Everything You Need To Know About Pickleball: The Sport Getting Its Own US Major League - Men's Health Magazine Australia

Everything You Need To Know About Pickleball: The Sport Getting Its Own US Major League

As one of America’s most rapidly growing sports, Pickleball is set to get its own Major League as it expands to more countries and communities around the world.

If you happen to have social media, it’s likely you would have paused your endless scrolling to gaze at a baffling sporting spectacle. It may have looked like tennis, in fact, the players may have even been dressed in tennis attire, but the rackets were notably different as were the strokes and level of scoring. Yep, what you were witnessing unfold via the glow of a phone screen was that of the sporting phenomenon now known as Pickleball: the curious sport that has, by all appearances, taken over the United States and now seeks to expand around the world. 

It might sound like a huge call, but with celebrity athletes and sporting enthusiasts getting behind the novel sport, it’s amassed a huge following and now, it’s even been announced that it will be getting its own major league complete with star-studded ownership. 

So, how exactly did we come to such a moment in the history of sport? Here’s everything you need to know about Pickleball including how it’s played, why it’s become so popular and what’s in store for its future. 

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Who invented Pickleball?

The sport is apparently the brainchild of Joel Pritchard, congressman from Washington State and Bill Bell, a successful businessman. After they returned to Pritchard’s home and found their families sitting around with nothing to do, they decided to get outdoors and turned to the Badminton court Pritchard had on the property. 

As they couldn’t find a full set of Badminton equipment – notably rackets, they improvised instead with ping pong paddles and a perforated plastic ball. They noticed that the ball bounced well on the asphalt surface and lowered the badminton net, later creating rules that would see the game develop into that of Pickleball. 

What is Pickleball?

Much like the ‘donkey drop’ was created to encourage children to get into tennis without fearing the skills required to hit a killer serve, Pickleball was also originally invented as something of a tennis variant for children. It’s played on a 1/3-sized court and also features a lowered net, making it easier to get the ball over. 

Instead of a racket, players use a carbon fibre paddle to hit the ball which also differs from tennis in that it’s a plastic ball with holes. Though you might have seen some great athletes taking to Pickleball during their down time or during Covid, the fact is that the sport actually doesn’t require all that much movement or agility. In fact, it doesn’t take much to play it well and there’s even a ruling that stipulates “no volley zones” in the court. 

What are the rules of Pickleball?

For any beginner looking to get into Pickleball, the key rules are as follows: the ball must stay inbounds, serving is done underhand at the baseline, the ball must bounce once per side, the serve can’t land in the no-volley zone, and the game is played to 11, or 15. 

Though the game is similar to tennis, you can’t serve overhead as this is considered illegal. Instead it must be done underhand and below the waistline. The ball must also be hit diagonally to the opposite side of the court. As for the no-volley zone, this refers to anywhere inside of the lined box that sits 7 feet off from the net. There’s one on each side of the court, one for each team. 

Why is Pickleball so popular?

The sport has been labelled “highly contagious” by its adoring fans, and it’s easy to see why. Easy to play and with a simple game play, it’s accessible for anyone and something you can do for fun, or take more seriously should that competitive drive kick in. The game has also been acknowledged for its social nature, as the court is smaller than a tennis court so players are closer together meaning you can keep a conversation going with your friends throughout. 

When was the Major League Pickleball created?

Pickleball received its major league in 2021 but the sport has been around for far longer, with many people trying to get it off the ground before then. Notable figures include Thomas Dundon, owner of TopGolf and the Carolina Hurricanes, who founded the rival company Professional Pickleball Association (PPA) in 2019. Contracts now mandate that players are forbidden from competing in both leagues. 

Currently, the MLP draft and events are streamed on YouTube but there is no major network that owns broadcasting rights in the same way that the NBA and NFL have affiliates involved. But while that sounds like a painful reminder of how far the sport still needs to go, there is hope in the sense of team ownership, with the likes of former Super Bowl champion Drew Brees and former World No.4 tennis star James Blake all throwing their hat in the ring. 

As the league has expanded, so too have the big names looking to get a slice of the action, with LeBron James, Draymond Green and Kevin Love all signing on for team ownership as the MLP expanded to 16 teams.

What does the future look like for Pickleball?

The future certainly is a promising one as it seems Pickleball will only continue to expand both in the United States and around the world. As MLP Founder Steve Kuhn said in a statement, “Having SC Holdings, LRMR Ventures, and their incredible group as owners and investors in Major League Pickleball is not just great for MLP, it’s a watershed moment for pickle ball in general.”

Kuhn added, “Pickleball is the fastest-growing sport in the country, building communities in cities and towns all over the world. This investment and the platform that this group provides will significantly help us with our goal to reach 40 million pickle ball players by 2030.”

By Jess Campbell

Hobby jogger and pickle enthusiast, Jess is a writer committed to sharing the human stories that lie at the heart of sport. When not staring down the blank page of a word document, you can find her getting a little lost and a little cold out on the trails. Previous work featured in GQ Australia.

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