Get Caught Up In Pickleball

Pickleball is one of America’s fastest-growing sports. While it is being discovered daily by residents and visitors in active senior communities, hundreds of school children as well as college students are introduced to it regularly in physical education classes. It is a lifelong activity, making it a perfect sport for multigenerational families where grandparents and grandchildren can match up against parents and children.

Pickleball was invented in 1965 by the late Washington State congressman, Joel Pritchard. The court is the same size as a badminton court, with a net that is 36 inches high at the posts and 34 inches high at the center. If converting tennis courts, you can usually get four pickleball courts on one tennis court, thereby allowing four times as many players.

The Basics

Pickleball is a court sport halfway between tennis and ping-pong. It is played as a singles game or a doubles game. Each player has a paddle made of wood, composite or graphite material. The object of the game is to score points by successfully hitting a 3-inch diameter, plastic, perforated ball across the net without its being successfully returned by the opponent(s).

One of the unique features of this sport is the non-volley zone line that is 7 feet from the net and extends the width of the court. Players cannot step on this line or go beyond it to hit the ball unless the ball first bounces on their side of the court. The basic rules of the game are simple, and most people can learn them in one session. Many people can play a regular game during their first day because they do not need to learn a highly skilled serve as in tennis.

No special attire is required except good court shoes and comfortable clothing. Supplies and equipment for players include a paddle (prices range from $10 to $60) and balls (prices range from $10 to $20 per dozen), making this an affordable activity for those on fixed or modest incomes.

The court can be hardwood, concrete, asphalt, composition flooring or even carpet. It can be located indoors or outdoors, making just about any 44-foot x 20-foot flat surface suitable. Net standards can be anything from PVC pipe in a bucket of concrete to special standards with winches to wind up and tighten the net cord. Nets vary in quality–depending on the court setup–and range in price from $30 to $130.

No Age Limits

Many community centers around the United States have drop-in play, either exclusively for seniors or for players of all ages. The USA Pickleball Association (USAPA) Web site lists 44 states with places to play as well as four provinces in Canada and one location in Mexico. It has become routine for active senior communities to offer pickleball courts as one of their many amenities.

Once people get acquainted with this game, they are hooked. Word of mouth has been driving the growth of this sport, along with increasing interest from the media. Just recently, “Good Morning America” did a feature on pickleball.

Pickleball is a popular introductory racquet sport in schools. One high school student, who was trying it for the first time, showed no great athletic skills, but by the end of the class period, she exclaimed, “This is so much fun! I wish we could play pickleball every day!” It attracts many people who have never pursued other sports.

It also has a significant number of converts who are current or former racquetball, tennis, badminton or table-tennis champions. Some, like Billy Jacobsen, a former national-level tennis player, have elevated this sport to one of quickness, strength, stamina and mental toughness at the national tournament level.

Pickleball has been included in the Huntsman World Senior Games (HWSG) in St. George, Utah, since 2003. This event draws over 9,000 senior athletes from over 50 countries. Last year, the pickleball event had over 175 participants, mainly from the United States and Canada. Future HWSG may well include players from Singapore, Japan, Cyprus, India, Fiji, Germany or Mexico, where pickleball is also played.

This year, the National Senior Games Association (NSGA) will include pickleball on its list of sports for the first time ever in the NSGA Festival that will take place in Providence, R.I. Currently, 21 states offer pickleball as a sport in their Senior Games or Senior Olympics.

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