sport was introduced in the Arizona Senior Olympics becoming the first time pickleball played in those Olympics. The tournament which was held in Happy Trails Park in Surprise, Arizona, attracted over 100 players. To this point, there has never ever been a pickleball competition of that size. This record was, however, broken in subsequent years.

In 2003, another history was made when pickleball was listed as one of the sports during the Huntsman World Senior Games. The competition was held in October in St. George, Utah.

2005 – The USAPA consolidated

In the next two years, the USA Pickleball Association (USAPA) underwent some changes. In July 2005, USAPA transformed into a Non-profit Corporation. During that year, the organization joined hands with other pickleball clubs, and websites to merge all pickleball-related information in the USAPA database so that players can get reliable information from one place.

2008 – More than 1,500 Pickleball courts in North America

By 2008, USAPA listed more than 420 sites to play pickleball games in North America. This included 43 states in the US and 4 Canadian Provinces. The site also listed more than 1500 courts, but the number did not include courts at private homes or places that were already setting up more courts.

During that year, the Rules Committee of USAPA also made public the USAP Official Tournament Rulebook.

In the subsequent years, the USAPA organized several tournaments including the National Senior Games Champion Festival staged in Rhode Island and the USAPA National Tournament for all categories of players, which was held in Arizona in 2009. The latter attracted over 400 players from 26 states.

Besides this, the organization also launched a Grand Program to help players who want to set up new pickleball sites.

2015 – Over 10,000 …

The USAPA reaches over 10,000 members. Also, the number of courts available to play Pickleball grows to almost 13,000 courts.

2020 – USAPA is rebranded

The USAPA change its name to USA Pickleball. It also modifies its website and logo.

5. Pickleball Today

Today, the sport has grown both in terms of the number of players and regions where it is played. The rise of pickleball is attributed to the popularity of physical education programs, retirement centers, YMCA, and community centers.

Pickleball continues to grow beyond North America; in European and Asian countries, the sport is becoming well-known. Also, several governing bodies and international clubs are being established, like in India and Canada.

Pickleball 101 – A Brief Intro

Now that you understand the history of the sport, let’s cover the basics of pickleball, so you don’t get surprised when you are invited to play in your friend’s place or when you sign up for a class. Like most racquet sports, pickleball has simple rules, which you can learn by just watching a game.

Check the following video:

Video Source: Martis Camp Realty, Inc. / YouTube

Equipment and Apparel

For equipment, you will need a plastic whiffle ball, wooden paddles, and a net. A professional pickleball game should be played in a field that is almost a third the size of a tennis pitch, however, at a recreational level, it can vary.

There is no official apparel for the game, but it’s recommended to wear something lightweight and breathable to make it easy to move around. If played outdoors, water, hats, and sunscreen will, also, come in handy.

How To Play Pickleball

If you have experience with other racquet sports, once you start playing the game, you will begin to notice some similarities to badminton, table tennis, and tennis. To play this sport, you need at least two players, one on each side of the net. It can, also, be played in a doubles format.

The serving player will hit the ball with an underhand swing. The receiving player must wait for the pickleball to hit the ground once before returning the serve. The serving side will, also, have to wait for the return to hit the ground before hitting the ball. After these three initial strokes, players can start hitting the ball in the air.

In order to win a game, one side has to accumulate 11 points with a margin of two points. Keep in mind that only the serving side can score points. Like badminton and tennis, pickleball players can win and lose points when they hit the ball outside the court, do not clear the net, or strike the ball twice when making a shot.

Besides these, there’re other specific rules you should know about this game. To find out, continue reading.

Key Attributes of the Sport

Unlike other racquet sports, pickleball has unique attributes: the double-bounce, the no-volley zone, and the Pickleball serve.

1. Double-Bounce Rule

The double-bounce rule was implemented to create equal opportunities for, both, the server and the receiver. During the early days of Pickleball (within the first week of the game), the server had a slight advantage because the returner had to wait for the ball to bounce before returning the serve. Meanwhile, the server was allowed to hit the return without having to wait for the ball to bounce; making it easier to serve and volley.

To correct this disadvantage, the three gentlemen bend the rule so that both the serving and the receiving team will have to let the ball bounce on the first shot after the serve. Then from there, players could hit the ball in the air.

2. No-Volley Zone

The no-volley zone (a.k.a. the kitchen) rule was introduced to make pickleball a finesse and strategy sport. According to the founders, raw power alone would make the game more straining and less appealing.

So, the no-volley zone is a seven feet area on both sides of the net, where players cannot hit the ball in the air if, at least, one of their foot is touching the zone; otherwise, is considered a fault.

3. Serving in Pickleball

When serving in pickleball, apart from hitting the ball diagonally, the ball must be struck underhand and below the player’s waist level. Besides that, at least one foot must be behind the baseline, however, neither foot can touch the baseline when hitting the ball. Unlike tennis, there is no second serves; players only get one serve attempt.

3 Main Reasons to Jump on the Pickleball Bandwagon

As you may already know, this sport was designed for the whole family, so it is an all-ages sport. When they were designing the game, the founders were mainly targeting children, but in the process, they were hooked to the sport.

Simple to Learn

This sport is popular because it doesn’t require you to have special skills nor exceptional athletic abilities. It’s also simple to learn. Within a day, you can start making successful rallies. That being said, experienced badminton, ping-pong, tennis, and other racquet sport players may find it easier to learn and succeed in this sport.

Beneficial for your Health

Besides being a fun sport, it can also help you exercise. As you play pickleball, you’ll make several moves that are good for your health.n

While it can give you a great workout, pickleball is a low-impact activity and relatively safe. You may feel that you are straining your elbow and forearms during your first few games, but as you practice more, you will get comfortable with the paddle.

Some people may be concerned about running too much. But you don’t have to worry about this because pickleball courts are significantly smaller than tennis courts. Pickleball requires players to focus more on strategy and placement, rather than force and speed.

It’s Super Fun!

Yep! You should join the fun!

We hope this article helps you get a better idea of this sport and its history. Thanks for stopping by!