How did Pickleball Get Its Name? Our Ultimate Guide

If you haven’t heard about the rise of Pickleball – where have you been?

Pickleball is one of the fastest-growing sports in the United States with over 50,000 members registered in 2021 alone. In this article, we look at the game, the history, facts of the game, and also how Pickleball got its name. Read on..

Pickleball is a relatively new sport compared to other racket sports. It is a paddle sport that is a combination of different sports such as ping-pong, badminton, and tennis. It uses a lightweight ball with holes in it.

Players of all ages and skill levels can enjoy this amazing game because it is easy to learn and play. Whilst the majority of players can be found in the USA the game is becoming more popular internationally with over 4,000 registered players in the UK and over 1,000 players registered in Spain and growing fast.

But how did Pickleball get its name and what are the facts behind it? To get the answer to this mystery, continue reading.

Also Read: How much do tennis players earn?

History of Pickleball - How did Pickleball Get Its Name

The History of Pickleball

Good friends Joel Pritchard, a congressman from Washington State, William Bell (or Bill Bell as he was better known), a successful businessman, and Barney McCallum are recognized for founding the game of Pickleball. Sadly none of these individuals are with us today but their legacy lives on.

So the story goes, they returned to Pritchard’s home on Bainbridge Island, WA near Seattle after a good round of golf one Saturday to find his whole family in residence and complaining they were bored with nothing to do. Pritchard stated to his children that when he was a child he would invent new games to keep himself occupied and he set out to prove this to them.

The cabin on his property had an old badminton court nearby but no badminton equipment could be found to play with so they improvised with table tennis paddles and a perforated plastic ball (plastic Wiffle ball).

At first, the Pritchard family played with the badminton net set at 60 inches and mainly played the game in the air, volleying the ball. Quickly they realized that the ball bounced well on the hard surface and the net was lowered to 36 inches to incorporate ground stroke rallies.

Soon after a friend, Barney McCallum, was introduced to the game at Pritchard’s home where they set about developing the rules of this new game with a strong emphasis on creating a sport where the entire family could play. There is some debate on the exact year this happened but Pritchard and his then-wife, Joan Pritchard, believe it was 1965.

How did Pickleball Get Its Name?

The origins of the name are also in dispute. Joan Pritchard wrote in a 2008 newspaper column that due to the hybrid nature of the game, the name was founded as a reference to the thrown-together leftover non-starters in the “pickle boat” of crew boat races.

Joel Pritchard claimed that they needed a ”nutty name” to match the bizarre game he had invented and MaCallum told people it originated from telling his opponents ”I’ve got you in a pickle”. There is another twist in the story that the sport was named after Pritchard’s family dog who was aptly named ‘Pickles’. It is rumored that Pickles liked to chase the ball during play, frequently putting the ball in his mouth and running off the court.

This dog story would be plausible had Pritchard not claimed the fact the dog Pickles came after the game had been invented and the dog was named after the game!

The exact origins of the name are unclear and which one of the tales is a true story will remain a myth, maybe it is a combination of all of the above! Either way, the naming of the game happened and today we are fortunate to have the great game of Pickleball alive and well.

How did pickleball get its name

Some interesting facts about Pickleball

  1. Pickleball Has Been Around for Almost 60 Years, Pickle ball was invented in 1965 and has continued to grow at pace.
  2. The first pickleball court was constructed in the backyard of Joel Pritchard’s friend and neighbor, Bob O’Brian.
  3. The first pickleball tournament was held in the spring of 1976 at the South Center Athletic Club in Tukwila, Washington. David Lester won Men’s Singles and Steve Paranto finished runner-up.
  4. Since 2022 Pickleball has been the official state sport of Washington
  5. The game was originally played with wooden paddles (ping-pong paddles even!), but now the technology has advanced at place. Racquets today are aerodynamic, impact absorption, and allow for much more control.
  6. The Ball is light and has Holes, most sports play with a hard ball. This makes the speed of the ball much slower and means tactical play is much more important than sheer power.
  7. Whilst the bulk of players are based in the USA, the game is now international. The International Federation of Pickleball International Federation of Pickleball – IFP governs international pickleball play, with countries such as Canada, Spain, India, and more all participating in the international game.
  8. Pickleball is a great sport for older players as it is not as physically demanding on joints as tennis or squash
  9. As of 2020, the sport has over 4.2 million players in the USA. Compared to 2.6 million in 2016, pickleball has exploded in popularity in recent years. It is great to see that more and more younger people are getting into the game to keep this growth up, the fastest-growing demographic is the under-24 category.
  10. Famous players include Leonardo Di Caprio, George and Amal Clooney, and the Kardashians. Sam Querry, a former tennis top ten players, has joined the pickleball tour.
  11. There is a growing professional tour that attracts over 800 players in regular tournaments in five different countries.
  12. People who play Pickleball are known as ‘Picklers’. You also don’t lose a game, you get ‘Pickled’.

The Court

The game itself is played on a hard court that is the same size as a badminton court (the dimensions are 20 feet by 44 feet). The net is set at 36 inches high on the edges and slightly lower at 34 inches in the middle. This is a relatively small court compared to other racquet sports and this allows younger players or those with limited mobility to play in a way other sports can prohibit.

What Are the 5 Basic Rules of Pickleball?

Pickleball is a wonderfully simple game to understand, yet hard to master

  • The ball must stay in bounds within the court markings.
  • The ball is allowed to bounce once on each side.
  • You must serve underarm at the baseline into the diagonal court of an opponent.
  • Serves must not land in the ‘non-volley zone’.
  • The game always ends at 11, 15, or 21 points.

For a full and comprehensive overview of the rules pls check out this incredible page Rules Summary

how did pickleball get its name

How can I learn more about Pickleball?

Head to the USA Pickleball Association, About Us the National Governing Body for the sport for some great information, and also the United States Amateur Pickleball Association APA Pickleball. Both these sites provide a wealth of information on the game and where to get started.

Final Thoughts

The Sport of Pickleball is a fantastic game to get involved with. A 2022 report from the Sports & Fitness Industry Association cited it as the fastest-growing sport in America, with 4.8 million players nationwide and we can see why.

It is easy to pick up and can be played across ages. It is a blend of skill, agility, reflexes and requires strong hand-eye coordination. It is a game that attracts people who have played a combination of other sports including squash, table tennis, tennis, and Padel.

This breadth makes it a fantastic sport to play with family and friends. And who knows, one day we might see this as an Olympic sport.

We also like the fact that Pickleball is a relatively inexpensive sport and accessible to all. You can buy a basic paddle for $30 and a pack of balls for under $10. A lot of courts are public, and maintained by the local municipality, which means the game is accessible to many people looking to get involved.

So there you have it, there is no excuse not to get started. Make sure you do your homework on where the best place is to play in your area and let us know how you get on!


David Harris

David is the founder and chief writer at Tennis Pursuits. A tennis fanatic, David has extensive experience of the game and has reviewed 100s of products to date. He is passionate about helping others on their tennis journey.

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