What is Pickleball? A Comprehensive Guide for Beginners

Pickleball is a game that combines the best aspects of tennis, ping-pong, and badminton, yet has its own unique rules and style. Its popularity is absolutely EXPLODING around the world, with over 36 million Americans playing pickleball in 2022.

In this guide I’m going to cover the basics of pickleball, the equipment you need to play, and a quick overview of the rules and strategies you’ll want to know in order to have fun playing your first game. Grab a paddle (or some popcorn 🍿) and let’s jump right in!

The Basics of Pickleball

The charm of pickleball lies in its simplicity. It’s played on a badminton-sized court (20 feet wide x 44 feet long), using a paddle and a lightweight plastic ball that feels similar to a whiffle ball.

Pickleball Action at the Net
Two pickleball players get ready to return a serve on a court during summer.
A female pickleball player prepares to serve a bright pink ball on a blue and green court in early spring.

Combining Tennis, Ping-Pong, and Badminton

Pickleball stands out because it borrows the best aspects of tennis, badminton, and ping pong. It’s played on a court similar to a doubles badminton court, and the ball is served diagonally, much like in tennis.

The play style is reminiscent of ping pong, with players using paddles to volley the ball across the net. But what sets pickleball apart is the unique ball used. It’s a lightweight, perforated plastic ball that’s slightly larger than a tennis ball, adding a unique twist to the game.

One of the most unique aspects of pickleball is the non-volley zone, also known as ‘the kitchen.’’ Players are not allowed to volley the ball when standing in the kitchen, which adds an element of strategy and fun to the game. It’s this mix of familiarity and novelty that makes pickleball so addictive!

Essential Pickleball Equipment

So, what do you need to start playing the game of pickleball? Well, pickleball equipment is pretty straightforward.

All you need is a paddle, a ball, and a court with a net. Pickleball paddles are similar to ping pong paddles but are larger and without the rubber coating (here are my favorite pickleball paddles along with some particular beginner friendly ones). The ball is a lightweight, perforated plastic ball, similar to a wiffle ball but smaller. And the court? It’s a badminton-sized court with specific markings for service squares and a non-volley zone. Easy, right?

Pickleball paddles come in a variety of materials, including wood, graphite, and composite. Each has its benefits and drawbacks, so it’s essential to choose one that suits your play style. The balls also come in different sizes and colors. The most common sizes are 26mm and 40mm, and the most common colors are yellow and white. So whether you’re an experienced player or just starting out, there’s a paddle and ball out there for you!

Pickleball Paddles

Choosing the right pickleball paddle is crucial to your game. The paddles come in various shapes, sizes, and materials, each with its pros and cons. The most common materials are wood, graphite, and composite.

Wooden paddles are economical and durable, but can be heavy. On the other hand, graphite and composite paddles are lighter and offer better touch and power. So, choosing the right paddle depends on your budget, playing style, and personal preference.

While the size of the paddle can vary, there’s a limit to how big it can be. The combined length and width of a paddle can’t be more than 24 inches. A larger paddle offers a larger hitting area but can be cumbersome to handle, while a smaller paddle offers better control. So choose wisely!

Pickleball Balls

Just as important as the paddle is the ball you play with. Pickleball balls:

  • are made of plastic
  • have between 26 and 40 holes
  • are lightweight
  • bounce differently than a tennis ball or a ping pong ball, making the pickleball ball unique in its performance.

There are different types of balls for indoor and outdoor play. Outdoor pickleballs are slightly heavier, harder, and have smaller holes, making them travel faster than indoor balls. So depending on where you’re playing, you might want to choose your balls accordingly.

Setting Up a Pickleball Court

Setting up a pickleball court is easier than you think, especially if you’re familiar with a tennis court. The standard court is:

  • 20 feet wide by 44 feet long
  • The net hangs at a height of 36 inches at the center
  • The court is marked with service squares and a non-volley zone, also known as ‘the kitchen’

With these dimensions, you can set up a pickleball court in your backyard, driveway, or even a local park.

One of the benefits of pickleball is its flexibility. If you don’t have access to a dedicated pickleball court, you can easily convert a tennis or badminton court. Portable pickleball nets are convenient. They make it possible to set up a game almost anywhere. So whether you’re at the beach, a park, or your backyard, you can always enjoy a game of pickleball!

Pickleball Rules and Scoring

Two pickleball players in action at the net on a suburban pickleball court during summer.

Like any sport, pickleball has its own unique quirks and rules. But don’t worry, they’re not too complicated!

The main thing to remember is that points are only won by the serving team, and games are generally played to 11 points. But here’s the twist: you must win by a margin of two points! So if the score is tied at 10-10, the game continues until one team leads by two points.

