Pickleball is the latest rage in South Jersey, where a Cherry Hill-based meetup group of players that started in June 2016 has exploded to include over 800 members. One of the country's fastest-growing sports, pickleball, which has nothing to do with pickles, is a combination of tennis, badminton, and table tennis. While the warp speed its enthusiasts play at may look intimidating, pickleball is actually pretty easy to learn. But you've been warned — its fans frequently call it addictive. Here's everything you need to know to become a pickleball player.
According to the United States of America Pickleball Association, pickleball was invented on Bainbridge Island, Wash., in 1965. Joel Pritchard, Bill Bell, and Barney McCallum — three dads whose kids were bored with their selection of summertime activities — were credited with inventing the sport. McCallum said that the sport was named after the Pritchards' dog, Pickles, who would chase the ball and run off with it. However, Joan Pritchard, Joel's wife, has said that before they got Pickles, she started calling the game "pickleball" because its mix of sports reminded her of the pickle boat in crew, where oarsmen were chosen from the leftovers of other boats.
Pickleball can be played as singles or doubles. The court is the same size of a badminton court — 20 feet by 44 feet. However, there are two lines that divide the court into inner and outer courts. The inner court is affectionately referred to as the "kitchen."
Each player plays on one side of the outer court, while the kitchen is a non-volley zone. Players can step one foot into the kitchen to hit a ball but must step out immediately.
- A game begins with an underhand serve from the baseline, which means that contact with the ball must be made below waist-level.
- The other team must allow the ball to bounce once in the outer court diagonal to the server before hitting it back.
- The ball must bounce once more on the other side of the net before teams can run up to the kitchen line and begin volleying.
- Points can be scored by the serving team when the other team faults (if you hit it out of the bounds, if you miss the ball, etc.). If the team serving faults, they give up the serve. Players alternate serving.
- The game is played to 11 points or more.
The baseline is the line at the back of the court. The centerline is the line that extends from the baseline to the non-volley line. The crosscourt is the court diagonal from yours.
A dink is a soft shot, usually made with the paddle face open, that results in the ball landing in the kitchen. Volleying is when you hit the ball back and forth with an opponent without it bouncing. A lob is when you hit the ball in a high arc, aiming for the back of your opponent's court, when they're at the non-volley line.
"Pickleball is easy to learn," Dave Graham, a pickleball enthusiast who teaches a class for beginners, said. "But takes a lifetime to master."
Firstly, you should grip the paddle like you're shaking hands with someone. Cookie Sey, a former gym teacher who teaches new players between five and seven times a week, said that keeping your wrist firm and the paddle elevated is key to getting the ball to go where you want it to go.
"You want to push the paddle forward, instead of letting your wrist control the movement," Sey said. "Hit the ball sideways, not up, because then someone is going to slam it down."
Calibrating your body is also important when you're serving. Denise Donald, New Jersey's ambassador for the United States of America Pickleball Association, said that she likes to point her toe at where she wants the ball to go. Sey said she likes to point the paddle at her opponent's nose before lowering it to hit the ball.
"As with anything, practice makes perfect," Donald said. "If you want to get better, you do drills. Eventually these movements become muscle memory."
As for the basics, you'll want to dress in comfortable workout clothes for pickleball. Bring plenty of hydration and sunscreen!
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