Pickleball sees popularity spike nationwide

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A pickleball player goes for an overhead smash. Pickleball is becoming a popular sport for many. (Wayne Dollard)

For those looking for a new sport to try out this summer, look no further than pickleball.

Pickleball is a fun, active sport that has exponentially increased in popularity over the past couple decades.

According to the USA Pickleball Association (USAPA), the Sports & Fitness Industry Association (SFIA) 2015 Participant Report found that almost two and a half million people play pickleball in the United States.

Locally, the Provo Parks and Recreation Department said that there are twice as many pickleball reservations as there are for tennis right now.

Its family friendly nature and ease of involvement makes it a first pick for many people looking to get outside and have a good time.

“It’s fun because you feel like more of an all-star than when you are playing tennis because it’s easier,” said avid pickleball player Michael Hayes.

Pickleball is a paddle sport that combines elements from tennis, badminton and ping-pong.  It’s played on a badminton-sized court, with a low net, paddles and a plastic ball. Similar to traditional tennis, it can be played with singles or with doubles. The rules of the game, according to the USAPA, are as follows:

  • Begin the game with one side serving the ball from the right half. The player must keep one foot behind the back line and strike the ball with an underhand swing. The ball must clear the no-volley zone (7 feet from the net) and land in the service box diagonally over the net.
  • The receiving team and the serving team must both let the ball bounce once on their side before returning it after a serve. After these bounces, the ball can be played off the bounce or can be volleyed (outside the no-volley zone). If the ball bounces a second time on the same side, the other side is awarded a point (if serving).
  • “Faults” in the game include failing to clear the net, hitting the ball out of bounds, volleying in the no-volley zone, and volleying the ball before it has bounced on the first serve and return. Let serves are replayed.
  • Lines are considered in except when a serve lands on the no-volley line.
  • Games are normally played to 11 points with points only scored by the serving team. Similar to volleyball, teams must win by two points.
The Fields at Little Valley in St. George has 24 pickleball courts. The USA Pickleball Association 2016 West Regional Tournament was hosted here. (City of St. George)

Official pickleball courts can be found at local recreation centers or various gyms. The Provo recreation center has eight outdoor and three indoor courts that are open for drop-in play or reservations.

However, if courts are not readily available, the game can be played anywhere and at any time. With just a net, some paddles, a plastic ball (similar to a whiffle ball), and some chalk, a court can be set up in no time on a sidewalk or parking lot.  

Pickleball was first created as a fun family activity in 1965 when three dads — Joel Pritchard, Bill Bell and Barney McCallum — noticed their kids were getting bored with the usual summertime activities.

The first equipment used was an old badminton net, some ping-pong paddles and a perforated plastic ball. The net was lowered to 36 inches and the ball was played on an asphalt surface.

After adding a few modifications to the rules of badminton, the first official pickleball court was constructed in Pritchard’s neighbor’s backyard. Since then, it has grown into a popular sport competitively played in the U.S. and Canada while branching out to other countries worldwide.

The true influencer for the game’s name has been in debate for a while. Commonly, it is said that the name refers to the Pritchard’s dog “Pickles.” He would steal the ball whenever they played, so they called it Pickle’s ball, which was later shortened to pickleball.

However, according to Mr. Pritchard’s wife, Joan, the game got its name because she had mentioned that the game reminded her of the crew in a pickle boat where oarsmen are chosen from the leftovers of other boats.  

No matter the origin of its name, pickleball has become widely popular and is a great addition to any outing, barbecue or get-together. Young or old, active or not active, this game is a fun activity for anyone.

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