Backyard Birth of a Game: Pickleball’s Origin Dates Back Over Half a Century Despite its recent surge in popularity, Pickleball is not a new sport. Created over 50 years ago by Joel Pritchard, a Washington State politician, and his friends Bill Bell and Barney McCallum, the game was born out of necessity. They intended to play badminton but lacked shuttlecocks, so they improvised with a whiffle ball, used a badminton net, and initially used ping pong bats and later crafted oversized paddles from plywood. (Prichard used the badminton net height, but soon found that lowering the net to 36 inches was ideal for the new game.) This marked the unofficial birth of the yet-to-be-named Pickleball.

Naming the Game: Contrary to popular belief, the sport’s name does not originate from pickles or a dog named Pickles. The name was actually suggested by Joel Pritchard’s wife, inspired by the ‘pickle boat’ in rowing. A “pickle boat” in rowing is a thrown together crew, sometimes drawn at random from available rowers. Similarly, Pickleball is a thrown together of elements from various racquet sports like badminton, tennis, and table tennis. (Note: “Pickle boat” means something entirely different in sailing, where it’s the last boat across the line in a race.)

Kitchen Rules: A Unique Pickleball Feature A distinctive aspect of Pickleball is the ‘kitchen rule.’ The kitchen refers to a 7ft zone on each side of the net closest to it. Players cannot volley in the kitchen or step into it immediately after volleying from outside. This rule, challenging to enforce during intense play, was designed to prevent dominance at the net and maintain balanced gameplay.

The 26-40 Hole Rule: The Pickleball equipment is regulated to ensure uniformity and fairness in play. A regulation pickleball must have between 26-40 holes. The variations in indoor and outdoor balls extend to the number and size of holes, weight, the type of plastic used, and color.

“Pickleball? It’s Like Badminton and Tennis, Too,” Union-Bulletin (Walla Walla, WA), April 23, 1976. From NewspaperArchive.

Key Milestones in Pickleball’s History:

  • 1965: Birth of Pickleball on Bainbridge Island, Washington.
  • 1967: Construction of the first-ever pickleball court.
  • 1972: Formation of Pickle-Ball Inc. to safeguard the interests of the sport.
  • 1975: The National Observer brings pickleball into the national spotlight
  • 1976: Tennis Magazine introduces pickleball as “America’s newest racquet sport.”
  • 1976: Inaugural pickleball tournament held in Tukwila, Washington.
  • 1984: Establishment of the USA Pickleball Association (USAPA) to promote pickleball across the nation, alongside the release of the first official rulebook.
  • 1984: Arlen Paranto designs the first composite pickleball paddle.
  • 1990: Pickleball’s presence expands to all 50 U.S. states.
  • 1997: Passing of Joel Pritchard, a founding figure of pickleball, at age 72.
  • 2005: USAPA reorganizes as a non-profit
  • 2006: Death of Bill Bell, a co-founder of pickleball, at age 83.
  • 2008: USA Pickleball Association published the first Official Tournament Rulebook
  • 2009: The inaugural USAPA National Tournament in Buckeye, Arizona, sees participation from nearly 400 players across 26 U.S. states and Canada.
  • 2010: Formation of the International Federation of Pickleball (IFP).
  • 2019: Barney McCallum, the last surviving founder of pickleball, passes away at 93.
  • 2021: Introduction of Major League Pickleball, showcasing a unique team format for professional players.
  • Pickleball Federation of the Americas (Pickleball Americas) is founded in partnership with USA Pickleball, Pickleball Canada and Pickleball Mexico.
  • 2022: Pickleball is declared the official state sport of Washington.
  • 2022: Pickleball makes its debut on a major broadcast network, CBS.
  • 2023: The Global Pickleball Federation is established with the regional federations of Americas, Oceana and Africa.
  • 2024: Pickleball Americas (PFA) expands membership to all major countries across the region and launches the Pickleball Championship and Copa LatAm Championship.