From the niche to the Olympics? Everything you need to know about the new US trend sport of pickleball
In 1965, some fathers invent a new sport for their bored children. Today, it has become a market worth millions. We’re talking about pickleball. Find out everything you need to know about this trendy sport from the USA in our article.
Pickleball has been the fastest growing sport in the USA for years and now attracts almost nine million regular players. The mixture of tennis, table tennis and badminton is suitable for every type of player and every age group. In the meantime, there are also opportunities in Germany to try out this trend sport.
The rules are very simple. Two or four players face each other on a 6.1 by 13.4 meter playing field and hit a perforated plastic ball over a net stretched 90 cm above the ground. The speed of the game is lower than in tennis or badminton, and additional rules such as no-volley zones further reduce the difficulty. This was precisely the aim of the inventors.
Everything begins on a Sunday afternoon…
Washington State Congressman Joel Pritchard and some friends invent a new sport called pickleball one Sunday afternoon in 1965. They used an existing badminton court and ping pong paddles for it. The idea was to develop an easy-to-learn game as a pleasant pastime for their children. Over the years their sport spreads and already in 1976 the first championship takes place.
The name, by the way, is derived from the sport of rowing. There, there is the so-called “pickle boat” – the boat in which the athletes sit who have not received a place in the competition boats and therefore have to sit in the “pickle boat”. So, in a sense, all the people play pickleball for whom other throwback sports are too strenuous. Another version of the story refers to the alleged name of the inventor’s dog, Pickles.
Game equipment, rules and scoring
Today, the sport has become increasingly professional. The rackets are made of modern composite materials, aluminum, fiberglass, graphite and carbon. The ball is made of plastic and has 40 hand-drilled holes that guarantee an optimal trajectory. It must come up behind the so-called “kitchen” on serve, the area where volleys are not allowed, and must not be played out of the air on return either. Only from this first rally are volley shots outside the “kitchen” allowed.
Points are counted in the same way as in volleyball in the past, only the serving player, or the serving team in doubles, can score points. Before each serve, the score is announced aloud. The first player to score eleven points and also two points ahead of the opponent wins.
Next destination: Olympia
Pickleball is now a multi-million dollar heavy market. The first US Open Pickleball Championship was held in Florida in 2019. Since 2023, there has been Major League Pickleball with 24 teams, where players earn an average of $50,000 per year. Investors include basketball superstars LeBron James and Kevin Durant or actor Michael B. Jordan. The best player in the world is currently 24-year-old Ben Johns from Maryland, number one in the world rankings in singles, doubles and mixed.
In Germany, there is the German Pickleball Federation e.V. since 2017 with currently 62 clubs. The fourth German championship was held in April 2023 in Gelsenkirchen. The next goal of the pickleball community: the inclusion of the sport in the program of the 2028 Summer Olympics in Los Angeles.
Small drawback: Unfortunately, you can’t play pickleball in Munich yet, the next offer is provided by TSV Haunstetten near Augsburg. Or you can take the initiative and be the first in Munich to offer pickleball in your club.
Source cover image: Pexels / Mason Tuttle
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