Sports are fun but they can come with a learning curve if you're just getting started. However, pickleball has transcended age groups and skill levels due to its inclusive nature and easy pace. Without requiring hours on the court beforehand, becoming a "pickler" can be fast and seamless. And unlike tennis, pickleball doesn't need as much practice — which is what's made it so popular in recent years.
According to a USA Pickleball report, this is the fastest-growing sport in the U.S. with more than 4.8 million participants nationwide and a growth rate of nearly 40 percent over the last two years. The combination of tennis, badminton and pingpong is what makes this sport so attractive. Since its invention in 1965 on Bainbridge Island, right outside Seattle, Washington, pickleball has been soaring and crossing continents.
An expert shares with Shop TODAY the rules of pickleball, the equipment you need to master this sport and the gear to move with ease. Here's everything you need to know about this recreational activity — plus a few essentials to win front and center.
What is pickleball? | Why is pickleball so popular? | What are the benefits of pickleball? | How to play pickleball? | How do I choose a pickleball paddle for beginners? | Best pickleball paddles for beginners | Best pickleball gear | Meet the expert
What is pickleball?
Pickleball is a mix of tennis, badminton and table tennis. According to the pickleball lead at Life Time South Jordan, Mindy Gibson, this sport "uses two paddles and a specially designed whiffle ball. It can be played on a gym floor, tennis court surface, concrete or any surface that allows for a pickleball to properly bounce."
How do I choose a pickleball paddle for beginners?
When getting started, one thing that Gibson recommends is investing in a sturdy pickleball paddle. Usually, cheap paddles have "poor balance and bad swing weight. They will make you more prone to injury. Instead, go with a well-established brand with a thick core paddle."
"Honeycomb core paddles are the safest and easiest to start with. As your arms, wrists and elbows gets stronger and used to the use, you can explore higher power and higher swing-weight paddles. But again, stay with established brands," shares Gibson.
A favorite brand among pickleball players is JOOLA for its quality and eye-catching designs. Below are other options to jump into your pickleball practice.
Best pickleball paddles for beginners
With a nearly five-star rating, this pickleball paddle set is perfect for any beginner. The set comes with two paddles made of premium fiberglass and four balls. The paddles are lightweight, durable and sturdy to hold. Each paddle only weighs 8 ounces and the cushioned grip is non-slipper, which will allow you to stay on the game for hours.
This pickleball set comes with two paddles that weigh 11 ounces and two balls. If you're an entry-level player, this is a great set to learn the game. Customers rave about the excellent weight and ergonomic design of the handles. "These pickle ball paddles work as intended. I recommend them for pickling purposes," wrote one reviewer.
Add panache to your set of paddles with this bold design. The pickleball rackets feature a summer-inspired pattern that feels light to the touch and provides a comfortable grip. This one is great for intermediate players looking to enhance their gear. Also, is made with a fiberglass material that offers great performance during the game.
If you're a beginner, this set will help you get started with ease. The paddles are made with a fiberglass face and polypropylene-honeycomb composition that make them lightweight but powerful. According to reviewers, this one provides less stress on the elbow and shoulder. "The ball definitely travels fast with the fiberglass coating that is ideal for more power," wrote one Amazon shopper.
This brand is preferred by many experts for its construction and elegant design. This paddle set brings two 26-hole indoor balls and two 40-hole outdoor balls with a bag to store your equipment. The paddle comes equipped with edge-shield protection, an anti-slip handle and a honeycomb polymer core to reduce vibration.
For the pro player, this paddle will give you a competitive edge on the court. The paddle consists of a textured surface that provides spin control and features a textured fiberglass epoxy hybrid that improves performance. Also, this paddle offers vibration control like most traditional paddles. You can choose between standard and thin paddles and modify the weight preference.
To take your game to the next level, choose this midweight paddle featuring a long handle. This one has a larger surface and is made with Fiberflex for a confident hold. Whether you're in windy or hot conditions, this paddle will feel smooth and comfortable through every swing.
