Origin of Pickleball: Pickleball History

Pickleball is a unique blend of tennis, badminton, and table tennis, and has rapidly grown in popularity over the years. The game was invented in the mid-1960s by a late congressman and his friends. Fast forward half a century later, and the game of pickleball has millions of players and supporters worldwide.

How was the sport of pickleball invented? Why was it named pickleball? And do its founders still have a role in its continuous growth?

The Origin Of Pickleball: Where Did Pickleball Originally Come From?

origin-of-pickleball-pickleball-game

The origin of pickleball can be traced back to the summer of 1965 on Bainbridge Island, Washington, USA. Joel Pritchard, a congressman, and his friends Bill Bell and Barney Mccallum came up with the idea. The game’s creation can be attributed to a combination of factors, mostly boredom during the summer. An old badminton court was an essential part of the invention, which was the place where the three friends first played the game.

The three were looking for a game that was easy to learn, suitable for players of all ages, and could be played in someone’s backyard. The friends simply started combining elements of many different sports. Of course, not everything worked perfectly from the get-go. After some adjustments, the game of pickleball came into being.

Evolution of Pickleball

First, they used table tennis paddles and a shuttlecock to play pickleball. However, they quickly realized that some of the items weren’t really adequate for the desired result. Because of that, the shuttlecock was quickly substituted with a Wiffle ball – a perforated plastic ball – and the paddles changed their shape.

READ MORE: Who Invented Tennis? Exploring the History Behind the Game’s Creation

Joel Pritchard, his friends, and his family began playing around with different items and eventually reached a point where rules were introduced. They settled on a court that measured 20 by 44 feet, which is the exact measurements of a badminton court and about a quarter of the size of a tennis court.

They lowered the net to 36 inches above the ground, just high enough to prevent the ball from bouncing too high. The first pickleball paddle was handmade from plywood, and the initial rules were simple: serve underhand and let the ball bounce once on each side before volleys could be played.

Pickleball-paddles-and-balls
Pickleball paddles and balls today

Who Invented Pickleball and Why Was It Called Pickleball?

Legends surrounding the history of pickleball say that the name ‘pickleball’ comes from the dog of the inventor of pickleball (Joel Pritchard), which was named Pickles. However, the name ‘pickleball’ actually is derived from the term ‘pickle boat’. In rowing, this is a boat composed of leftover rowers from other boats. They thought the name was fitting because various pieces of equipment and rules from other sports were used to create their new game.

Why Was Pickleball Invented?

The actual invention of pickleball is a funny story. While the family of the three friends wanted to play badminton, a lack of equipment obliged them to be a bit more innovative. The game that emerged from their improvisation incorporated elements from various other racket sports like badminton, tennis, and table tennis.

The founders of the game wanted it to be accessible and enjoyable for their children, as well as for adults. By creating a game that combined elements from different sports and adapting them to a smaller court size, they were able to achieve their goal.

All the other racket sports are also played in all age categories, so rooting their new sports in the racket sports category only made sense.

Still, pickleball has a myriad of differences from tennis, badminton, and table tennis. Pickleball’s unique characteristics include the slower pace and smaller court, which made it easier for beginners to get involved and enjoy playing. Because of this, pickleball has become one of the fastest-growing sports in the USA.

playing-pickleball

When Did Pickleball Become a Sport?

After its initial invention in 1965, pickleball started to gain popularity among the friends and neighbors of the inventors of the sport. Eventually, it became formalized and the rules were established. In 1972, the first-ever pickleball tournament was held. From here, the game started to spread beyond the Pritchard family’s circle and gained recognition across the USA.

As the popularity of pickleball grew, actual pickleball courts began to appear across the country. The first permanent pickleball court was constructed in 1972, at the South Center Athletic Club in Tukwila, Washington.

The establishment of this court marked an important step towards formalizing the sport and providing a dedicated space for players to practice and compete. Because the proper infrastructure for the sport was now available, pickleball gained even more momentum and started to attract new players and enthusiasts. Hence, local pickleball courts started to pop up in many different places.

pickleball-courts
Aerial photo of pickleball courts in The Villages

The First Pickleball Tournament and Championship

Officially, the first pickleball championship was held in 1976, marking a significant milestone in the sport’s journey from an informal game to a recognized and competitive sport. The event, known as the National Pickleball Championships, took place in Tukwila, Washington.