The ‘double bounce rule’ is an interesting addition to the game of pickleball. This rule means that both teams must let the ball bounce before volleying. After the ball is served, it must bounce once on each side before it can be volleyed. The key takeaway is that you can’t smash the ball right after it’s served or returned. This rule eliminates the serve and volley advantage and extends rallies, making the game more exciting and strategic!

Serving and Receiving

Serving in pickleball is a bit different from other racket sports. Here are the rules for serving:

  • The serve must be hit underhand.
  • The serve must be hit diagonally across the court.
  • In singles play, the server serves from the right side of the court, and the receiver must stand on the opposite side.
  • In doubles play, the server alternates between the right and left sides after each serve.

The receiver must let the ball bounce before returning the serve. This is known as the ‘two-bounce rule.’ After the serve, the ball must bounce once on each side before it can be volleyed.

Faults and Point System

In pickleball, faults play a crucial role in scoring. Faults include:

  • hitting the ball out of bounds
  • hitting the ball into the net
  • not following the correct order of serving
  • volleying the return of service
  • letting the ball bounce more than once
  • violating any other rule

So, it’s essential to place your shots carefully and avoid faults as much as possible.

Points in pickleball are awarded when the serving team commits a fault. This means you can only win points on your serve. So, if you’re the serving team, you’ll want to make your serves count and force the opponent to commit faults. On the other hand, if you’re the receiving team, you’ll need to play carefully and avoid faults.

Double Bounce Rule and Non-Volley Zone

We’ve mentioned the double bounce rule a couple of times already, but let’s delve into it a bit more. After the ball is served, it must bounce once on each side before it can be volleyed. This rule gives beginners a chance to get into the game without feeling overwhelmed.

Pickleball court isometric diagram.

The non-volley zone, also known as ‘the kitchen,’ is another unique feature of pickleball. Players must let the ball bounce in a 7-foot area located on each side of the net. After the ball has bounced, it must then be returned. The kitchen adds an extra layer of strategy and fun to the game, making it even more enjoyable and challenging!

Strategies and Techniques

Mastering pickleball isn’t just about understanding the rules. It’s also about developing strategies and techniques to outsmart your opponents. From choosing the right grip style to practicing different shot types to forming strategies for doubles play, there’s a lot to learn and master in this game. The beauty of pickleball is that it’s easy to pick up… but challenging to master!

For successful doubles play, you’ll want to get to the kitchen line as quickly as possible, keep the ball low, and wait for your opponent to make a mistake.

Ready to up your game? Let’s dive into some more specific strategies and techniques! If you want to go deeper, we also have some online pickleball video courses to help improve your skills.

Grip Styles

Choosing the right grip style can significantly impact your game. There are three main grip types for holding a pickleball paddle – the continental grip, the eastern grip, and the western grip. Each grip has its advantages and disadvantages.

The continental grip is where the paddle is held with the index finger and thumb on the same side of the handle. This grip is the most commonly used one and is used for both forehand and backhand shots.

The eastern grip is where the paddle is held with the index finger and thumb on opposite sides of the handle. This grip is mainly used for forehand shots.

The western grip is where the paddle is held with the index finger and thumb on the same side of the handle, but with the thumb on the bottom of the handle. This grip is used mainly for backhand shots.

My recommendation is to experiment with different grips and find the one that feels the most comfortable and effective for you.

Shot Types

There are various shot types in pickleball, and mastering them can bring your game to a whole new level. Here are some of the shot types in pickleball.

  • Serves
  • Returns of serve
  • Drives
  • Third shot drops
  • Resets
  • Dinks
  • Lobs
  • Volleys
  • Backhand spin dinks
  • Topspin roll volleys
  • Third shot forehand drives
  • Transition shots

Each shot type has its use and strategy.

For instance, in pickleball:

  • A serve is used to start a point and must land in the diagonally opposite service court.
  • A dink is a short, soft shot that lands just over the net into the opponent’s kitchen.
  • A drive is a hard-hitting groundstroke used to put pressure on the opponent.
  • A third shot drop is a shot with a lot of spin used to drop the ball close to the net.

These are just a few examples of the different shots and techniques used in pickleball. As you learn the game, practice different shot types and use them strategically to outplay your opponent.

Doubles Play Strategy

In doubles play, communication between partners is the foundation of a successful team. Good teamwork can give you an edge over your opponents and make the game even more exciting. The aim of doubles strategy in pickleball is to:

  • Get to the ‘kitchen’ line as quickly as possible
  • Keep the ball low through well-placed dinks
  • Wait for the opponent to make a mistake
  • Points are more easily won at the non-volley zone line.

By playing to your strengths and opponents’ weaknesses, you can gain an advantage in doubles play. Work on your communication, practice your shots, and develop strategies to dominate in doubles play.

