The Complete Guide to Pickleball

TL;DR Summary

What is pickleball? It’s a paddle sport that has taken the world by storm. Currently it’s the fastest-growing sport in America with nearly 5 million players. Our complete guide on what is pickleball covers:

What is pickleball?

Pickleball is a paddle sport created for all ages and skill levels. The sport is a combination of badminton, tennis, and table tennis. It can be played as singles or doubles and is played on a court with a net like tennis. The game is played with a paddle, a plastic ball with holes (similar to a wiffle ball), and on a hard court smaller than a tennis court. Today, pickleball is the fastest-growing sport in America.

  • In 2021 the sport grew by 15% to 4.8 million players (CS Monitor, USA Pickleball)
  • By the end of 2022, the sport will likely have 5.5 million players in the US. Pickleball is growing an average of 18% annually over the past two years!

It can be played as singles (one person versus another person) or doubles (two on two). It’s played on specialized 20ft x 44ft hard courts, but can be easily improvised on tennis courts.

Want to play pickleball on a tennis court? Check out our Best Portable Nets for Pickleball on Tennis Courts.

Who invented pickleball

Pickleball was invented in the summer of 1965 by three dads: Joel Pritchard (a congressman and later Washington lieutenant governor), Barney McCallum, and Bill Bell.

Joel, Barney, and Bill were fathers of young kids who were looking for ways to keep their kids occupied! (Can we get an amen?) What started as a search for fixing kids’ summer boredom turned into a sport that is now almost 60 years old!

It makes sense. Combine an oversized ping pong paddle with a whiffle ball and (voila!) hours of entertainment. Courts are easy to improvise on tennis courts or even driveways. It’s easier to handle pickleball paddles than tennis racquets. Tennis balls are too hard, ping pong balls are too small, and badminton birdies are too impossible to master – pickleballs are perfect.

Where did pickleball start?

Bainbridge Island, Washington (near Seattle).

Pickleball started in Bainbridge Island, just a short ferry ride from downtown Seattle. It was 1965 and three dads Joel, Barney, and Bill were battling their kids’ summer boredom. They improvised on an old badminton court with ping pong paddles, spare wiffle balls, and rules similar to tennis. Soon they invented the game of pickleball.

The game spread quickly across Bainbridge Island, with neighbors and friends joining in the fun.

Two years later in 1967, co-inventor Joel’s good friend and neighbor Bob O’Brian paved the first-ever pickleball court right in his backyard! That same year pickleball spread beyond the island to Olympia when Congressman and pickleball co-inventor Joel Pritchard introduced Governor Dan Evans and future U.S. Senator Slade Gorton to pickleball.

Fun fact: Governor Dan Evans quickly followed suit and built himself a pickleball court at his home too. (Maybe we need a guide on how to build your own pickleball court soon.)

While pickleball and tennis have many similarities to tennis, there are also quite a few distinct differences. Read more in our Top 10 FAQs on Pickleball vs Tennis.

Importantly, why is it called pickleball?

You’re probably wondering… why the heck is it called or named pickleball? There are two (somewhat) conflicting stories about how pickleball got its name: a boat and a dog.

Version #1: Pickle boat

The first story is that Joel’s wife Joan had been a competitive rower. When she saw the sport her husband helped co-invent, she called it pickleball. The way pickleball combined badminton, tennis, ping pong, and a wiffle ball reminded Joan of the “pickle boat” which was the boat that leftover non-starter rowers who would race for fun.

Version #2: Pickle boat

The second story is that Joel and Joan had a Cockapoo puppy named Pickles. Pickles would pick up the balls and run off with them. Many of the pickleball OGs like pickleball co-inventor Barney McCullum, have said that pickleball was namd after Pickles the dog. However, according to many in Joel Pritchard’s family, Pickles the Cockapoo came a few years after the game was invented.

What are the rules?

Our guide to pickleball gives a high-level breakdown of the main rules below.

The 5 main rules

  1. The ball has to stay inbound on the court
  2. The ball has to bounce once per side first
  3. Serve underhand at the baseline
  4. A serve cannot land in the “no-volley” zone
  5. You play the game to 11 or 15

While there are additional rules like the ball cannot bounce twice (similar to other paddle sports like tennis), the 5 main rules will help you quickly get the hang of playing with others.

Below we’ll give you a quick rundown of each rule.

Rule #1: The ball has to stay inbound on the court

If you’ve played any other paddle sport like tennis or ping pong, you’ll know that the ball cannot land out of bounds or outside of the court. This means one of the fundamental strategies of pickleball is to keep the ball in play. (Simply outlast your opponent!)

Rule #2: The ball has to bounce once per side first

This rule is often called the “Two Bounce Rule.” The ball needs to bounce once per side first. Here’s the play-by-play:

  • On serve: The serve itself does not bounce on the server’s side
  • Returning the serve: The ball has to bounce once before the returner can the ball hit back to the serving side — Bounce #1
  • Serving side: Has to let the ball bounce once before hitting it back to the returning side — Bounce #2
  • After these “two bounces”: Both sides can play the ball in the air or let it bounce once

Remember, when you’re returning a serve, make sure to let the ball bounce once before you hit it back.

Note on serving: Due to the “Two Bounce Rule” pickleball is unique on the serve. You have to bounce the ball both during the serve and on the return of the serve. (For those who come from the world of tennis, this unique rule takes away some of the advantages of winning the rally from the power of serve itself.)

Rule #3: Serve underhand at the baseline

When you’re serving, hit the ball underhand and below your waistline. Serve diagonally across the court to the service area to the opposite side of you. Keep one foot behind the baseline. (It’s not legal to serve overhead like in tennis.)

