Pickleball player

Pickleball: America’s Fastest Growing Sport

Ever since news broke that LeBron James is among the latest group to invest in Major League Pickleball, the sport’s popularity has skyrocketed around the globe. The league announced in October of 2022 that Los Angeles Lakers superstar LeBron James, Warriors star forward Draymond Green, and five-time All-Star Kevin Love are investing in Major League Pickleball. 

With this star-studded backing, MLP will be expanding from 12 to 16 teams in 2023, playing in six cities nationwide. But you don’t have to wait till the pros come to your city to start playing pickleball. It’s easy. Here’s everything you need to know to get your pickleball A-game in gear.

WHY IS PICKLEBALL GETTING SO POPULAR? 

Pickleball is catching on around the globe because it’s simple to learn, easy to play, and is tons of fun for all people aged 5 to 95. While a huge percentage of the pickleball population is over the age of 55, recent trends show that the sport of pickleball is serving major love to younger generations. According to the Sports & Fitness Industry Association (SFIA) 2019 Pickleball Participant Report, about 3.3 million people play pickleball in the United States. In just three years, from 2015 to 2018, the percentage of casual pickleball players under the age of 55 grew from 25% to 36%.

One reason people love playing pickleball could be attributed to its court size and ball. A regulation pickleball court measures 880 sq. ft.—280ft. of which is consumed by a no-play zone—as compared to a 2,808 sq. ft. tennis court. The perforated ball catches more drag in air and is much slower moving than a tennis ball or racket ball. Running on smaller courts and chasing slower balls require less athletic ability to successfully compete in social settings. 

But don’t let the fun and casual vibes fool you, the fast-paced volleying nature can develop into a competitive game for all skill levels, and that’s great for your health! It’s well known that a little friendly competition among your friends and workout buddies is great motivation for getting fit.  

WHAT IS PICKLEBALL?

Despite its name, playing pickleball has nothing to do with briny vegetables or sandwich condiments. It was founded in 1965 in Bainbridge Island, Washington by three dads – Joel Pritchard, Bill Bell, and Barney McCallum. As a smaller version of tennis played on a bigger court than ping pong, pickleball has evolved from a backyard hobby with simple rules to being a popular sport throughout the U.S. and Canada. 

It all started one summer day when Joel Pritchard’s kids were sitting around bored from the usual summer activities. In effort to put his backyard’s old badminton court to good use, Pritchard scrounged around for rackets but only found ping pong paddles and a perforated plastic ball. Soon, they lowered the net to accommodate the low-bouncing ball, added a few badminton-based rules later, and in a few weekends, pickleball was born.

Pickleball court rendering

Playing pickleball combines the elements of tennis, badminton, and ping pong, and is played on a badminton-size court divided by a modified tennis net. According to the rules, you can play the sport as doubles or singles. The court is striped like a tennis court and measures 44 feet by 20 feet. Each side of the net is divided into three zones including tennis-inspired service areas and a non-volley, kitchen zone.

HOW DOES PLAYING PICKLEBALL COMPARE TO TENNIS?

As ball-serving-based sports, pickleball and tennis have a lot in common when it comes to scoring and court format, but there are elements that separate pickleball into a sport all its own. For starters, the paddle! Pickleball paddles are smaller than tennis racquets and have a rounded squared-off edge. Unlike woven-face tennis racquets with strings, pickleball paddles are either completely smooth or have air holes.

Instead of using a felt covered rubber ball as in tennis, playing pickleball uses a small plastic ball, which means it doesn’t bounce as high as a tennis ball. It’s similar in appearance to a wiffle ball.

The court size is much smaller in tennis and includes a no-volley zone. In a pickleball match, players are not allowed to volley when they get too close to the net whereas tennis players can play aggressively in front of the net.

WHAT ARE THE BASIC RULES WHEN PLAYING PICKLEBALL?

The following is the abbreviated rule as published on the official USA Pickleball site

Playing pickleball can include two players to a team, or singles. Doubles, or teams of two, is a very common way to play. The playing size of the court and the rules are the same for both methods of play.

The Serve

  • Only one serve attempt is allowed per server.
  • All serving must be underhand. A drop serve is also permitted.
  • At the time the ball is struck, the server’s feet may not touch the court. 
  • At least one foot must be behind the baseline on the playing surface or the ground behind the baseline.
  • Contact with the ball must not be made above the waist level.
  • Like tennis, the serve is made diagonally crosscourt and must land within boundaries of the opposite diagonal court.

Scoring

  • The serving team can score points.
  • A pickleball game ends when one person or team reaches 11 points. 
  • Tournament games may be to 15 or 21, win by 2.
  • When the serving team’s score is even (0, 2, 4, 6 etc.) the player who was the first server will be in the right/even court when serving or receiving; when odd (1, 3, 5 etc.) that player will be in the left/odd court.

Serving Sequence

  • Both players on the serving doubles team can serve and score points until they commit a fault, except for the first service sequence of each new game.
  • The first serve of each side-out is made from the right/even court.
  • If a point is scored, the server switches sides and initiates the next serve from the left/odd court.
  • When the first server loses the serve the partner then serves from their correct side of the court, except for the first service sequence of each new game.
  • The second server continues serving until their team commits a fault and loses the serve to the opposing team.
  • Once the service goes to the opposition (at side out), the first serve is from the right/even court and both players on that team can serve and score points until their team commits two faults.
  • In singles the server serves from the right/even court when their score is even and from the left/odd when the score is odd.
  • At the beginning of each new game only one partner on the serving team can serve before faulting, after which the service passes to the receiving team.

Pickleball’s Unique “Two-Bounce Rule”

  • The ball must bounce at least once on each side of the court, for both the serve and the return.
  • Only after the ball has bounced once on each side of the net may a ball in the air be played (or after a bounce). 
  • The two-bounce rule eliminates the serve and volley advantage and extends rallies.

Non-Volley Zone (The Kitchen)

The kitchen is the area within seven feet on both sides of the net where volleying is prohibited.

It is a fault if a player, or their racket or clothing, crosses over to the non-volley zone. A player may be in the non-volley zone any time other than when volleying a ball.

READY, PLAYER ONE?

Now that you know the fun facts and rules behind this rallying sport, visit an EōS Fitness near you to get in shape before stepping onto the pickleball court. Currently, only one EōS location offers pickleball (Phoenix EōS Fitness location at 75th Avenue & Encanto), but more pickleball offerings will soon be coming to an EōS Fitness near you.

Whether you want to be the LeBron James of pickleball, or just want to be able to hold your own on the court, playing pickleball will activate almost all muscle groups, and just may become your new favorite workout.

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