Pickleball 101: The History of Pickleball

young man playing pickleball

Roughly 4.8 million people in the U.S. play pickleball. From 2021 to 2022, participation in the sport grew by 14.8%, and the previous year, the number of players increased by 21.3% With an average annual growth of 11.5% over the last five years, pickleball is the fastest-growing sport in America. As more people discover the sport, an increasing number of people are asking "what is a pickleball game?" and "who invented pickleball?" This guide provides answers to these questions and explores the history of pickleball.

What Is Pickleball?

Pickleball is a game played on a badminton court with a perforated plastic ball. Players hold a paddle made of composite or wood. It is similar in shape to a ping-pong paddle but about twice the size. Gameplay looks similar to tennis with one player serving the ball and trying to make their opponent unable to return it, and like tennis, you can play pickleball individually or as doubles.

Who Invented Pickleball?

Three dads from Bainbridge Island, Washington, invented pickleball. Their names were Joel Pritchard, Bill Bell and Barney McCallum. Like many parents, the men were dealing with bored kids who needed something to do to pass the time during their summer vacation. Their original idea had been to play badminton, but they lacked the equipment. As a substitute, they used perforated plastic balls and ping-pong paddles found at home. The three worked together to create rules and refined the game by lowering the net from 60 to 36 inches.

When Was Pickleball Invented?

Pickleball was invented in 1965. Summer 2022 was the 57th anniversary of the sport.

Why Is It Called Pickleball?

There isn't a complete consensus regarding how pickleball got its name. Pritchard's wife, Joan, explained she likened the sport to be like the mishmash of leftover rowers on a pickle boat mixed with a combination of more than one sport. Barney McCallum claims that the sport was named after the Pritchards' beloved dog, Pickles. He recounted that the dog would run after the ball during their practice sessions. What is known for sure is that the game didn't have a name when they first invented it. Only when pickleball grew in popularity did the inventors come to give it its unique title.

Key Pickleball Events and Timeline

Here are some key dates in the history of pickleball:

1976: Pickleball Appears in Tennis Magazine

Tennis Magazine published an article about Pickleball in 1976 in which pickleball was dubbed "America's newest racquet sport." The resulting publicity introduced pickleball to tennis players living in the U.S. and abroad and helped to spur interest in the game.

1984: The USAPA Forms

In 1984, pickleball joined the ranks of governed sports with the formation of USA Pickleball (USAPA). The nonprofit organization became the governing body charged with developing official regulations and rules, organizing tournaments and promoting pickleball to a wider audience of potential players. The USAPA still governs the sport in the USA and its territories to this day.

2008: Official Tournament Rulebook Comes Off the Presses

In 2008, USAPA unveiled the first-ever official tournament rule book for pickleball. With the establishment of official rules, people could add a new level of competition to recreational pickleball leagues. The rules created standards of play to help ensure that people all over the U.S. were keeping score, using the same equipment and enforcing rules the same way.

2009: First National Tournament

In 2009, USAPA sponsored the first-ever national tournament, known as the USA Pickleball Nationals. It was held in Buckeye, Arizona, and attracted 400 players from 26 states and Canadian provinces. The competition included doubles and singles play and gold medalists ranged in age from 26 to 76. CBS Sports Network televised some of the competition, which further increased the reach of pickleball.

2015: SFIA Recognizes the Sport

In 2015, pickleball made headlines when the Sports & Fitness Industry Association (SFIA) released data showing that pickleball was the fastest-growing sport in the nation. Press releases for the announcement captured the attention of media outlets that hadn't covered the sport before, and these organizations ran print articles, blog posts and television segments about it. Through this publicity, pickleball gained even more new players.

2016: USAPA Launches the Junior Program

Pickleball is a sport for people of all ages, and in 2016, the USAPA took steps to get more children involved in the game. With the advent of the Juniors program, kids aged 7 to 18 can now find opportunities to learn how to play and to participate in leagues that are especially for them.

Is Pickleball an Olympic Sport?

As of summer 2022, pickleball is not an Olympic sport. However, the growing popularity of the game leads many to believe that it will become one in the coming years. In order for the sport to be added to the roster, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) will need to recognize it. Under IOC rules, a sport must be played in at least 75 countries across four continents to be added to the men's events and in at least 40 countries across three continents to be included with the women's. Based on the rate of growth of the game, some people believe pickleball may qualify as early as 2028.

Become a Part of Pickleball History

Pickleball is good exercise, simple to learn and fun to play alone or with a partner. On top of the many reasons to take up the sport, you also have the chance to begin playing pickleball while it is still growing in popularity, adding a cool factor to taking to the court. Devereux can help you gear up for the sport with a line of pickleball apparel and accessories as well as a pickleball paddle with a cool retro design. Check out the collection now and dress for comfort and performance for your first games as a pickleball enthusiast.

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