The tournament format included both singles and doubles matches. The inaugural national championship didn’t attract a bunch of players as of yet; players mostly came from the local community and neighboring regions to showcase their pickleball skills. Still, the first pickleball championship had a lasting impact on the future of the sport.

The competition brought a sense of excitement and camaraderie to the participants and spectators. Players from different backgrounds and skill levels came together to share their passion for pickleball. It was really the first instance in which an actual community surrounding pickleball started to obtain its shape.

The success of the first National Pickleball Championships sparked interest and enthusiasm among players and paved the way for future tournaments and competitions. It demonstrated that pickleball had the potential to evolve into a more organized and recognized sport – a prophecy that came true.

Pickleball Goes Global

Following the success of the first championship, the demand for organized competitions grew, leading to the establishment of regional and national tournaments in different parts of the United States.

These tournaments provided a platform for players to showcase their skills and actually measure themselves against their competition. The initial tournament highlighted the need for standardized rules, guidelines, and equipment to ensure fair competition and consistent gameplay.

Origin of Pickleball: Pickleball History 2
A team leader of Team North America, Marcin Rozpedski, holding the trophy earned at the 2017 pickleball Bainbridge Cup, held in Madrid, Spain.

Pickleball in the USA and Internationally

The USA Pickleball Association (USAPA) was founded in 1984 as the national governing body for the sport. USAPA’s mission was to promote the growth of pickleball and establish standard rules and regulations to ensure fair play.

Over the years, USAPA has played a crucial role in developing the sport at the grassroots level, organizing tournaments, and providing resources for players of all skill levels. While the founders continued to organize the Pickleball championship every so often, the first USAPA National Tournament in 2009 was the biggest catalyst for the growth of pickleball.

Pickleball International 

At one point, the pickleball community expanded across the land borders of the USA and gradually gained traction in other countries as well. Various national pickleball organizations emerged worldwide.

Examples are the Canadian Pickleball Association, the Australian Pickleball Association, and the British Pickleball Association, and many more. Just like in the USA, these organizations aimed to develop the sport within their respective countries, organizing tournaments, training programs, and certification courses.

The global pickleball community has been instrumental in fostering international competitions and showcasing the sport on a larger scale. Nowadays, there is even a Pickleball World Championship that brings together top players from around the globe to compete at the highest level. The tournament is organized by the International Federation of Pickleball (IFP), the governing body for pickleball worldwide.

The Founders and Their Role in Pickleball Today

The inventors of pickleball, Joel Pritchard, Bill Bell, and Barney McCallum, played significant roles in the early development and popularization of the sport.

Joel Pritchard

Joel-Pritchard
Joel Pritchard

As one of the founders of pickleball, Joel Pritchard continued to be involved in promoting and growing the sport. He served as a congressman in the United States House of Representatives from 1973 to 1985.

Pritchard actively supported the sport and played a crucial role in establishing the United States Pickleball Association (USAPA) as the national governing body for pickleball. He remained an advocate for pickleball until his passing in 1997.

Barney McCallum

Barney McCallum, often referred to as the ‘Father of Pickleball’, was deeply involved in shaping the sport and bringing it to a wider audience. He played a crucial role in developing the first set of rules and guidelines for pickleball. Actually, he was the author of the very first rulebook of the sport.

McCallum also worked on improving the equipment used in pickleball, replacing the original wooden paddles with lightweight composite materials, leading to the first composite pickleball paddle.

McCallum remained an active participant and ambassador of the sport until his passing in 2019. He continued to be involved in promoting pickleball and even held workshops to teach the game to new players. McCallum’s dedication and contributions to pickleball were widely recognized and appreciated by the pickleball community.

Bill Bell

Bill Bell was especially instrumental in the early development of the sport. He played an active role in popularizing pickleball, introducing it to new players, and organizing local tournaments. While less is known about Bell’s involvement in pickleball after its initial stages, his contributions as one of the pioneers of the game remain significant.

How to Cite this Article

There are three different ways you can cite this article.

1. To cite this article in an academic-style article or paper, use:

Maup van de Kerkhof, "Origin of Pickleball: Pickleball History", History Cooperative, July 27, 2023, https://historycooperative.org/origin-of-pickleball/. Accessed April 14, 2024

2. To link to this article in the text of an online publication, please use this URL:

https://historycooperative.org/origin-of-pickleball/

3. If your web page requires an HTML link, please insert this code:

<a href="https://historycooperative.org/origin-of-pickleball/">Origin of Pickleball: Pickleball History</a>

Leave a Comment

Share
Tweet
Reddit
Pin
Email