What is Pickleball?
Has someone told you about a fun game with a pretty strange name? Or perhaps you’re tired of explaining it to your friends when they say, “pickle what?”
When people ask, what is pickleball? I sometimes have a hard time answering. It’s a little bit of ping pong, some tennis, throw in some badminton, and make it fast, fun, and social. That’s pickleball.
I play and coach multiple sports, and without a doubt, pickleball is as unique as its name. It’s easy to learn but tough to master. It’s athletic and strategic, and for most people, the best part is it’s social!
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What is pickleball?
Let’s start with the court.
The dimensions of a pickleball court as the same as a badminton court, 44 feet long and 20 feet across.
There’s a section called the non-volley zone that extends from the net seven feet on each side. You may hear the non-volley zone, or NVZ, lovingly referred to as the “kitchen.”
The right side of the court is the even side, and the left side is the odd side.
The net measures 34 inches in the middle and 36 inches on each end
There’s no court difference for doubles or singles.
In most areas, doubles are the most popular form of play.
Asphalt surfaces are most common for outdoor play. However, you’ll also find pickleball played in the gym.
Now that you understand where pickleball is played let’s take a look at pickleball equipment.
Paddles may remind you of ping-pong paddles, which were the precursor to the modern pickleball paddle.
Today, paddles are made of composite materials. A pickleball paddle can be no longer than 17 inches, with the combined length and width no greater than 24 inches.
The ball is similar in consistency to a whiffle ball. It’s light, so it’s impacted by the wind when playing outdoors.
When a pickleball is dropped from a height of 78″ on a granite surface plate, the ball can bounce no more than 34 inches. If you remember, that’s the height of the net at the center.
There is a difference between indoor and outdoor balls. Outdoor balls are heavier and harder with smoother plastic. The easiest way to recognize an outdoor pickleball is by the smaller holes. Additionally, outdoor balls skid and don’t bounce as high, so they are rarely used indoors.
Balls come in a variety of different colors, which is especially important for indoor play. Gyms have a lot of lines, and the floor tints are different colors. A pickleball that’s easy to see in one gym may be impossible to see in another.
Not sure you are ready to play? Join our beginner Facebook group to see what it’s all about.
Know that you know what pickleball is; let’s play!
Scoring can be a bit confusing, so here’s an in-depth guide.
A team can only score points while they’re serving. To begin the game or after a side out, which is when the service changes side, the play will start on the even (right) side of the court.
The serve must be made with an underhand motion. Contact with the ball must be made below the wrist and without a bounce.
The serve must be hit diagonally, landing past the non-volley zone. Players only get one opportunity to get the serve in.
Each player on the team gets a chance to serve except for the very first service of the game.
If you win a point that the player keeps serving, you merely switch sides.
There’s something called the two-bounce rule. Since the service is in the air, we start counting the bounces when it lands. One bounce on the returning teams’ side and one more bounce on the serving teams’ side. This puts the serving team on defense, which is a unique aspect of the sport.
Volley means to take the ball out of the air. As the name implies, you are not allowed to touch or stand in the non-volley zone and volley the ball. You may enter the NVZ to play a ball that bounces.
Typically, games are played to 11, and a team must win by 2.
At the end of the game, it’s customary for all the players to come to the net and tap their paddles.
Hopefully, I’ve answered the question, what is pickleball, and how do you play it? Now you may wonder why so many people seem addicted to it.
Anyone at any age can play.
You can be playing a game the same day you pick up a paddle, often within an hour. It could take a very long time to learn the unique shots and strategies needed to become consistent.
Pickleball is a great way to get moving and stay in shape. I know a lot of pickleball players who’ve lost weight and improved their fitness just by starting to play. But it’s a sport, and if you haven’t moved in a while, it’s best to put a plan in place, so you don’t get injured.
It’s not an expensive sport to learn; court fees are typically less than 10 dollars and are often free.
You can get a good beginner paddle for less than $100. Our free beginner guide and video course give you some guidance on how to pick the best paddle for you.
It’s easy to get introduced to the game. The USA Pickleball runs a program called pickleball ambassadors. They are people who love the game of pickleball and share their enthusiasm for the game with others. In many instances, they will teach you the basics, secure some loaner equipment for you to try, and introduce you to other pickleball players. Best of all, it’s often for free or for a very nominal fee.
It’s a social game. During open play times, you’ll meet and play with a variety of players.
If you’re excited to learn how to play pickleball, FREE Beginner Guide and 21-Video Course.
I look forward to meeting you at the Pickleball Courts!
Hey there — I’m a professional three-sport athlete and coach who has spent my entire adult life earning a living from playing and coaching sports. Since I started coaching more than three decades ago, one thing has remained the same: My commitment to see students not as they are but as what they can become and to move heaven and earth to help them realize their untapped potential. You should know that when it comes to helping pickleball players over 50 live their best lives on and off the courts, I'm an expert. Good pickleball is not just technique; it's the mind and body working holistically. That's why I'm also a personal trainer and weight management specialist. When I’m chillin', you'll find me watching Star Trek with my husband John and our two fur babies, Shirley and Ralph. (Yes, Happy Days)
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I tell people PB is played on a badminton sized court, with a tennis sized net with a wiffle ball, and an oversized solid ping pong paddle.
P.S. I saw where you said you wear Asics volleyball shoes for indoor PB, and Asics tennis shoes for outdoor PB. I have worn the Asics Gel Resolution for 4 years, and I just ordered the volleyball shoes for indoor. I had never thought of different shoes. Thanks!
Hi Ken, that’s a great way to describe pickleball!
I love Asics, they are a great fit and last a long time. I found that I get better traction indoors with the volleyball shoe. Unfortunately the gym I play at has a slick floor and they don’t keep it very clean. If you find yourself in a similar spot and you need more traction, check out the video that I did on Court Grabbers https://youtu.be/pyEVGgkchT4. This product has been very helpful!