It may have a funny name, but the sport of pickleball is exploding in popularity as a game played at high school and college campuses, retirement communities, and recreation centers everywhere. A recent CBS News report even called it "the fastest-growing sport among retirees."
By the end of 2013, pickleball was being played in all 50 states. Recognizing that it is among the fastest-growing sports in the world, the USAPA is releasing its first book covering pickleball's essential techniques. Pickleball Fundamentals includes more than 40 drills and game-like activities that will speed the learning process while improving performance.
But what exactly is pickleball? It is an easy-to-learn game that can be played either indoors or outdoors on a court. A seamless perforated plastic ball, similar to a Wiffle ball, is hit with a solid paddle either after one bounce or in the air. The object of the game is to hit the ball over the net, which is approximately three-feet high to the opponent in such a way that it cannot be returned successfully. While singles and doubles are both played, doubles is currently more popular.
The game was created in 1965 by Joel Pritchard, congressman from the state of Washington, and Bill Bell, a successful businessman, as a means of entertaining their respective families—in particular their children—during a family barbecue. An old outdoor badminton court on the property provided a place to play. Family members used Ping-Pong paddles to volley a plastic ball over an improvised net that was 60 inches high. The players soon discovered that the ball bounced nicely on the asphalt, so they lowered the net to 36 inches. Barney McCallum was introduced to the game the following weekend while visiting the Pritchards. Pritchard, Bell, and McCallum then created simple rules, staying true to the original goal of creating a game that the whole family could play together. The game the three devised proved to be so much fun for all of the family members that it soon became a regular weekend activity at the Pritchards'.
Accounts of how the name pickleball originated vary. A July 16, 2013, article in The Wall Street Journal says, “The name comes not from the family dog, Pickles, as popularly related. According to a newspaper column by Pritchard's wife, Joan, it was so heavily based on other games it reminded her of the pickle boat in crew, ‘where oarsmen were chosen from the leftovers of other boats.'” Popular belief as related over the years is that the game was named after the dog, Pickles, who chased after the ball. Others claim both accounts may actually be true. Regardless of where it came from, the name pickleball has endured.
The game gradually caught on, and the first known pickleball tournament in the world was held in the spring of 1976 at the South Center Athletic Club in Tukwila, Washington. Many of the participants were collegiate tennis players who knew very little about pickleball. In fact, they practiced with large wooden paddles and a softball-size Wiffle ball. As more people played the game, liked it, and wanted to continue playing, the need for consistent rules, established tournament formats, and equipment standards became more important. Consequently, the USAPA was organized in 1984 and published the first rule book that year.
USAPA continues to serve as the national governing body of the sport. Pickleball was included for the first time in the 2003 Huntsman World Senior Games, the largest annual multisport event in the world for athletes aged 50 and older. The visibility of pickleball on that stage spurred a rise in the popularity of the sport worldwide.
Pickleball Fundamentals, co-written with Mary Littlewood, features detailed descriptions and clear photos of all the skills required for success in the game: groundstrokes, the serve and return, the volley, the dink shot, the overhead smash, the lob, and the drop shot. There are also chapters on competitive tactics and strategies for doubles or singles play.