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Pickleball: everything you need to know

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W

ith the approach of spring (just) on the horizon, perhaps you’re considering taking your fitness al fresco soon.

Looking to try something new? The pandemic prompted many to take their exercise outside, and one particular sport has soared in popularity across the pond.

Enter: pickleball, a combination of tennis, badminton and table tennis, which is considered slightly less physically demanding than other games, and centred around having fun.

Of course in competition it can get quite aggressive, but casual players of all ages have taken to pickle, making it the fastest growing game in America and it’s now growing rapidly in popularity in the UK. Oh and the Clooneys, Kardashians and Leonardo DiCaprio are all avid fans. Intrigued yet?

How come everyone’s talking about pickleball?

The c’lebs are all at it. Back in 2019, the Kardashians tried their hand at pickleball on their reality TV show while using their own method of scoring. Meanwhile, Leonardo DiCaprio reportedly plays “every day,” according to Vanity Fair, and the Clooneys are also big fans. Philanthropists Bill and Melinda Gates are known to have enjoyed a game alongside Ellen DeGeneres, who is also hooked; and Robbie Williams and Novak Djokovic once played together at a charity event. The list goes on.

Now that it’s becoming more widely played outside of the US, die-hard fans are hopeful the sport might one day be played at Olympic level.

Why is it called pickleball?

The game of pickleball is understood to have been born in Washington back in 1965, when two dads invented the game to alleviate the boredom of their families one summer’s day and make use of on old badminton court.

As for the origins of its name, there are two versions: one related to a dog and the other to a boat, but it’s generally accepted that it was named by one of the inventor’s wife, Joan. Players yell “Pickle!” when they serve. Other snack-related terms include “falafel!” (a shot fallen short), a “poach!” (crossing over to your teammate’s side) and “flabjack!” (a shot that has to bounce before being hit).

How do I play?

You can play the game on a badminton court. You’ll also need a lightweight racquet and perforated ball (like a wiffle ball), which makes it easier to swing. Underhand serves and a two-bounce rule before starting volleys also feature. In rallies, the point can be won if you have served, but without a serving start you can only win the next serve.

The front lines on the court mark the no volley zone, known as the “kitchen”, where you can serve your opponents “dink” shots. In simple terms, this is a shot from kitchen to kitchen that manoeuvres the ball with more finesse than your routine smash shots. It makes it very hard for your opponent to return the shot after letting it bounce, as pickleballs don’t bounce very high.

Like in table tennis, a set is won by the first to 11 points won with a two-point margin.

Where can you play in London?

This locator on Pickleball England allows you to locate your nearest club. We could only find one currently in London (in Wimbledon), but with David Lloyd planning to roll out a significant number of new pickleball courts to more of its clubs countrywide this year, we’re hopeful for more in the capital by the summer.

What kit do you need and where to buy it?

You’ll need a set of lightweight racquets (that look like slightly larger table tennis bats) and reduced velocity balls (all in one set at Decathalon UK, £14.99).

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