If you make an illegal serve — including if it lands out of the court or in the net or not in the right area — then the serve goes to your teammate (if you’re playing doubles) or to your opponent (if you’re playing singles). There are no second serves.

Rule #4: A serve cannot land in the “no-volley” zone

You have to serve the ball so that it lands beyond the “no-volley” zone. If it lands short in the “no-volley” zone then you lose your serve.

Each side of the court has a “no-volley” zone. The “no-volley” zone is the entire area that’s inside of the lined box (7ft from the net).

Note to “stay out of the kitchen”: The line at the end of the “no-volley” zone is often called the “kitchen line.” More specifically, you’ll likely hear players say “stay out of the kitchen” meaning don’t step into the kitchen (the area inside the 7ft line) until a ball lands in the kitchen for the first time after a legal serve.

Rule #5: Play the game to 11 or 15

How to keep score

As the server, you have to announce the score before serving.

Call the server’s score first, the opponent’s score, and then the number server you are on your team (1 or 2). e.g.

  • “1-0-1” — The serving side has 1 point, the opponent has 0 points, and Server #1 is serving
  • “7-9-2” — The serving side has 7 points, the opponent has 9 points, and Server #2 is serving
  • “10-6-2” — The serving side has 10 points, the opponent has 6 points, and Server #2 is serving. (If the serving side wins, they get another point and win the game with 11 points.)
Learn all about how scoring works in our Full Guide: How to Score in Pickleball.

The serve

There are three rules to serving. You have to:

  1. Use an underhand motion
  2. Hit the ball below your waist
  3. Have the paddle face below your wrist when you hit the ball

You only have one serve attempt. Where the serve lands matters:

  • If the ball is served illegally or lands incorrectly (out of bounds, in the net, inside the “no-volley” zone) then the serve goes to your teammate if they haven’t served yet. Otherwise, it goes to the opponent.
  • If on the serve the ball touches the net but still lands in the service area, then the serve is good.

Keep in mind, you can only score when you are serving.

  • That means if you win the rally when returning the serve, you only get the ball back and an opportunity to score a point now as the server (or serving team). You cannot score by winning the rally on returning the serve.
  • Each player will continue to serve until he or she does not win the point.

Our complete guide to pickleball’s main equipment list


For those new to the sport, the paddle will remind you of an oversized ping pong paddle that’s still smaller than a tennis racquet.

When selecting your first or next pickleball paddle, consider three important factors:

  1. Grip size: thin, standard, and thick grip
  2. Paddle weight: lightweight, middleweight, heavyweight
  3. Paddle shape: standard, elongated, wide body, oversided, teardrop, and impact

Originally the paddles were made of wood, but today the paddles have evolved quite a bit with numerous materials available (e.g. aluminum, graphite, and more). Different paddles may be better for different styles of play or executing certain shots like dinks, ernes, and more.

Want to learn different pickleball shots? Check out Learn How to Master Good Dinks or What Is An Erne and How Do I Master It?


Originally Joel, Barney, and Bill started the game of pickleball with a leftover wiffle ball. Today, they still look familiar – plastic balls with holes, but there are two types:

  • Indoor balls: Typically have larger holes because wind isn’t a big factor
  • Outdoor balls: Made of harder plastic (more durable) and have smaller holes

Pickleballs for winter. Are you trying to play pickleball in the winter? If so, you’ll want to consider factors like extreme cold and wind when it comes to picking the right pickleball. Generally, you’ll want a heavier, more durable pickleball for playing outdoor pickleball in the colder winter months. Learn more with our guide: How to Play Pickleball in Cold Winter Weather


Nets for pickleball are 36-inches tall and 22 feet wide with a 2-inch sag in the middle. What’s awesome is that unlike lots of other sports, there are great options for portable pickleball nets so that you can easily play anywhere.

If you’re considering a portable net, we know lots of readers who’ve gotten a portable net have raved about the added playtime. You can check out our picks for the 7 Best Portable Pickleball Nets.


You can get started with your favorite pair of exercise or running. But, as your pickleball games pick up, consider that most exercise shoes are designed for unilaterial moving (moving in one direction, like running forward). Since pickleball is a sport that relies on multi-direction movement, tennis shoes are ideal for pickleball too.

If you’re considering buying a pair of shoes specifically for pickleball, here are a few factors to consider:

  1. Sole: rubber soles for indoor play and harder gum for outdoor play
  2. Heel cushion: cushioning may help with the twisting, turning, and jumping motions
  3. Weight: many players prefer lighter weight shoes
  4. Durability: generally lighter shoes tend to be more comfortable but less durable whereas heavier shoes are more durable

The pickleball court

Here is the full court breakdown in our complete guide to pickleball. The court is 44 feet long and 20 feet wide.

In the court diagram you’ll notice that there are two lines in the middle of the court that are 7 feet from the net. These Non-Volley Lines create the Non-Volley zones or the kitchen we mentioned above.

There are a growing number of permanent, dedicated pickleball courts across America: 37,500+ in North America according to USA Pickleball P2P.

What’s great about pickleball is that it’s flexible and you can easily improvise a court on a tennis court, basketball court, or a large flat surface outside like a driveway.

Want to build your own court?

While you can’t walk into the store and buy a pickleball court, you can consider building your own court!

It generally costs $30,000 – $45,000 for a new court build out, but can vary greatly depending on your needs. If you’re curious to learn more check out definitive guide on how to Build Your Own Pickleball Court (Costs, Setup, and Guidelines).

And here’s an amazing full build for inspiration 🙂

If you liked the information in our complete guide to pickleball, drop us a comment and let us know! We’re also always trying to create more interesting pickleball content and guides.

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