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For a sport that was created back in the 1960s, pickleball is having a major moment these days. The game — a combination of tennis, badminton, racquetball and table tennis — currently boasts nearly five million players in the U.S., according to a 2021 report by the Sports & Fitness Industry Association (SFIA). Courts are popping up everywhere — at local schools and parks, five-star hotels and retirement complexes.
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How to Get Started Playing Pickleball
Looking to make pickleball a part of your life? There are a number of ways to get started. Plenty of retailers, ranging from Amazon to Target to Pickleball Galaxy, offer basic equipment packages that contain paddles, balls and even a net, at a range of price points. If possible, though, head to a store and try out the paddles for yourself, as you’ll want to make sure the size, weight and grip feel right. Once you have all your equipment, you can watch some of the many online tutorials offered by top pickleball coaches to get started, but the most effective way to learn the game is to head to your local courts and sign up for lessons. Many local recreational departments offer group lessons, and you can use resources like Pickleball Teachers or Pickleball Central to find lists of teachers based in your area or simply ask experienced players for their recommendations. They may even offer to coach you themselves.
As for where to find those courts — USA Pickleball, the sport’s national governing body, runs a constantly updated database called Places2Play that lists all of the courts available worldwide; you can access it via its website or phone app. Many localities are now lining tennis courts for pickleball use. Similarly, the app PicklePlay offers a collection of courts as well as information on clubs, leagues and pickleball events in local areas.
When you get to a court, don’t be afraid to ask players for help getting started. As a rule, pickleball players are a friendly, welcoming bunch who enjoy taking newcomers under their wings; they’ll likely be thrilled to get an opportunity to share their love of the game with more people. It won’t take long before you’re playing all the time and knowledgeable enough to teach others the rules of the game.
Pickleball is especially popular among those over 50. Although the average age of pickleball players is 38, according to the SFIA report the majority of “core” players — those who play eight or more times a year — are significantly older, with a third over the age of 65.
Why does this newly popular sport with the crazy name appeal to older adults? It is not hard to learn, gets people moving and is relatively easy on older bodies. It is social and keeps people cognitively engaged. Many people are finding it’s the perfect pastime to pick up right now.
The history of pickleball
Created in 1965 on Bainbridge Island, Washington, pickleball is the brainchild of three men — Barney McCallum, Joel Pritchard and Bill Bell — who were looking for an activity to entertain their families. When Pritchard’s teenage son challenged his dad to create a new game from scratch, the men combined elements of several existing sports into one unique game. With a few table tennis paddles, a Wiffle ball and a badminton net, pickleball — which either got its name from the Pritchard family dog, Pickles, or the “pickle boats” used in crew, depending on who you ask — began to take shape.
To play, individuals or duos volleyed the ball back and forth over a net on a slimmed down version of a tennis court until one side scored 11 points (and was up by at least two points). Their game included fun terms like “the kitchen” (the non-volley zone on either side of the net) and “dinking” (soft, arcing shots). Above all, players were supposed to enjoy themselves — this was a game that prioritized fun over anything else.