As I wrote about in my previous post, the popular word game Wordle got its start during the recent pandemic. Something I dabbled in during the lockdowns and shut downs was Pickelball. I’d heard about it and since I love tennis, I thought I’d give it a shot. Just like Wordle, it’s taken the country (and some of the world) by storm.
When I first played Pickelball back in 2020, my neighborhood club had tennis courts but not official Pickelball courts so our pro improvised like many do and converted a couple of the tennis courts into Pickelball courts. It was so much fun and really easy to learn. Think of it as a brilliant combination of tennis, badminton, and table tennis aka ping pong. It’s a blast and it’s the fastest growing sport in America! It’s also a game for all ages and the whole family so it’s only fitting it was invented by a “mature” dad and his family.
The game was invented in 1965 on Bainbridge Island in Washington state by three dads – Joel Pritchard, Bill Bell, and Barney McCallum – whose kids were complaining they were bored and had nothing to do. Like all good dads, they put their heads together and said “challenge accepted!”
Returning home after a game of golf, Pritchard and Bell hit a hole in one when they looked at the property’s old badminton court but couldn’t find any badminton equipment. So….they improvised and began playing with ping-pong paddles and a perforated plastic ball. What fun they had and the next weekend McCallum joined them and soon the three created rules for their new game; rules that relied heavily on badminton.
Fast forward to 1990 and Pickelball was being played in all 50 states. By 2019 the newly formed USA Pickleball Association had nearly 40,000 members, representing a 1,000 percent growth since 2013. Maybe they should be in charge of our economy! Two years later membership reached the 50,000 milestone and the sport’s popularity continues to explode. So what is it? Why so popular?
For one, like I mentioned earlier, if you can walk and bend you can play Pickelball. It is fast paced, but you get the hang of it fairly quickly. That’s the other thing: it’s easy to learn. The spread of its popularity is also attributed to the fact that it’s thriving at community centers, school PE classes, YMCA facilities, and retirement communities; the latter of which you could call the major league of Pickleball. It’s the ideal sport for those aging into or in retirement age as much like golf, it can be played at any age. Just be careful.
With the rise in Pickelball popularity has come a rise in Pickelball injuries – especially among Baby Boomers. In fact, experts say the popular pastime is leading to a rash of injuries amongst the senior set. Overuse injuries like tendonitis, arthritis, muscle contusions, and sprains are common and issues like patella; and ankle, wrist, and elbow fractures that require surgery are not uncommon. This older yet ambitious demographic is more likely to have weak bones, putting them at a greater risk for fractures considering the sport’s notorious repetive quick starts and stops. Loving the camaraderie and activity it brings to their often secluded lives, retirees picking up the Pickleball paddle may start slow but many get the bug and begin playing several hours a day and several days a week. I know the feeling. A tennis player at heart, I took the sport up again in 2020 after many idle years and before you know it I was at a pain relief doctor complaining of lower back and hip pain. I thought I was active enough to become my beloved Chris Evert again, but my body said no way. Enter Pickeball…the perfect competitive yet friendly game.
Played either inside or outside, Pickelball brings people together and is always played in doubles, meaning you play with a partner and have less court to cover. It involves both a cardio health aspect and requires strategic and quick planning that keeps the brain engaged. Just be sure to stretch before playing and work on balance, stability, and cross-training. I’m thinking yoga and long walks.
Play is done on a court that’s the same size as a doubles badminton court and it’s striped similar to a tennis court with right and left service courts. Excitement is added with the non-volley zone in front of the net called the “kitchen.” Rule #1: stay out of the kitchen as volleys are not allowed!
Pickelball paddles are smaller than tennis racquets but bigger than ping-pong paddles, although their handle is short like their table tennis counterparts. The balls are unique in that they have holes throughout and come in fun colors; colors that must be a single color to meet International Federation of Pickell specifications.
Yes, there is an international governing board as many new clubs are forming worldwide. Many European and Asian countries are witnessing Pickelball mania and courts are popping up everywhere. Do I foresee a future Olympic sport?
And to answer the question of all questions, how did Pickelball gets its name? Well, not from the food product and not after Pritchard’s dog whose name was Pickle. Many theories presume that the dog was the game’s namesake but sweet Pickles was born in 1968, years after the sport was named and being played. So then, what’s the real story?
Although I love the idea of Pickelball being named after a dog, it really got its unique moniker from Pritchard’s wife Joan who was a loyal crew fan and thought the fact that Pickelball was a thrown together game made up of parts of other games, it was much like the just-for-fun “pickle boat” races that regattas often hold for non-starters in a separate competition. I know, not the greatest of tales, but that’s the truth.
Our neighborhood club recently constructed designated Pickelball courts and play has commenced. I recently returned to the court and gave it a shot but with our 100+ degree weather, it was just too dang hot for me; even in the evening. I plan to return to play as our temperatures subside and can’t wait to dink it over the net and win the match. See you there!