Originally Published: September 5, 2016 6 a.m.
Pickleball is a sport invented to solve a problem. Kids were restless, and adults were bored with playing kids’ games. Four adults put their heads together and created the unique game of pickleball that kids as young as 10 and adults as old as 90 could play together. Everyone could have a good time and no one would get bored.
The game was created in the summer of 1965 on Bainbridge Island, a short ferryboat ride from Seattle, Washington. The inventors were then-U.S. Congressman Joel Pritchard, William Bell and Barney McCallum. The three men took their skills of tennis, ping pong and mostly badminton and went to work.
Initially the families played the game in their backyards, on a hard surface, on driveways or residential dead-end streets. They made wooden paddles and used double-badminton balls in the game.
The key was taking power out of the game. First, the men created an exercise court 20 feet by 44 feet. The forward serving line of badminton was changed to a line seven feet back of the net, and any ball hit on a volley in that area was a fault. They called that area the “kitchen” after the idea to stay out of the kitchen unless the ball bounces inside the area.
Also they decided to require underhand serves, and the ball had to bounce once on each side before it could be volleyed. It worked. Adults and kids had fun together.
Next, what to call the game? Every name seemed taken - basketball, baseball, and so on. The families noticed one of the family’s dogs loved chasing the ball and brought it back onto the court. The dog’s name was Pickle, so the game had a name: Pickleball.
The basics of the game were easy to learn; it took only about an hour to learn and it still does. It never required a lot of skill training to play recreationally and still doesn’t. It got a reputation of a lot of fun, meaning all that laughter and the ping of the ball meant somewhere out there was a pickleball game.
The game really took off in the 1990s, and with the retirement of the baby boomers at 10,000 per day now, it just has exploded in popularity. One reason was because many a tennis player who was reaching retirement and still trying to stay with tennis on a court two-thirds larger than a pickleball court, started coming over to the game. But the simplicity of the game lent itself to everyone even those without a strong sports background.
Pickleball is a lot of movement and a lot of fun. On the average, a player burns about 100 calories per game and takes around 500 steps. That adds up if those who play an average of five games per day and stay away from a quart of ice cream.
Pickleball is a unique game, which, at higher levels, requires a lot of strategy, finesse and control, more thoroughly explained at the United States of America Pickleball Associaion’s website at usapa.org and tap on tournaments.
As we pickleball players like to say, “Come join the fun, and bring a friend.”
Bob Atherton is a pickleball coach and the Northern Arizona District Ambassador for the United States Pickleball Association. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 928-499-2498.