Health Benefits of Pickleball

Two pickleball players jumping with paddles on a court during summer.

Playing pickleball isn’t just fun, it’s also an excellent way to stay healthy. The game offers numerous mental and physical health benefits, making it more than just a sport.

From improving cardiovascular fitness, regulating blood sugar levels, lowering blood pressure, to improving hand-eye coordination, pickleball offers a whole host of physical health benefits.

But that’s not all! It also helps keep the brain sharp, improve reaction time, reduce stress, and foster social connections. So, you’re not just playing a game; you’re doing your body and mind a favor.

Whether you’re an experienced athlete or a fitness newbie, pickleball is a great way to stay active and healthy. It’s a low-impact sport, which means it’s easy on the joints, making it suitable for people of all ages and fitness levels. Plus, it’s a fun, social activity that gets your heart pumping and your muscles working. So why not grab a paddle and give it a try?

Mental Health Benefits

Playing pickleball can do wonders for your mental health. It aids in:

  • Socialization
  • Improving self-esteem
  • Relieving stress
  • Increasing personal wellbeing and life satisfaction

It’s a game that brings people together, forging bonds and friendships on the court. Plus, it’s a great way to unwind and relieve stress after a long day. I also write a pickleball newsletter, and I’ve heard from so many people who’s lives pickleball has improved!

Pickleball requires quick thinking and decision-making, which helps keep the brain sharp. It also helps to improve reaction time and hand-eye coordination. So, not only are you getting a physical workout, but you’re also giving your brain a good exercise.

Physical Health Benefits

Pickleball is an excellent way to keep your body fit and healthy. It’s an aerobic exercise that can:

  • Improve cardiovascular fitness
  • Regulate blood sugar levels
  • Lower blood pressure
  • Improve hand-eye coordination
  • Improve movement
  • Increase muscular strength

Whether you’re looking to lose weight, stay in shape, or just maintain a healthy lifestyle, pickleball can be a great addition to your fitness routine. It’s a great option for those who are looking for an exercise that’s easy on the joints.

The History of Pickleball: A Game Born Out of Ingenuity

It’s not every day that a casual backyard game becomes an internationally recognized sport. From pickleball’s humble beginnings to its current status as a rapidly growing global sport, the evolution of the game is a testament to human ingenuity and the universal love for fun, friendly competition.


The story of pickleball dates back to the summer of 1965 on Bainbridge Island, Washington. It was born out of sheer creativity and the need for a family-friendly game that could entertain children and adults alike. The creators were Joel Pritchard, who later became a U.S. Congressman, and his friends, businessman Bill Bell and entrepreneur Barney McCallum. They came home one day to find their kids bored and without anything to do. Taking matters into their own hands, they decided to invent a new game.

Lacking the complete equipment for traditional games such as badminton, they improvised. They lowered the badminton net, made paddles from plywood found in a nearby shed, and started playing with a whiffle ball. Little did they know, their makeshift game would evolve into a worldwide celebrated sport!

Naming the Game

The story behind the name “pickleball” is just as interesting as its invention. Many believe it was named after the Pritchard’s family dog, Pickles, who was known for running away with the ball. However, Joan Pritchard, Joel’s wife, clarified in a 2005 article that it was named after the term ‘pickle boat,’ a term borrowed from the sport of rowing where a pickle boat has a mixed, or ‘pickled’ crew – much like their game that was a mix of different sports.

From Backyard Fun to International Recognition

The game quickly grew in popularity amongst the families’ friends, prompting the creators to draft formal rules. By 1976, the first pickleball tournament was held in Tukwila, Washington, further boosting the sport’s popularity.

Pickleball’s growth exploded in the late 20th and early 21st centuries. Senior communities, in particular, found the sport attractive because it required less physical exertion than tennis, but still provided a good deal of exercise and entertainment. Schools also began incorporating pickleball into their physical education programs, promoting the sport to younger generations.

Fast forward a few years, and pickleball has grown from a backyard game to a global phenomenon. Today, it’s the fastest-growing paddle sport in the US, and it’s not just a game for the older generation anymore! Recent surge in popularity among younger players has led to pickleball being recognized by the fitness industry association as a great way to stay active and healthy.

Summing it All Up!

Pickleball is more than just a sport: it’s a fun, social activity that offers numerous mental and physical health benefits. From its unique blend of tennis, ping-pong, and badminton, its easy-to-learn rules and techniques, to its vibrant community, pickleball has something to offer everyone.

So, whether you’re looking for a new hobby, a way to stay fit, or a fun activity to do with friends, why not give pickleball a try? You might just find your new passion!

About The Author

Scroll to Top