If it seems like everyone you know plays pickleball, it probably is. According to data from the Sports & Fitness Association, pickleball is the fastest growing sport in the United States, with its popularity increasing nearly 40% in the past two years; there are over 4.8 million players nationwide. Both Tom Brady and LeBron James are investors in the sport, and Leonardo DiCaprio is said to play pickleball every chance he gets.
Want to join the pickleball movement? Read on to learn more about this sport, how to practice it and why it is good for your health.
What is pickleball?
Pickleball is played on a court with a 34 inch net in the middle. “People say pickleball feels like playing ping pong, but like you’re standing on the table,” says Ernie Medina, Jr., DrPH, vice chairman of the USA Pickleball Board and USA Pickleball Ambassador of Lorna Linda, California.
While it may sound similar to tennis, Medina says there are many key differences. For example, in pickleball, the serve is sneaky, so it’s the opposite of tennis. Also, players don’t have to run a lot like they do while playing tennis.
You can play pickleball indoors or outdoors, and the equipment is minimal: you use a racket and a holey ball. “The ball is light – it’s the weight of a white ball,” says Medina. “The paddle is similar to a racquetball paddle, but about twice as large. It’s easier to hit the ball than when playing racquetball.
It’s very easy to learn to play. “I can teach someone to play pickleball in an hour or two,” says Medina. “Then they’re on the pitch, immediately playing a game with other people and having fun.”
What are the rules of pickleball?
Pickle ball can be played in singles or doubles; most people play doubles, according to USA Pickleball. The basic rules are quite simple:
Points are scored by the serving team and you play to 11 points. A team must win by 2 points.
When the serving side has an even score, the server of that team plays from the right side of the court. An odd number score means the server is playing on the left side.
When serving the ball, you should hold the racket and ball below your waist and serve below.
You serve diagonally across the court. While serving, you must keep your feet from touching the court or sideline and keep at least one foot behind the baseline.
Players serve until they foul, which is any violation of the rules that stops play. First serves are made from the right side of the court, and if the server scores a point, that player then serves from the left side.
With the first serve of the game, this team has only one chance to serve (until it commits a fault). But the opposing team then gets a chance for both players to serve (i.e. until their team commits two faults). After this round, each team only gets one fault before the serve passes to the opposing team.
There is a two-bounce rule. This means that each side must let the ball bounce once before returning it. After these two bounces, you can either hit the ball before it bounces (a volley) or bounce.
There is an area called “the kitchen” within 7 feet on both sides of the net. This is the “no-volley” zone, meaning you can only hit a ball from this zone if it bounces first. If you hit a volley while in the kitchen, it’s considered a foul. It’s also a foul if you accidentally walk into the kitchen after hitting a volley, even if it’s just momentum that sends you there.
A ball touching any part of the line is “in”.
A serve that hits the kitchen is a fault.
Can anyone play pickleball?
Pretty much – you don’t have to be super athletic to try Pickleball, and you can play it at the pace that suits you. Age is also just a number when it comes to playing pickleball. “My mother is 84 years old and last year she won a bronze medal at a national championship,” reports Medina. Pickleball is a very popular sport with players from the disabled community, according to the Adaptive Pickleball organization. “I teach a lot of deaf players who really like pickleball,” says Medina. Many wheelchair players also excel at the sport – USA Pickleball’s rules for adaptive pickleball can be found here.
What are the benefits of playing pickleball?
“Pickleball is great for exercise because it adapts easily to any skill level,” says Medina. “You can play it at a really high intensity level if you want to get a really good workout.” Pickleball can also be great for your brain. A 2021 study found that cognition improved in people who played pickleball for six weeks. This was a very small study, but previous research has shown the general benefits of exercise for the brain.
Pickleball is also a great way to meet new people, due to the way matches can be arranged. “It’s a really social activity, because four matches can fit and be played at the same time on a single tennis court,” says Medina. Not to mention the fact that pickleball can be an activity you do with family and friends – it can be a great way to reconnect.
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