The History of Pickleball

History of pickleball
September 21, 2022
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With the rise of 4.8 million players in the US, pickleball is said to be the most trending sport by the Sports & Fitness Industry Association (SPFIA) report 2022.

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Many players worldwide gear up their local courts and parks for a healthy match. It allows everyone to participate regardless of age which makes it everyone’s favorite. From multi-generational family groups to friends and retirees, everyone participates in pickleball wholeheartedly. Who thought a game known to be a social sport would be renowned globally one day?

🏸 But from where did it all start? What exactly is pickleball? What is the history of pickleball? Who are the founders? What are the rules? You surely are wondering that all, right? Settle down yourself because, in this article, I am going to reveal everything you need to know about pickleball. Let’s begin with a brief introduction below.

An Introduction to Pickleball 🏸

According to Wikipedia, pickleball begins from dates back to 1965, when two men from the United States created a game out of boredom. Well, the story begins in Bainbridge Island near Seattle, where Joel Pritchard resides with his family. On one fine day in summer, Joel (congressmen from Washington) was heading back home along with his pal Bill Bell (a successful businessman). Upon reaching home, both of them found their families doing nothing and so they began searching for something productive.

The History of Pickleball - pickleball founders photo of the trio

Joel had a badminton court in the backyard of his house and planned to have a good time with Bill. Unfortunately, Joel didn’t have the full racquet set, yet they tried to have the most out of it. They managed to play with ping-pong paddles and a plastic ball as alternate equipment. 

The game was simple, each player has to volley the ball over the net and the player on the other end has to receive and return the ball repeatedly.

The game continued for a while and they soon begin to enjoy it.  Joel experienced an amazing bounce on the asphalt surface and reconsidered the net height. Consequently, the net was lowered to 36 inches for a smooth serving.

Later the weekend, both Joel and Bill introduced it to their mate Barney McCallum. Afterwards, all three of them found it an amazing creation in disguise.

The funny thing is, they never knew how much the world is going to admire this game in the future.

What is Pickleball?

Before we dig into the history, let’s share a few words on the definition.

📌 Briefly speaking, pickleball is a mixture of all racquet sports. It includes a portion of badminton, tennis, and ping-pong — blending all of them together, creating pickleball.

The History of Pickleball - two pickleball paddles with two balls

As the name suggests, pickleball is played on similar rules to tennis but a little close to badminton and slightly different from ping-pong. Still don’t get it?

Let me explain: a player has to move back and forth in tennis, but the court size is similar to badminton. The ball used in pickleball is similar to wiffleball (consisting of holes).

Don’t let this tweak make you think pickleball is a tough game. A big NOOO! It is one of the most exciting games that allow you to play for hours without realizing it. Peg Traver is a USA Pickleball’s Assistant Southwest Regional Director. She states that multi-age players are found to be playing in her community in Prescott, Arizona.

So who are the Founders of Pickleball?

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Humans have always been tremendous at improvising things for personal entertainment. Like basketball was invented as an indoor activity for passing time during winters, and a soccer ball was usually hooped in peach baskets.

Similarly, pickleball originated in Bainbridge Island, US, in 1965 by two dads.

Bill Bell and Joel Pritchard created pickleball upon reaching home on a bright sunny summer day. As stated in the above section, pickleball was only a way of alleviating boredom. Both the dads think of creating something in which every person can participate. Fast forwarding to today, that little thought process has become famous globally, raising 4.8 million players across the US.

Pickleball History Timeline: 1965 till Today!

Introduced in 1965, Pickleball has progressed significantly over the years and improvised the sports infrastructure magnificently. It wouldn’t be just to brief the throughout journey over the years in a line or two.

Hence I’ll discuss every aspect of Pickleball from its origin till now. So let’s get started.

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1965: an Introduction

The world has changed so much since 1965. It’s hard to imagine how the world was before technology and digital means. Previously, the only way to alleviate boredom was to stay productive with whatever you had.

The story behind pickleball begins in 1965 when two friends were bored out of their minds. They came up with a game that they called “pickleball,” which was played by bouncing a rubber ball on a plastic paddle.

1967: Construction

Two years later, Joel constructed a proper pickleball court in his backyard.

1972- 1976: Massive Popularity

As the game was gaining massive popularity, a corporation was formed for protection.

