A Beginner’s Guide on How to Play Pickleball

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Author Name: Beth Rush
Date: Saturday May 18, 2024

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While pickleball used to be a sport for senior living establishments, it’s becoming increasingly popular among people of all ages. However, just because it’s easily accessible by many doesn’t mean it’s a walk in the park. 

Are you feeling nervous about trying out a new sport? Fear not — discover everything you need to know about pickleball, including beginner-friendly tips to jumpstart your game correctly.

What is Pickleball?

man holding pickleball paddle

Pickleball is a paddle sport that fuses elements of badminton, ping-pong and tennis. The beauty of this sport lies in its accessibility — it’s a game appropriate for all skill levels and ages. It was first created in Bainbridge Island, Washington, in 1965 by three fathers — Joel Pritchard, Bill Bell and Barney McCallum — in a quest to give their children a new activity to play. The sport rose to prominence among baby boomers in more recent years.

When the Covid-19 pandemic hit, pickleball experienced an unexpected surge. Since the pandemic prevented people from playing contact sports, people explored pickleball as a way to stay active while socially distancing.

In 2022, more than 26.5 million people played pickleball, and around 14% of Americans played the sport at least once. In 2023, the Sports & Fitness Industry Association (SFIA) recognized pickleball as the Fastest Growing Sport in America. Unlike golf which requires expensive gear, pickleball requires only a good paddle and a plastic ball that costs less than $200. 

What Makes the Sport Popular?

There are many reasons why pickleball has risen in popularity in recent years. Here are some of the main reasons:

1. It’s Easy to Learn

The sport’s rules are very similar to ping-pong, making it easy for beginners to learn to play pickleball. Whether you’re a beginner or a seasoned player who wants to dabble in a new sport, pickleball offers something new for everyone.

2. It’s a Social Activity

Pickleball happens on a court smaller than a tennis court, which allows people to hold conversations while playing. The gameplay also allows players to strategize and bond with family, friends and even strangers who will soon become friends. Pickleball makes it easy to spend quality time with loved ones and newfound friends on the court.

3. It Encourages You to Be Active

Pickleball is a mind-body exercise requiring you to practice and hone skills such as focus, balance, reflexes, hand-eye coordination and agility. It is an excellent alternative to tennis for older individuals with physical limitations, including knee or hip problems.

4. It’s a Perfect Recreational Activity

Many communities are repurposing tennis courts and indoor areas for pickleball tournaments to meet the rising demand. Check out the old tennis courts near you and inquire about new programs offering pickleball tournaments in your area. 

How to Get Started

pickleball court

Start your pickleball journey with a friend to play with you. The sport is usually played in doubles, but it can be played with two people on separate sides of the net. Invite a family member or friend interested in playing and reserve your slot on the court where an experienced player can coach you. 

Next, gather the essential equipment, including:

  • A good pair of rubber shoes
  • Pickleball paddle
  • Pickleball
  • A place to play

If you’re unsure about investing in equipment, a place offering private lessons often provides these tools. Once you have the gear, familiarize yourself with the play zone. It’s usually the size of a badminton court, with a net height of 36 inches at the sideline and 34 inches at the center. It’s comprised of the following sections:

  • Right service area: The square to the right
  • Left service area: The space next to the right service area
  • Kitchen or non-volley zone: This refers to the court’s center area, where no player can hit volleys. Non-volley lines appear on the side.
  • Baselines: Straight lines at the end of service areas. You should stand behind the baseline on your side of the court to start the game.
  • Sidelines: Lines on the sides of service areas.
  • Centerlines: Lines dividing right and left service areas.

5 Rules and Tips to Remember

pickleball gear

Now that you have the equipment and know the court setup, it’s time to learn the basics of how to learn pickleball.

1. Begin With a Serve

Like tennis, each rally begins with a serve. The player on the right-hand block of the court usually serves first to the diagonally opposite court, where the ball must land. Otherwise, the point goes to the opposing team.

2. Use Underhand Motion

If you’ve played tennis, you know it requires moving your arm into an upward arc to strike the ball. In pickleball, less force and arm motion are required. Here, you must use an underhand stroke or backhand below your waist. You can explore other serving methods once you’ve mastered this beginner-friendly technique. Check out this quick tutorial from Wayne Dollard, founder of LevelUp Pickleball Camps.

3. Don’t Volley in the Kitchen

Avoid hitting balls inside the kitchen or having any part of your body inside. This is a rule because the closer you are to the net, the bigger your advantage. You can easily hit the ball with a downward smash, increasing your chances of scoring a point. If this is the case, pickleball will be less challenging.

4. Less is More

One of the most common beginner mistakes is too much movement in paddle motion and footwork. Big swings and added steps aren’t usually essential to the game. An important skill for pickleball is consistency — the less motion you have, the more consistent you’ll be at hitting the ball accurately.

5. Learn More Rules

You can review the official pickleball rulebook and familiarize yourself with the rules. You can also check the U.S.A. Pickleball’s website for video tutorials so you can feel more confident before stepping onto the court. 

Ready to Play Pickleball?

Pickleball provides health benefits and fun, so it’s no wonder it’s one of the most progressive sports in the country. With these tips, you are now ready to enjoy the sport with your family and friends. Grab a ball, paddle and a friend today!

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