This Is How You Really Play Pickleball


If it seems like everyone you know is playing pickleball – they probably are. According to data from the Sports & Fitness Association, pickleball is the fastest-growing sport in the US, rising almost 40% in popularity over the past two years; there are more than 4.8 million players nationally. 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 yourself? Read on to learn about the sport, how to play it and why it’s great for your health.

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What is pickleball?

Pickleball is played on a court with a 34-inch net in the middle. “People say that pickleball feels like playing ping pong, but as if you were standing on the table,” says Ernie Medina, Jr., DrPH, vice chair of the USA Pickleball Board and a USA Pickleball Ambassador from Lorna Linda, CA.

While it might seem similar to tennis, Medina says there are many key differences. For example, in pickleball, the serve is underhand, so that’s the opposite of tennis. Also, players don’t have to run a lot, as they do while playing tennis.

You can play pickleball indoors or outside, and equipment is minimal: You use a paddle and a ball that has holes in it. “The ball is light – it’s the weight of a whiffle ball,” explains Medina. “The paddle is similar to a racquetball paddle, but about twice that size. It’s easier to hit the ball than it is when you’re playing racquetball.”

It’s very simple to learn how to play. “I can teach someone to play pickleball in an hour or two,” says Medina. “Then, they’re out on the court, immediately playing a match with other people and having fun.”

What are the rules of pickleball?

Pickle ball can be played singles or doubles; most people play doubles, according to USA Pickleball. The basic rules are pretty straightforward:

  1. Points are scored by the team that serves, and you play to 11 points. A team has to win by 2 points.
  2. When the side that serves has a score in an even number, the server for that team plays from the right side of the court. A score in an odd number means that the server plays from the left side.
  3. When you serve the ball, you must hold the paddle and the ball below your waist, and serve underhand.
  4. You serve diagonally cross-court. While serving, you have to keep your feet from touching the court or the sideline area, and keep at least one foot behind the baseline.
  5. Players serve until they commit a fault, which is any rules violation that stops play. The 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.
  6. With the first serve of the game, that team gets only one chance to serve (until they commit a fault). But the opposing team then gets a chance for both players to serve (meaning until their team makes two faults). After this round, each team only gets one fault before the serve switches to the opposite team.
  7. There’s a two-bounce rule. This means that each side has to let the ball bounce once before returning it. After the those two bounces, you can either hit the ball before it bounces (a volley), or off a bounce.
  8. There’s a zone 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 when standing in the kitchen, it’s considered a fault. It’s also a fault if you accidentally step into the kitchen after hitting a volley, even if it’s just momentum that sends you there.
  9. A ball touching any part of the line is “in.”
  10. A serve that hits the kitchen is a fault.

Can anyone play pickleball?

Pretty much – you don’t have to be super-athletic to give Pickleball a whirl, and you can play it at the pace that feels comfortable to you. Age is also just a number when it comes to playing pickleball. “My mom is 84, and last year, she won a bronze medal at a national championship,” Medina reports. Pickleball is a very popular sport for players from the disabled community, according to the Adaptive Pickleball organization. “I teach many deaf players who really enjoy 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 excellent for exercise, because it’s easily adaptable to any skill level,” says Medina. “You can play it at a very high level of intensity if you want to get a really good workout.” Pickleball may also be great for your brain. A 2021 study found that cognition improved in people who played pickleball for six weeks. It was a very small study, but previous research has shown the general brain-benefits of exercise.

Pickleball is also a terrific way to meet new people, because of the way that matches can be set up. “It’s a really social activity, because four games 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 take up with family and friends – it can be a great way to reconnect.

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