Pickleball was admired so much across the country during these years. Finally, South Center Athletic Club hosted the first ever Pickleball tournament and it was inaugurated at Tukwila. To your surprise, a majority of tennis players also participated who knew very little about Pickleball.

1978: Publishing of First Book

As the world’s eye was getting on Pickleball, a first book named “The Other Racquet Sports” was published. The book contains detailed information regarding Pickleball along with a guide to play.

1984: Advancements in Pickleball

Many advancements had taken place till 1984. The authorities organized the United States Amateur Pickleball Association nationally for further growth. The first Executive Director became Sid Williams this year. He served to 1998 in this position.

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1990-1997: A big Twist

Ever since 1990, pickleball was now being played all over the 50 states of America. Unfortunately in 1997, the founder of Pickleball, Joel Pritchard, left the world at the age of 72. He also served as a Lieutenant governor of the US from 1988-1986. However, the world identifies him more as the founder of Pickleball.

Image source: wikipedia

1999: First Pickleball Website

The first pickleball website was launched in 1999. The website provides all the necessary information regarding the game and equipment.

2001: Largest Pickleball Event

The largest pickleball event was organized this year due to the hardships of Earl Hill. Pickleball became the part of Arizona Senior Olympics, which grew by 100 players that year. There was a 3x rise in numbers over the next few years.

2005: Formation of USA Pickleball Association (USAPA)

The year 2005 was very blessed for Pickleball. A new corporation was formed named as USA Pickleball Association (USAPA). The corporation consists of the most deserving team members on board, that has contributed a major role in the growth of Pickleball. Mark Friedenberg was appointed as the first president of the corporation.

Later on, the corporation became a non-profit organization on July 1, 2005.

2006: Death of Bill Bell

2006 was another dark year for pickleball lovers when Bill Bell passed away at the age of 83.

2009: First National Tournament

In 2009, pickleball did another massive strike. The first National Tournament was organized on November 8-9 in Arizona and opened for all ages. That year, 400 players were drawn to the tournament, including some Canadian players as well.

2010- 2013: Establishment of IFP

Since 2010, the game had gained massive popularity and the authorities wanted to escalate Pickleball internationally to compete among foreigners. Therefore an International Federation Of Pickleball (IFP) was initiated in 2010.

Back in 2013, USAPA was missing a full-time Executive Director. Hence Justin Maloof joined as the new Executive Director with over 4,071 members on board which is quite impressive. Justin also improvised the logo with multiple colours showing more consistency with other sports federations in the US.

2015: Publication of Pickleball Fundamentals

This was the first time USAPA took over 10,000 members, making it the biggest number in history. A new beginner guidebook was published under “Pickleball Fundamentals, Master the Basics and Compete with Confidence.”

2016: USAPA Partnership with SSIPA

The number of members increased to 17000 in 2016, and the popularity was gaining massively. A new referee certification program was inaugurated to promote it worldwide. Furthermore, USAPA partnered with Super Senior International Pickleball Association (SSIPA).

2017: USAPA Breaking Records

Pickleball kept setting a new record every year. And in 2017, USAPA broke its previous record with its 1300 players and 22,000 memberships in December. Pickleball was literally slaying across the world.

Volunteers Ambassador Group exceeded with over 1500+ new entries, and the regionals were expended to 11.

2018: Live Match Streams

The first sport’s historical book was published as “History Of Pickleball, More Than 50 Years Of Fun!” Professional Pickleball Registry was partnered with USAPA, which certified over 1000 instructors in the first 6 months.

The membership exceeded over 30,000.

Live match streams were aired on Facebook, which gives a reach of 1.5 million viewers organically.

2019: Massive Success of USAPA

According to the Sports Fitness Industry Association 2019 report, Pickleball remains one of the fastest-growing sports in the US, with 3.3 million participants.

USAPA has nearly 40,000 members by the end of the year, representing a 1,000% increase since the beginning of 2013.

This was a significant boost in USAPA as the pickle transformed from a social game to an international competitive game.

2020: Rebranding of USAPA

A new Executive Director held the office, named Stu Upson, and did a little rebranding from USAPA to USA Pickleball. A new, modern logo and an updated website are also part of the brand relaunch. The new name, logo, and website are intended to strengthen USA Pickleball’s global reputation as the official pickleball organization in the United States.

