4 Players playing pickelball as doubles.

Pickleball and Seniors

I recently came upon the sport of pickleball when talking to a neighbor of mine. Before then, for some reason, I thought it was a card game. I had a vague memory of hearing the name once or twice before but had no idea what this new sport was. What a surprise, it’s not new, it’s not a card game and has nothing to do with pickles, well the edible kind anyway. As I did more research, I found the game is gaining popularity among all ages: Pickleball and seniors – yay another way to keep social and active.

The History of Pickleball – What were you doing in 1965?

When I said I thought Pickleball was new, I was shocked to find out it was invented back in 1965 on Bainbridge Island – off the coast of Seattle, Washington.

Waterview of Bainbridge-Island with boats docked. Home of pickleball.
Bainbridge-Island Waterview with boats. Bainbridge-Island is where pickleball was first played.

The story goes that three fathers, Congressmen Joel Pritchard, William Bell, and Barney McCallum got tired of their children saying they were bored (anyone heard that before) so they wanted to create a game that would keep the kids occupied.

Two stories are circulating to how the name came to be – both coming from the families that created pickleball. The first story is that Joel’s wife, Joan, had been a competitive rower in college. Joan came up with the name Pickleball because it reminded her of a pickle boat. Say what? What the heck is a pickle boat? After some research, I found that people would refer to the weaker, mismatched crew boat teams as a pickle boat.

The second story is that Joel’s daughter got a puppy from a neighbor. They named this little guy Pickles. Well as the story goes Pickles loved to get the ball and run away with it. Thus, the game was named after Pickles the dog.

Which story is right? It’s been said that the puppy story has been discredited because, though they did have a dog named Pickles, he didn’t arrive on the scene until a couple of years after the game was created. Thus, he was named after the game, not vice versa. I like the puppy story better but oh well.

What Is Pickleball? – Say What? Pickle Who?


Pickleball has been described as a combination of badminton, tennis, and ping-pong. The net is lowered on the court much as you see in tennis. A plastic ball with holes (similar to a Wiffle ball) that is larger than a tennis ball is the object to hit. A paddle is used to lob the ball over the net, back and forth, much like you see in ping-pong or tennis.

Most of the time you will see pickleball being played as doubles (two people on each side or team), but it can also be played as singles.

Basic Rules

Image of a pickleball paddle and ball with the words Basic Rule written on the paddle.

Play begins with the serve taking place from the right side of the court. The ball is served underhand from below the waist, and from behind the baseline. It is served diagonally to the opponent’s side of the court. The ball must bounce twice (once on each side) before it can be volleyed (no bounce).

The players are not allowed to step in the kitchen zone (which encompasses the 7 feet in front of the net on each side) unless the ball bounces first. Points are scored by the serving side only when the opposing team faults – either the ball bounces twice, goes out of bounds, fails to be returned, or hits the net.

The server continues to serve, alternating between the right and left side of the court, until the serving team faults in the same way – either with the ball bouncing twice, going out of bounds, hitting the net or failing to return. The game is won at 11 points with a 2 point – margin – some tournament play may go to 15 or 21 points. More in-depth rules can be found on the USA Pickleball Association website.

Equipment

Two pickleball paddles and ball with shadow of net.

The equipment you need to play pickleball is pretty basic. A paddle for each player, a ball, the net, and the court. The court can be inside or outside and temporary or permanent. Other than that, you’ll need proper attire being athletic court shoes, shorts, skirts or pants, a top and perhaps a visor or eyewear – yep that’s it. A word about court shoes – it is said you don’t want to wear running shoes because they don’t provide the support needed with side to side running.

A lot of groups that play pickleball will have the plastic ball that can be shared, but most want you to have your own paddle. There are specifications for paddles and balls, so if you are going to be playing in a league or in tournaments, you want to be sure your equipment meets those specifications.

Where can you Play?

Pickleball has become such a popular sport that is played in every state. On the USPA website, there is a search function to find facilities that provide pickleball play.  However, those listed on the site are not the only places to play. I found that in the area I live, there are pickleball courts at parks, schools, community centers, senior community centers, even backyards. I did a search in the app “Meet-Up,” and there are locations listed there where you can meet up and join a group.

As you become more experienced, there are pickleball tournaments, and some states have pickleball in their senior Olympics. There are also pickleball camps you can attend to learn or better your game.

With Pickleball increasing in popularity, some cruises offer the activity as well – this might be the perfect reason for me booking a cruise. Holland America has 14 ships that at the time of this article showed pickleball as an activity. Princess and Regent Seven Seas are also adding pickleball. It has been reported that some cruise lines will allow you to bring your own equipment on board and use their tennis, volleyball and basketball courts for pickleball. It’s always good to check if you want Pickleball as an activity on your cruise – you don’t want to be disappointed if they don’t.

I’m In Are You?

After researching and talking with people who play Pickleball, I’m in, are you? I may not be the best player, but it sounds like a lot of fun. Not only is it a great activity to get some much-needed exercise, but it’s also a great social outlet as well. Yes, Pickleball and seniors go hand-in-hand, and I don’t believe it will go away anytime soon.

Where To Find Equipment and Accessories

Amazon.com has a complete line of pickleball sets and also individual products such as racquets, balls, nets, shoes, and accessories.

Do you have any pickleball stories?  I would love to hear about them.  Also if you have any questions please feel free to ask in the comment section below.

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1 thought on “Pickleball and Seniors”

  1. I love this article about pickleball. It has lots of information about the sport. I live in a “pickleball loving” area in NW Arkansas. My husband plays all the time and I have a Facebook Grou for “Bella Vista Pickleball’. I also have created articles on pickleball on my Bella Vista Online Mall site which is a similar purpose as your article. You can check it out. Thanks for this good article.-Shirley

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