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What is Pickleball? Everything you need to know about America’s new racket sport

Pickleball is everywhere, and that’s fine as long as you don’t live within shouting distance of a court. Here’s what you need to know about the biggest fad since the pet rock.

MESA, AZ - FEBRUARY 19: Riley Newman hits a forehand volley shot during the PPA Carvana Arizona Grand Slam Pro Men’s Doubles Championship match at Legacy Sports USA on February 19, 2023 in Mesa, Arizona. Photo by Bruce Yeung/Getty Images

What do you get when you combine tennis, badminton, ping pong, and a raucous noise that is sure to ring your ears? You get the fastest-growing sport in the United States over the last few years, aka Pickleball. More than 8.9 million people played pickleball in 2022, according to the Sports & Fitness Industry Association, and before you know it the highly popular sport could be coming to a neighborhood near you.

For a sport that’s actually been around for decades, it’s still in its infancy phase when it comes to being widely understood. It probably doesn’t help that the physics of a pickleball hit is much louder than that of a tennis swing, which is causing a ruckus within neighboring communities. So even though the sport may be popular, not everyone is particularly thrilled to talk about it.

But fear not, we have the rundown on everything you need to know about pickleball because even if you won’t be playing, it won’t be the last time you hear of the sport, both figuratively and literally.

What are the basics of pickleball?

Let’s start with the basics of exactly how you play pickleball, which is particularly easy to grasp if you’ve ever dabbled with the likes of tennis or ping-pong. Pickleball is played on a court with a 34-inch net in the middle, and matches can either be singles (1 versus 1) or doubles (2 versus 2). The best way one can describe the sport is if you were to “play ping pong, but you found yourself standing on the table.”

Much of the ensuing action is similar to tennis, but with a few key differences. Among them is the fact that due to playing on a smaller court, you won’t find yourself running as much as tennis players do. Also, in pickleball, the serve is underhand, which is the opposite of a serve in tennis.

Pickleball can also be played both indoors and outdoors, so if you’re trying to endure the July humidity out in Central Park or hoping to avoid a blizzard out in Minnesota, you can always find a safe haven with your racquet and ball.

Speaking of equipment, the requirements are very minimal to play pickleball. All you need is a paddle and a ball that has holes in it. A pickleball paddle is roughly twice the size of a racquetball one, and the ball is relatively light, more or less the weight of a whiffle ball.

What are the key rules of pickleball?

Now that we’ve got the logistics for pickleball down, let’s run through a few of the key rules for when you step onto the court. This summary was pulled from the official USA Pickleball rules breakdown, which should be referred to whenever there’s confusion.

Thankfully they’re pretty straightforward, and it’s key to remember that these apply to both singles and doubles matches:

  • “Points are scored by the team that serves, and opponents play to 11 points. A team must win by 2 points.”
  • “When the side that serves has a score in an even number, the server from that team plays from the right side of the court. If a score is an odd number then the server plays from the left side of the court.”
  • “When you serve, the paddle and the ball must be held below the waist, and the serve must be underhand. Serves are done diagonally cross court — and when serving you must keep your feet from touching the court/sideline area. At least one foot must be behind the baseline.”
  • “Players serve until they commit a fault, which is any rule violation that stops play. The first serve of a match is made from the right side of the court. On the first serve of a game, that respective team gets only one chance to serve until they commit a fault. But, the opposing team then gets two chances to serve, which means up until they commit two faults. After that round, each team gets only one fault before the serve switches to the other team.”
  • “There is a “two-bounce rule,” which means that each team must allow the ball to bounce once before hitting/returning it. After those two bounces, any team can either hit the ball before it bounces (a volley) or off a bounce.”
  • “There is a zone called ‘the kitchen’ within seven feet on both sides of the net. This is the ‘no-volley’ zone, which means you can only hit a ball after it bounces first. If you hit a volley when standing in the kitchen, it’s a fault. If you also accidentally step into the kitchen after hitting a volley, it is also considered a fault.”
  • “A ball that touches any part of the line is considered to be “in.” A serve that hits the kitchen is considered a fault.”

Are there professional pickleball leagues?

While pretty much anyone can take a stab at playing pickleball, there are professional leagues dedicated to the sport. There are two professional pickleball tours: the Association of Pickleball Professionals (APP), and the Professional Pickleball Association (PPA). The APP tour consists of seven tournaments for professionals and amateurs. The PPA also offers amateur through professional tournaments where players can compete to qualify for three Grand Slam tournaments.

There is also Major League Pickleball (MLP), which held its inaugural draft back in 2021 and recently merged with the PPA’s short-lived VIBE Pickleball league. MLP aims to increase the popularity of the game, and it already has a number of high-profile owners and investors such as LeBron James, Kevin Durant, Drew Brees, and Tom Brady.

Back in June 2021, the PPA entered a long-term partnership with Genius Sports, one of the major data providers for the sports betting ecosystem. According to an official press release from the PPA, the partnership will set the stage for regulated sports betting on PPA events for the first time in history.