For centuries, people have played racquet sports for exercise and hobby. Now, a smaller version of traditional tennis is taking the world by storm with shorter courts and lower nets called pickleball! This fast-paced racquet sport is enjoyed by all ages and levels of coordination—no lessons required. Whether you’re a die-hard pickleballer or just now learning of the game, step onto a court and experience why millions of Americans enjoy it so much.
A brief history behind the game
Pickleball is a racquet sport combining many elements of tennis, badminton and ping pong. A game that can be played both indoors in the colder months and outdoors during the warmer months, this versatile game has come a long way since it’s invention in 1965. Enjoyed by all ages, pickleball is played with rectangular shaped paddles and a plastic ball with holes (think wiffle ball). Played as singles or doubles, pickleball can accommodate up to four players on the court. So where did the game begin?
After playing golf on a warm Saturday, Joel Pritchard and Bill Bell returned to the Pritchard home on Bainbridge Island, Washington, to find their families sitting around with nothing to do. With an old badminton court on the property and no equipment to play, they improvised and started hitting a perforated plastic ball across a 60-inch net—later lowered to 36 inches—with ping pong paddles. Finding the simple game fascinating, and something the whole family could play, the families continued to play all weekend and discovered the ball bounced perfectly on the asphalt.
The following weekend Pritchard and Bell introduced the new game to fellow friend Barney McCallum. From there, the three men created the first rules of pickleball and thus, the game was formed. By 1967, the first permanent pickleball court was constructed and in 1972, to protect the creation of this new sport, a corporation was founded. All 50 states had adopted the game by 1990 and as of 2022, was announced as the fastest growing sport in America for the second year in a row. From a backyard in 1965 to corporations being formed and tournaments played worldwide, pickleball has become one of the nation’s most loved racquet sports in the span of nearly 60 years.
So, what’s with the unique name? Some have speculated the sport was named after the family dog, Pickles. However, the Pritchard family confirmed the game was named in reference to the local pickle boat races that occurred near their home, and Pickles the dog came into the family at a later time.
Read more about the history of pickleball.
A growing game of popularity
You may have already seen tennis courts with extra lines and shorter nets that have been converted to accommodate pickleball’s exploding popularity Pickleball continues to expand worldwide within community centers, PE classes, retirement facilities, YMCAs and more—including Cooper Fitness Center! In fact, many facilities offer classes and socials to help you learn how to play. With nearly 8,500 registered locations to play in the United States alone, this social and friendly game is not only fun to play but also fun to watch.
While pickleball has become popular on the recreation level, steps are also being taken to create a robust professional sport. As of October 2022, two competing pro pickleball leagues have been established:
- Major League Pickleball (MLP): MLP boasts two levels of pro players. The Premier Level consists of the top 48 players in all of pro pickleball, representing the gold standard. The Challenger Level is home to the next 48 up-and-coming talent looking to crush the competition in their division and move up to the Premier Level.
- VIBE Pickleball League (VIBE): VIBE begins play this year, 2023, with six teams of top talent. With four season events, two championships and one pro tour, this league only takes the best-of-the-best athletes. Celebrities such as Mark Cuban can be seen enjoying the sport by sponsoring a team.
The immense popularity and growth pickleball has seen on the recreation and pro side show that this simple game started in a family backyard may be the next greatest racquet sport.
So, next time you’re looking for a new game to play with friends, consider picking up a couple paddles and trying your luck at pickleball! Play by the official pickleball rules, or just try hitting the ball back and forth across the court. Either way, this sport is an excellent way to stay active, try something new and bring comradery to you and your group of friends.
At Cooper Fitness Center, events and socials, including pickleball, are included in membership. For more information about Cooper Fitness Center membership benefits, visit cooperfitnesscenter.com or call 972.233.4832.