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The History of Pickleball: Where Was It Invented and How Did It Become So Popular?

pickleball paddle with balls on pickleball court

This article goes into the fascinating history of pickleball, including how and where it was invented. Learn about its growth over the years and why so many people are playing this fun game today!

Table of Contents

Pickleball Is Born

Pickleball started as a game for kids, invented by Joel Pritchard and Bill Bell in the summer of 1965. The two men were looking for something to do with their families and decided to play badminton. However, they didn’t have a full set of rackets, so they improvised with ping-pong paddles and a perforated plastic ball.

Later, Barney McCallum was introduced to the game at Pritchard’s home. The three men created rules, relying heavily on badminton. The game was designed to be family-friendly and accessible to everyone.

Pickleball Rules Are Formed

After some time, the founding fathers realized they needed to establish rules for the game. They had to craft new pickleball paddles and they had to reduce the size of the original badminton net from 60 inches to 36 inches. It was difficult for them to agree on all of the nuances of the game, including gear, rules, and regulations.

After analyzing games such as badminton, tennis, and ping pong, the creators of pickleball were able to come up with a set of rules that are still used today. Though there was much debate on how exactly the game should be played, they eventually found success in these three sports.

The game of pickleball, which was designed for children, has now captured the attention of people of all ages all over the world.

Pickleball Gains Popularity

Pickleball started gaining popularity little by little as many watched them play the game and got attracted by its style and uniqueness. But most especially, pickleball had a boost from Joe Pritchard who was a congressman. During his campaigns, he would set up a Pickleball game to thrill the audience and they loved it. In 1975, pickleball was published in a national magazine, which helped the game gain national recognition.

In 1976, the first known pickleball tournament in the world was held at South Center Athletic Club in Tukwila, Washington.

With the ever-growing popularity of pickleball, demand for game equipment was constantly on the rise. Pickle-Ball Inc. was formed in 1992 to meet the demand for pickleball balls and the first pickleball gear internet site was started in 1999. As a result of this, many more people were introduced to the game.

Pickleball Tournaments Fuel Pickleball Growth

Pickleball’s popularity surged when it was first played in the Arizona Senior Olympics back in 2001. The tournament took place at Happy Trails RV Resort and had 100 players, which–at the time–was a record-breaking amount. Just a few years later, nearly 300 people were playing in the annual event.

With the increase in tournaments and play, the game of pickleball started to take structure in 2005 with the formation of the official USA Pickleball Association (USAPA).  In 1984, the first rulebook for pickleball was created in the United States. However, it wasn’t until the USAPA formed a board and finalized some rules that the sport became official.

Pickleball popularity has been on the rise for a while, but it took off during the Covid-pandemic in 2019 as people were looking for healthy social sports that allowed for social distancing.

Pickleball Major Leagues Elevate the Game of Pickleball

In 2021 pickleball took on a whole new level when the Major League Pickleball (MLP) was formed. In 2023, the league is expanding from 12 to 16 teams and increasing its prize money pool to over $2 million. Some of the high-profile owners of MLP teams include Super Bowl winner Drew Brees, Milwaukee Bucks co-owner Marc Lasry, as well as Miami Open tournament director and retired US tennis star James Blake.

Today, approximately 4.8 million people play pickleball in the United States, with millions more playing worldwide. USA Pickleball has approximately 56,000 members. The International Federation of Pickleball (IFP), the sport’s global governing body, has around 70 member nations but is not yet recognized by the Global Association of International Sports Federations (GAISF).

Pickleball Shows No Signs of Slowing Down

The history of pickleball is fascinating, from its humble beginnings as a backyard game to its current status as an international phenomenon. The game has captured the attention of people of all ages all over the world and shows no signs of slowing down. With the formation of the official USA Pickleball Association and the Major League Pickleball, pickleball is well on its way to becoming a mainstream sport.


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