As a relatively newer sport, pickleball is growing popular and very quickly around the globe. But how did pickleball get its name?
Despite being a game with the fastest-growing popularity, many people struggle to find out how the game got its name. We can’t blame them either. The name is pretty strange! Nevertheless, this is a sport played by over 2.5 million people in the US and has recently acclaimed countrywide recognition with official leagues and tournaments.
There are various stories about how the game got its name, and it varies by source. The official version is that it came from the inventor’s dog named pickle. Some believe the inventor’s wife called it pickleball because it’s a mixture of multiple games. Others believe it came from rowing.
One thing is for sure, though - it has nothing to do with pickles. The sport was invented in the summer of 1965 by a couple of friends. They wandered through various experiments to develop a new game. They combined elements of different games to find Pickleball. There lies confusion about how it got its name as the inventors have narrated both on various occasions. But why Pickleball?
We are Pickleball enthusiasts, and like most players interested in the game, we got into the pickle of finding out the origin of the name. The information in this article is only from the most authentic sources.
So, How Did Pickleball Get Its Name?
As we mentioned earlier, there are not one but multiple stories about how Pickleball got its name. Each version is exciting and convincing in its tone. First, let’s talk about the more believable and official stories verified by close sources to the game. We call this “The Dog Story.”
The Dog Story
Pickleball originated in 1965 in Bainbridge Island in Washington State. According to David McCallum, son of one of the game's co-creators, Barney McCallum, there were two kids, Joel Pritchard and Paul Brown, who walked down a road behind the church and came across a box of puppies.
Jim Brown, son of Paul Brown, recalls that his father and Joel Pritchard came up with the rules and point system of the game. At the time, they did not have a name for the game. The Pritchard family picked a puppy from the box that was a cockapoo breed and named Lulu. On the other hand, the brown family’s puppy was named Pickles.
David further mentioned that Pickles liked to run around and grab the ball while playing. A day came when both families agreed upon deciding the game of the name as their neighbors were getting familiar with it. When the Brown family went over at night to the Pritchard family to select the game’s name, they came up with many options, but none felt right. After giving it a lot of thought, Joan Pritchard, Joel Pritchard’s wife, called it ‘Pickleball’ after the dog. The name instantly clicked with everyone.
This is the official version of the story verified by David McCallum, Paul Brown, and the USA Pickleball Association. It is also the most popular and widely believed version of the origination of the name as it is a sweet story and convincing for marketing purposes. However, there are some other stories about how the game got its name. They, too, have authentic sources.
The Boat Story
This story is verified by the other founder of the game, Joel Pritchard. According to Joel, his wife came up with the name, not after the dog but the boat.
In watersports, pickle refers to two various concepts:
The first refers to a pickle boat in sailing - the last boat in a sailing race to cross the finishing line.
The second refers to a pickle boat in rowing - the boat rowed by a pair of participants who no one picks and automatically teams up as the only ones not selected.
The Brown family and the Pritchards family invented pickleball by combining several factors of various games such as tennis, table tennis, golf, etc. You can say that refers to the ‘leftovers’ of the game. That way, the rowing story connects better to the origin as the pickle boat was also rowed by the pair that was ‘left.’
Moreover, it was a coincidence that rowing was just behind the Pritchard’s cabin, where the families invented the game. Joan Pritchard had some experience with rowing during their time at the cabin. Therefore, the boat story makes an equal amount of connection and sense to convince us that this is the true origin of the name ‘Pickleball.’
This version of the name’s origin story is also supported by Peggy Pritchard, Joel Pritchard’s daughter. According to Peggy, the name came from rowing, and all rumors about the name coming from the dog can not be true as there was no dog until after two years of the game's invention. If anything, it was the dog named after the game as it kept picking up the ball when it went to the bushes.
So, Which Version Is True?
The majority of the players and sports enthusiasts believe that the name Pickleball came from rowing. As Pritchard’s wife is the one who named the game in both versions, it is more compelling to believe her words about the name coming from the influence of rowing. However, as the dog story is the official version that the US Pickleball Association endorses due to its marketing capability, it has more votes for being the true story.
It has been over 50 years since the invention of the game, and memories can become foggy after so long since there are no official reports since then. It is also possible that both stories took place, but the Brown family had their perspective on the name’s origin, and the Pritchard family had theirs.
How is Pickleball Played?
Now that we have established the two possibilities of how Pickleball got its name, let's look at how the game is played.
The game's objective is to be the first player or the team to win the game by acquiring 11 points, and you must win by a margin of at least two points.
Pickleball is played on a badminton-size court that measures 20x44 feet. The net in the middle is 36 inches high. On each side of the net, there is a seven-foot-long non-volley zone called the kitchen. Beyond the kitchen, the rest of the court is divided into two equal sections called Right and Left Service Area.
Each player of the pickleball uses a square-shaped pickleball racket and one regulation pickleball ball. This ball is made from plastic and has several holes in it. Pickleball is played indoors and outdoors. Therefore, the balls for both areas are different.
Like tennis, table tennis, and badminton, you can either play in singles or doubles. The serve must be made diagonally, and the sides are used alternatively for each serve. The server must also ensure that their feet are behind the backline. Even the feet slightly touching the line can result in foul play.
To serve, you must call the score before showing the ball. Then drop the ball and hit it with an under swinging paddle below your waist. It is crucial to remember that the ball should not be hit after letting it bounce on the turf. You must hit it in the air, and the first bounce should be in the diagonal side service area on the other side of the court.
The serve must not land in the opponent’s kitchen or the kitchen line. If it does, it is scrutinized as a foul. Generally, only one try per serve is allowed. However, if the ball hits the net and then land’s in the service area, the server can retake the serve. If the ball hits the net and falls into the kitchen area, the service is counted as a foul.
At the beginning of the game, the team that won the serve toss is allowed one serve. If the service is not proper, the opponent team has the chance to serve. If the other team also commits the same foul, the service will keep exchanging until it is done correctly. Another rule of the service is that the player on the team's right hand will always do the serve.
After the service, a double bounce rule requires both teams to let the ball hit the surface at least once on their side before hitting it in the air, known as a volley. After the service, you can volley anywhere on the court except in the kitchen. You are not allowed to step in the kitchen even after the follow-through, or it counts as a foul. However, the only exception is if the ball bounces in the kitchen, you can enter the kitchen and hit it. After hitting the ball, you must immediately leave the kitchen, or it counts as a foul.
The server continues to serve until they or their team makes a foul serve—the serve switches to the opposite side right-hand service area in a one-on-one game. In a doubles game, the service side remains the same if a foul service has been served. The same team tries again by interchanging their positions, and the teammate serves again. If the service is fouled again, the service is handed over to the other team.
Each time the ball falls in your kitchen area during the game, you or your team is allowed one bounce and one hit to return the ball over the net to the opponent's side. A player on either side is not allowed to hit the ball twice. If any player hits the ball in the net, out of bounds, fails to hit the ball over the net, or lets the ball bounce on your side two times before hitting it back to the opponent’s side, it is a fault that awards the opposing team a point. To win, you need to score 11 points before the other team by keeping a margin of two points.
About THE AUTHOR
Since initially playing at the collegiate level, I have amassed several decades of experience playing racquetball, tennis, and pickleball. I have played thousands of matches and games, and won medals and awards in multiple tourantments. I am constantly improving my game and enjoy mentoring and coaching other players in strategy and technique. I have authored dozens of articles on the sport.Read More About Michael Stevens