10 Things You Didn’t Know About Pickleball

TL;DR Summary

Pickleball is taking the sport’s world by storm! Here are 10 things you didn’t know about pickleball:

  1. Three dads invented pickleball for their kids who were bored
  2. Pickleball started on an island
  3. It’s the fastest-growing sport in America!
  4. There are more than 5 million players in America
  5. You can fit 4 pickleball courts on a tennis court
  6. It was named after the pickle boat in rowing
  7. Lebron James (the King himself) owns a team
  8. You cannot serve overhand
  9. Stay out of the kitchen!
  10. There are two types of balls
  11. Bonus: Pickleball may become an Olympic sport in 2028

1. Three dads invented pickleball

Kids get bored in the summer. Parents, you know what it’s like!

Well, three dads: Joel Pritchard, Barney McCallum, and Bill Bell took the “what to do about restless kids” challenge into their own hands and found a way to keep their kids (and neighbors) entertained by inventing pickleball.

Oversized ping pong paddle + whiffle balls + plenty of running across a hard court? Recipe for success.

Fun fact: Joel Pritchard invented pickleball when he was a congressman. He later became the lieutenant governor of Washington.

Learn all about how pickleball was invented and how it got it's funky name in our The Complete Guide to Pickleball.

2. Pickleball started on an island (in 1965)

Bainbridge Island, Washington.

(Near Seattle. Not a tropical island you’re imagining!)

Pickleball started just a short ferry ride from Seattle. Three dads improvised on an old badminton court with ping pong paddles and spare wiffle balls. And voila! The sport of pickleball was invented in the summer of 1965. The sport spread quickly across the island. Two years later, the first pickleball court outside the island was paved in Olympia. Now 60 years later there are dedicated courts in all 50 states and in countries around the world.

3. It’s the fastest-growing sport in America

In 2021, pickleball was named “the fastest-growing sport in America” by The Economist.

When you think about 10 facts about pickleball, this might be one of the most surprising facts for sports enthusiasts to learn.

4. There are more than 5 million players in America

In 2021 pickleball grew by 40% (holy moly) and has more than 5 million players today! The number of pickleball players in America roughly doubled from just 5 years ago.

5. You can fit 4 pickleball courts in 1 tennis court

Source: Fiend at Court

Pickleball courts are typically much smaller than tennis courts. So it can be fairly easy to improvise a game of pickleball on a tennis court. Just bring a portable net and some chalk and you’re ready to go. If you’re interested in doing this, check out our picks for the 7 Best Portable Pickleball Nets for Tennis Courts.

Most tennis courts also have plenty of space outside of the court itself. This gives players plenty of space to chase down and return hard serves and hits. With that additional space, you could even fit four pickleball courts on the typical area for a tennis court.

Learn more about the differences between pickleball and tennis our Top 10 FAQs on Pickleball vs Tennis.

6. It was named after the pickle boat in rowing

How the heck did pickleball get its name? There are two versions of how the pickleball got its name: a boat and a dog.

Version #1: Pickle boat

Joan, the wife of pickleball co-investor Joel Pritchard, was previously a competitive rower. Basically the way pickleball started as a combination of badminton, tennis, ping pong, and a wiffle ball reminded Joan of the “pickle boat” in rowing. The pickle boat is filled with leftover non-starter rowers to race for fun.

Version #2: Pickle the dog

Joel and Joan also had a Cockapoo named Pickles who would pick up the balls and run off with them. However, it seems like the beloved Pickles came a few years after the game was invented.

7. Lebron James owns a team

One thing is for sure: pickleball is making a name in other professional sports. That’s why Lebron James, the basketball GOAT, is on the 10 things about pickleball list.

Lebron, his business partner Maverick Carter, and a host of fellow NBA players and investors joined forces in 2021 to buy a Major League Pickleball expansion team. The team is not named yet, but it’s supposed to be worth seven figures.

And Lebron isn’t the only celebrity athlete who’s gotten into pickleball:

  1. Tom Brady (football GOAT, Buccaneers QB, and the man who will never retire from football): Joined an ownership group to buy an expansion team for the 2023 Major League Pickleball season.
  2. Kim Clijster (former world No. 1 tennis player): Joined the same ownership group as Tom Brady to buy an expansion team.
  3. Draymond Green and Kevin Love: Both basketball stars joined Lebron and other investors to buy a Major League Pickleball expansion team.
On October 20, 2023 Kevin Durant became the newest NBA superstar to join the ranks of MLP team owners. Read more: Kevin Durant Pickleball Team Owner

8. You cannot serve overhand

Unlike tennis, in pickleball you can only serve underhand. Underhand serves generally keeps the ball in play more. And while you can only score when serving in pickleball, the underhand serve also limits some the advantages of serving (fewer aces!).

9. Stay out of the kitchen

There’s an area 7 feet from the net on both sides that’s a “no volley” zone, also known as the kitchen. A serve cannot land in the “no-volley” zone.

If your serve lands short and in the kitchen, then you lose your serve. You’ll probably hear players say “stay out of the kitchen” which means don’t step into the “no volley” zone until the ball lands in the kitchen for the first time after a legal serve.

10. There are two types of pickleballs

Earlier we mentioned that pickleball was invented with leftover wiffle balls. Today, pickleballs still look familiar: plastic balls with holes. But there are actually two types of pickleballs:

  • Indoor: Pickleballs for indoor play have larger holes because the wind is not a factor
  • Outdoor: Pickleballs for outdoor play are made of harder plastic, which is more durable, and have smaller holes so that it’s less affected by wind

11. Bonus: Pickleball may become an Olympic sport in 2028

Did you know that pickleball is not an Olympic sport yet?

Similar sports like ping pong, badminton, and tennis are all Olympic sports. In fact, tennis has been part of the Olympic games since the inaugural 1896 Summer Olympics.

Given the fast growth of pickleball, there is strong speculation that pickleball could make it’s debut in the 2028 Summer Olympics in LA. If this happens, pickleball will certainly grow even faster. Fingers crossed!

Do you know other fun or obscure facts? Share them below and teach us more about this fascinating sport. We’d love to add more to this list of 10 things you didn’t know about pickleball.

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