When Was Pickleball Invented?

Remember those long summer afternoons where nothing seemed entertaining enough, and yet everything was an adventure? The summers where you were either the greatest pioneer of fun that ever lived or you were so bored you would set up shop practically on top of your parents?

Legend has it that the day that Pickleball was invented started off as the latter.

A Summer’s Afternoon At The Pritchard’s

Seven years on, Joel Pritchard would go on to be elected into the United States House of Representatives. Tonight, however, in Bainbridge Island, Washington, Pritchard was hosting some friends, notably: Wiliam Bell and Barney McCallum.

If you’ve ever tried to entertain with children you’ll know one golden rule: It’s all about diversion. 

Although there were a few children at the gathering, the summer nights proved too long and sure enough, the boredom set in.

Again, if you’ve ever entertained with children you’ll know that this boredom is not often actual boredom as much as a need for interaction with the older folk, and Pickleball is perfect for just that.

The parents, at their wit's end, rummaged for something to do. Bainbridge Island, as you’d imagine from the scene painted, was not short on space and it wasn’t unusual for its beautiful houses to have a tennis or badminton court, the Pritchards had a badminton court.

This could be the end of the story: and so the children played. But they couldn’t, because there was not a racquet, or a shuttlecock, to be found. 

What they did find were ping pong paddles and a Wiffle ball. Encouraging the kids' imagination and taking advantage of the ants in their pants, the adults armed the kids with the mismatched equipment and sent them off to the badminton court.

The solution was the effect. So effective that the adults got suspicious. Everyone knows that there is no sound more frightening than a prolonged silence from children.  Where had the kids gotten to? The adults went to the court to investigate and found the kids having the time of their life.

Seeing the fun the kids were having with this new game the adults joined in. Once the adults joined, a few more alterations were made, such as lowering the net to account for the different pressures from equipment.  Just like that, a long boring day had turned out to be the stuff of pioneers.

This version of the story was told in an interview in 2009, by William Bell. An alternative version tells that the children discovered the game on their own. Whether the children discovered the game on their own, or the adults were responsible for its birth, a game was discovered that was appropriate for all age groups, and a wide range of physical ability. 

Where Did It Get Its Whimsical Name?

Where Did It Get Its Whimsical Name

There is a lot of tension surrounding the name of the relatively new sport. It’s been widely circulated that the game was named for the family dog: pickles.

While it’s true that the family did in fact own a dog named Pickles, the dog didn’t come into the picture until two years later, says Joan Pritchard, mother to the Pritchard clan. Enter your text here...

After the wild success of the sport, the Pritchard children - now grown - have given multiple interviews regarding the birth of the sport. Regarding Pickles the dog, Peggy Pritchard has said “It was not named after the dog because we didn’t get the dog until years after the game started. The dog was named after the game. Not the other way around.”

While Frank Pritchard has speculated that it may have come from his mother, Joan. Joan was a rower in the Island’s team and often spoke about the Pickle Boat.

The Pickle Boat was the slowest boat that pulls in last. Given the sports slowed down element due to its light Wiffle ball and it’s close quarters badminton court, this could be another reason for the name.

Ultimately, in 2005, Frank Pritchard put it best and plainly: 

“Nobody remembers how it came to be called ‘pickleball,’ but I think somebody needed a reason why it had that name and the dog story sounded good and eventually stuck,”

The Rules: 

  • We begin with a classic serve. One side hits their pickleball - a variation on a wiffleball - with their paddle - a variation on a ping pong paddle.

An acceptable serve:

To effectively serve in Pickleball the player in the right hand corner keeps one foot behind the back line and hits the ball with an unhand swing, aiming at the ‘service court’ - the opponent diagonal to them. They must clear the ‘no volley zone’.

In short:

  • Right corner start 
  • Foot behind the backline
  • Underhand swing
  • Aim diagonally 
  • Clear the ‘no volley zone’
  • When you’re serving, only one fault is allowed. 

  • If you are playing with doubles, both players can serve with a fault before it defaults to the other team.

  • Pickleball must bounce once before hitting it with the paddle on the first hit

  • Volleying is only allowed in the no volley zone*

  • You can only score a point if you were the serving side

  • To win you must make it to 11, and be in a 2 point lead

The no volley zone is also known as the kitchen. It’s the rectangle on either side of the net, the space where players may not volley (hit the ball without having it bounce first.).

A Few Don’ts:

  • Do not hit the net with the ball - fault

  • One foot on the volley line counts - fault

  • Your paddle hitting the volley line counts as a fault

How Far It Has Come…

when was pickleball invented

From ping pong paddles to state of the art aerospace, custom made paddles; from a simple wiffleball to an engineered, DURA Fast 40 ball; Pickleball has spread through the nation.

While you can play Pickleball at your nearest YMCA and other sports centers, it will always be a game that is fun for the whole family, perfect for those long summer nights.