2021: USAPA Continous to Grow

USAP continued the investment in staff infrastructure, and the organization ended the year with nearly 20 employees. Several national segments on NBC’s The, CNBC, Today Show, Live with Kelly and Ryan, and BBC News and stories published in top-tier publications. These publications including The New York Times, The Economist, Forbes, Allure, The Boston Globe, USA Today, Vanity Fair, Sports Illustrated, Parade, and Axios continued to drive awareness.

USAPA ended the year with a 43% increase in memberships from previous years and a total of 53,000 members.

The Progress is Continued

The origin of Pickleball was initiated in a small backyard, and now it has grown worldwide. It has been featured in every community center, park, and PE class across the country. Research says that Pickleball now has over 8,500 locations across the US.

Pickleball continues to grow globally, and the authorities aim to make it the world’s favorite sport among all ages.

📌 How did pickleball get its name?

Wondering who was behind the idea of the name “pickleball?”

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Honestly, it was one of the trending debates back in the 90s. The game was invented by three friends, Joel, Barney, and Bill. The name “Pickleball” was an idea of Joel as this game was a blend of all racquet games.

However, there is another side to the story. Some sources say that Joel’s wife had a dog named “Pickle” and the game was entitled after him.

However, there was a big confusion, and to solve the mystery, we did some digging. We went through magazines, books, and photos of the 1960s. Upon searching, it was found the dog became part of the family a few years after its invention in 1968.

Moreover, the logical aspect also supports the first statement. Nothing could be more relevant than pickle because of a mixture of several racquet games.

What’s the Logic behind Pickleball Name?

The pickleball name history is one of the most confusing moments for the fans. There are plenty of official stories that contradict each other. But fairly speaking, the name “pickle” could be the most strange and most weird title for a sport.

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Anyone who hasn’t heard of the name laughs terribly at first. So yeah, it’s a bit awkward at first. However, there’s a logic to it.

Joel named this sport pickle since it’s a mixture of all other racquet sports. A player moves back and forth like tennis, but the court size is as small as badminton. Ping-pong paddlers are used for smashing, and the ball is made of hard plastic.

So these attributes convinced the founder to name it “Pickleball.”

Other stories say the game was named after Joel’s wife’s dog “Pickle.” So history has many chapters, yet the first version seems the most relevant.

Pickleball Background Interesting Facts

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Let’s look at some of Pickleball’s interesting historical facts below.

  • Pickleball is equally popular among males and females. They have a ratio of 53% to 47%, respectively.
  • Pickleball was introduced in the backyard of Joel.
  • The first pickleball court was built in 1967.
  • It was introduced so that all age members could participate in it.
  • It can be played in both singles and doubles mode.
  • It is one of the most favourite sports in the US, with over 3.3 million players.

📌 FAQ:

What are the 3 facts about the history of pickleball?

  1. Pickleball was introduced in the backyard of Joel.
  2. Founders introduced the game to alleviate boredom.
  3. The first pickleball court was built in 1967.

Who invented the game of pickleball?

A Washington congressman named Joel Patrichard invented pickleball with his two friends, Bill Bell and Barney McCallum.

Where did the game of pickleball originate?

It was invented in the backyard of Joel’s house situated in Bainbridge, Washington, near Seattle.

Why pickleball is so addictive?

Fairly speaking, the opportunity for everyone to participate in this game is the only reason for its addictiveness. Multi-generational groups and people can play against each other and the kick you get out of is awesome.

What are the top rules of the pickleball game?

There are a few rules including, 

  • Serving Rules
  • No-volley Rules
  • Serving Sequence
  • Out of Bound Rules
  • Dimension Rules

What do you wear to play pickleball?

You don’t have to follow any specific apparel to play pickleball. You can just wear anything comfortable including shot pants, t-shirts, and sweat pants.

How long does it take to play a game of pickleball?

The average points required to win a pickleball game is 11. Considering it, a one-pickleball game lasts around 5-12 minutes.

Bibliography

  1. npr.org/2022/02/19/1081257674/americas-fastest-growing-sport-pickleball
  2. en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pickleball#History
  3. en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bill_Bell_(businessman)
  4. en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Joel_Pritchard
  5. usapickleball.org
  6. ifpickleball.org
  7. usseniorpickleball.com
  8. usapickleball.org(opens in a new tab)

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Hey, fellow pickleball player!

My name is Ethan Josephson. I am a pickleball enthusiast who has been playing this fantastic game for more than 5 years. Before that I had almost 20-years-experience with tennis and table tennis, but pickleball fascinated me completely.