What began as a backyard variation of other court sports has become a popular school physical education program activity and a full-blown sport with a national governing organization and a set of formal rules. U.S. Congressman Joel Pritchard and his friends William Bell and Barney McCallum are credited as the game's creators. They developed it in the Pritchard backyard on a Saturday afternoon when the families were looking for something to do. It is a hybrid of badminton, tennis and pingpong that is named after the Pritchard family dog, Pickles, because they were using his ball. The rules are set by the USA Pickleball Association.
The Court and Equipment
Pickleball can be played in singles or doubles and is played on a hard surface. The game is played with wooden rackets and a plastic ball. Pickleball is a dynamic game because, while it does have a regulation-sized court, it is also regularly played in the street, on sports courts in the backyard, in driveways or on basketball or tennis courts. The official court is actually the same size as a regulation badminton surface: 20 feet wide and 44 feet long. The top of the net sits 3 feet above the court surface on the sidelines and 34 inches at the center of the court. Each side of the net has a non-volley area that extends from sideline to sideline 7 feet back from the net.
Serving and Returning Serve
Serving is done underhand style with both feet behind the baseline and at least one of them on the ground. The serve has to land beyond the non-volley area and must be made diagonally across the court. The back section of the court is divided in half for the purpose of creating the two service landing areas. Unlike tennis, there are no second serves, as the player is allowed just one chance with just one exception. Serves that hit the net and still land in the proper service area are re-tried. The service and the initial return must both be played after they bounce. As the rally continues beyond those two shots, it is okay to hit the ball out of the air before it strikes the ground.
A volley is a ball that is hit directly on the fly before it is allowed to hit the ground. The purpose of the 7-foot non-volley zone is to keep players from smashing balls over the net from in close. All volleys must be initiated from behind that 7-foot line. Violation is a fault, and the point is over. This rule makes pickleball a contest that stresses the importance of shot placement.
Each service game is played until one of the teams commits a fault by failing to hit the ball into the opposing team's court, not getting a ball returned before it bounces twice on its own side of the net or by violating either of the service bounce rules or the non-volley zone rule. A team can only score points on its own serve, and 11 points wins the game. The winning team must have a two-point advantage or play continues.
In most formal tournaments, games are played to 11 points, and the match is played in a two out of three games format. Some tournaments vary the rules a little bit to eliminate the rule that causes a game to be won by two points or by using a one-game match plan where either 15 or 21 points is required to win.