We’re not sure when it happened. One day, pickleball was a game for retired people. The next, everyone in the entire country was obsessed with it.
From young couples in the park to an entire frat house, everyone is playing pickleball.
It’s easy to see why. It takes what makes tennis fun but turns it into something very beginner-friendly. The game is less expensive, the ball moves slower and striking it requires less finesse.
It’s a game you can play with beers and friends on a summer day, but if you get into it, there’s actually a high skill ceiling and plenty to learn.
You’ll work up a sweat as you sprint around the court, so we’d recommend picking up our Ultimate Pickleball Shorts before you even grab a paddle. They’re built to move with you.
Now that you’ve got the proper gear, you’re probably wondering how to play. Read on for some basics!
Pickleball originated in the 1950’s, with a family improvising the game with a wiffleball and a couple slabs of plywood paddles.
One theory is that it was named after the family dog, Pickles, and we like this story too much to fact check it.
It perfectly fits in with the feeling of the game — fun and lighthearted, right from the beginning.
But while it started with humble origins, today the U.S. Pickleball National Championship is a big deal. Bizarrely, it’s hosted by Larry Ellison, the CEO of Oracle. Of course, we still have some rules to learn before we get there.
Fundamentally, pickleball is like tennis, with a court, a net and games of 1 vs 1 or 2 vs 2. After a serve, teams volley back and forth, until one side commits a fault. However, there are a number of differences:
Pickleball is played on a smaller court with a wiffleball and flat firm paddles. There’s less running around and more volleying.
The serve is also much simpler. The ball is served with an underarm stroke from below the waist, while standing behind the baseline. This is much different from tennis’ brutally difficult, critically important, game-deciding serve. A pickleball serve has to bounce on each side of the net, and the return must be allowed to bounce once on the opponent’s side. These restrictions mean that the serving team has much less of an advantage than in tennis, and it encourages volleying. After this first exchange, both sides can volley the ball freely — it can bounce once, but it doesn’t have to.
As the serving team, your goal is to make the other side commit a fault — this is how you get points.
Similar to tennis, you get faults by hitting the ball out of bounds, or into the net, or by entering the “no volley zone,” also called the “kitchen.”
The kitchen is a small rectangular area extending seven feet from the net on either sides. You do not want to enter the kitchen. Volleying is not allowed in the kitchen, or else it’s an instant fault. Serves shouldn’t hit the kitchen, either. This rule exists to stop the game from becoming a non-stop smash fest, but for beginners, it just means don’t get too close to the net.
So, you get the basics. As the serving team, you must make the other side commit a fault to gain a point. However, as the serving team, you’ll lose your serve if you commit a fault yourself. This is bad, because only the serving team can score points!
As you can see, the rules are pretty simple. The basic goal of the game is to hit a legal ball that the other side can’t return. It’s a good tactic to play conservatively and wait for your opponent to make a boneheaded mistake. Many times, you’re better off playing a simple return than going for the game-winning smash.
As for gear, beginners don’t need to spend more than $30 on paddles. Balls are cheap, too. Tennis shoes will get you by in most situations. Our Training Shorts help you stay comfy while on the court and it has side pockets perfect for holding pickleballs.
There are a lot of nuances to learn in pickleball… so stay tuned here on the blog for more tips. Have fun out there!