Pickleball is one of America’s fastest-growing sports. People in more than 70 countries play this easy-to-learn sport, and it might someday become an Olympic event. Chances are there’s a pickleball league in your community. How is this sport played? And what do you need to know before starting? Read on to find out.
What Is Pickleball?
“Pickleball has been around since the 1960s, but interest has really picked up in recent years,” says Joseph Medellin, M.D., a primary care sports medicine doctor at Henry Ford Medical Center--Jackson.
Pickleball gets its name from a dog named Pickles, who belonged to one of the game’s inventors. The game combines aspects of tennis, badminton and ping-pong, with a few tweaks:
- The ball is plastic (unlike felt-covered tennis balls) with holes that make it easier to glide through the air.
- The court is much smaller than a tennis court. There are both indoor and outdoor pickleball courts.
- The net is shorter than a tennis net by about 6 inches and narrower by 2 inches.
- The racket is more like a ping-pong paddle, but longer and square, not rounded at the tip.
How Is Pickleball Played?
Like many racket sports, pickleball is for two to four players. One person serves the ball; then it’s hit back and forth across the net to earn points. Here’s how you play:
- Serving is always underhand and must happen without the ball touching the ground. Only the side that serves can earn points.
- After service, the ball must bounce once before being hit over the net.
- The ball must also bounce once before returning the serve and the play after returning the serve.
- Players must stay out of “the kitchen,” a 7-foot area on either side of the net.
- The first side to reach 11 points wins, but only if they lead by two points.
What Do I Need To Know Before Starting Pickleball?
Pickleball is an easy sport to play, even if you don’t consider yourself an athlete. It’s less competitive than other racket sports, which is appealing to people who are looking for a fun, social activity. Wearing proper footwear is key to avoiding injury:
- Comfortable, broken-in athletic shoes are best so that you don’t get blisters.
- Tennis shoes are a good option because they support side-to-side (lateral) movements.
- No matter what type of shoe you use, periodically check the soles. If they are smooth or worn down, it’s time to replace your shoes.
Many people like pickleball because it’s easier on your body than other team sports. But, as with any sport, there’s still a risk of injury. Sprains and strains are common. Falls or collisions with other players are also possible. “Any time you have sharp pain, deep bruising or difficulty moving, you should get checked out by a healthcare provider,” says Dr. Medellin.
There’s also pickleball elbow. It’s similar to tennis elbow and can affect the inner or outer part of the joint. This injury occurs when you perform backhand swings with poor form. This makes the wrist and forearm work harder than they should.
With pickleball elbow, tiny tears cause burning pain along with swelling and inflammation. It’s a stubborn injury that takes time to heal but rarely requires surgery. The best way to avoid it is to use proper form, including loosening your grip. Working with a coach, athletic trainer or physical therapist can also help improve your form.
How Do I Get Started?
Getting started with pickleball is easy. Here are some options:
- One of the easiest ways is to ask a friend who plays pickleball. They likely have extra equipment you can use and know how to find other beginner players.
- Look for an adult pickleball league. There are many online league directories that can help you find a team. Your local community center may also host a league.
Pickleball is a year-round sport. If you’d like to start playing, chances are there’s a league starting up near you.
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Joseph Medellin, M.D., is a primary care sports medicine doctor at Henry Ford Medical Center--Jackson.
Henry Ford Sports Medicine--Jackson is partnering with the Jackson Area Pickleball Association (JAPA) to build more pickleball courts in Jackson. The project includes eight new courts with bleachers and an expanded parking area at Sparks Park in Jackson. The anticipated opening is fall 2022.