What Exactly is Pickleball, Anyway?

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How does someone explain pickleball, exactly?

Some people describe it as tennis. Other’s claim this racket sport reminds them of badminton. Still others claim that this is a bigger version of ping pong. In truth, it’s a combination of all three – and it was meant to be that way from the start.

According to history, pickleball was founded in 1965 by Bill Bell, Barney McCallum, and Joel Pritchard. They were all dads whose children were sick of the usual sports and wanted something different, so they put their heads together and came up with a game that blends elements from a few different sports. This is evidenced not only in how the game is played, but also the name itself. Pritchard’s wife Joan began calling the game pickleball because the different elements of different sports was akin to a pickle boat. Although, another account for the name comes from Pritchard’s dog, Pickles, who (like many dogs) chased down the ball constantly while they were playing.

The different elements of pickleball are evident in the rules. Games are typically played in singles or doubles (though doubles is more common); teams take turns serving, only the serving team can score points; games are normally played to 11 (with the exception of tournaments); and a team must win by two. Although the rules get more refined and nuanced, it’s easy to see the influence that other racket-based sports have had on this game.

Pickleball’s Spread to Omaha

Although the sport is relatively new compared to basketball, football, and baseball, pickleball has been growing fast. Its spread throughout the Midwest is evidence of that, and in Omaha, Nebraska the game is becoming incredibly popular.

Omaha residents have Bill Holt to thank for that.

In early 2008, Holt was hiking in Arizona when he got an opportunity to take an intro lesson to this novel sport. Holt fell in love with the sport and brought it back with him from Arizona to Omaha. There was just one problem: he had nowhere to play it.

“We used to go to an old tennis court and use chalk to make the pickleball court,” Holt recalls. “The problem was whenever it rained the court got washed away and we’d have to go back and draw it again.”

Holt soon changed locations to a park, and then another park that helped block out wind to ensure there was less interference from mother nature. He also switched from chalk to duct tape. With these changes, Holt noticed something else too – more people were joining in.

“We made it fringe,” he explained. It was something different for Omaha residents, and Holt was the man to show them what it was.

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More people were joining this fringe sport and they were growing fast. Holt decided to go to Parks and Recreation in early 2011 to see what they could do.

“They converted six tennis courts for us into pickleball courts,” Holt says. That was in early 2011. Now, less than 10 years since Holt brought this fringe sport back to Omaha from Arizona, they have 10 courts, tournaments, ranked players, and new members joining almost weekly.

“It’s really grown,” Holt shares. “We started an official club in 2012 and it’s taken off. We have beginner classes every Tuesday, and every Tuesday there’s about 8 to 10 people.”

Why has it grown so fast, and why is it becoming so popular? In short: it’s fun and accessible.

Starting with Pickleball

In 2011, Tim Dall was at the Cornhusker State Games with his family when someone reached out to his wife, who is an avid tennis player, about this quirky, fringe sport called pickleball. Dall, his wife, and his children were invited to an intro clinic, much like Holt was in 2008. Dall decided to check it out but didn’t expect much. It didn’t take long before pickleball smashed those expectations.

“I fell in love with the game that day,” Dall shares.

The game was easy enough to learn, but Dall noted how addicting and fun it was. He also noticed that the game was accessible to his children – something that meant a lot to Dall.

Pickleball Nebraska, the association of which the Omaha players are a part of, runs open times for new players to join in and test out the waters.

“Anyone can play at open times,” Dall explains, “and anyone can join [Pickleball Nebraska]. If people decide they want to join it’s only an annual fee of $10, and it gives you access to the pickleball ladder and keeps track of your scores.”

Dall stresses that new players who want to join will find that it’s very social and easy to learn, though it can get competitive at the higher levels. In the summer there’s between 40 to 60 people playing during open times. What’s more, the sport is accessible to people of all ages – including older people who may appreciate the less movement the game has.

Pickleball is growing fast in the Omaha region, and anyone can join. For more information, be sure to check out the Pickleball Nebraska website, and the Pickleball Omaha Facebook page.

And if you’re in the Wichita, Kansas area, check out the Wichita Park and Recreation Activities Guide for more pickleball fun!