Best pickleball gear
Show off your pickleball pride with this T-shirt. K-Swiss offers pickleball and tennis enthusiasts an array of sport-inspired products to wear on the court. Match this T-shirt with your skirt or leggings, or simply wear it with jeans for a casual look.
This breathable tennis skort is ideal for the woman that loves pockets. The skort features a four-way stretch and moisture-wicking fabric that is breathable. Whether you're running errands or serving on the court, this skort will keep you comfortable thanks to the built-in shorts.
"This is the best skirt I’ve come across. It hides my mommy tummy and makes me look very slim. I’ve bought it in multiple colors," said one Amazon reviewer.
For those looking for extra coverage, this skirted legging is the way to go. The piece features a lightweight material, hidden pockets and a skirt that offers versatility. Wear it during your outdoor adventures and feel dressed up wherever you go. Over 2,400 customers gave these leggings a five-star review.
"I wear these products for tennis, golf and cycling, and sometimes all day because they are so comfortable and provide great sun protection as well as warmth on a cool day," shared one reviewer.
Look like a pickleball pro with this tennis-inspired dress that features a pleated skirt, two hidden pockets, built-in shorts and a zipper closure. The fitted design is figure-flattering and the pleated details exude a professional flair while running on the court. Also, it comes with an upside-down pocket to fit your tennis ball and, or pickleball.
Look chic anywhere with this tennis skirt featuring a high-waisted design and built-shorts with pockets. This skirt can be worn during most sports activities and comes in different hues for a bold look. Reviewers shared they use it for running, tennis and other outdoor activities.
"I love this skirt! it’s perfect to wear on and off the court! it doesn’t ride up or blow in the wind like some tennis skirts do," wrote one Amazon shopper.
This dress is chic, comfortable and breathable for athletic occasions. The dress features a sleeveless silhouette and a contrasting air mesh overlay panel. With a form-fitting design and soft construction, this dress makes it suitable for your next game.
These shoes are specifically tested for pickleball players and feature TRUSSTIC technology that provides stability when switching directions. It's functional while pivoting and also comes with Forefoot Gel technology that increases impact absorption. Customer rave about the support system of the shoes and how well they stick to the ground.
"I can play for hours on the pickleball court and these are so comfortable. There are nine other people in our group who wear these shoes and love them," said one customer.
Hoka never disappoints when it comes to running, jumping and other sports. Most podiatrists love and approve of Hoka for their ultra-cushioned technology. Aside from being a great running shoe, Hokas are great for any type of workout and are recommended to patients with foot issues. This one features a breathable mesh upper and heel crash pad for soft landings.
If you're a fan of Vionic, you'll love their latest design: Fortune Sneaker. This one is comfortable at the first step and features an Advanced Motion System technology that feels flexible and cushioning. The shoe is lightweight, breathable and ideal for long hours of activity. Not only it will support your sport, but your feet will feel protected while running for miles.
Are you a true pickleball fan? This pair of socks will keep your opponent on their feet. The socks are made with a blend of cotton, polyester, nylon and spandex that offers breathability and comfort. Also, they're made with moisture-wicking features to keep your feet dry for hours.
This ball retriever is easy to use and makes pickleball picking effortless. The piece can be placed on the bottom of the paddle to retrieve the pickleball and is a great tool for those people that can't bend easily.
"When you're, say, in your 60s, you really don't want to be bending to the ground to pick up the pickleball 100 times in a game. That's not good. These suction cups are a great idea," said one player.
Show your teammates your great sportsmanship with this pickleball paddle necklace. It comes with a detailed charm that will make any pickle baller cheerful. This is a great gift for graduation, Mother's Day or birthday.
Complete their jewelry collection with these paddle earrings. The studs showcase a tiny replica of real pickleball paddles in 18-karat gold. This is also a great option to gift your pickleball buddy.
Keep your paddles secured and stored in this crossbody bag from Mark and Graham. The accessory is made of lightweight and durable nylon and features a small pocket to store a handful of balls and some essentials. You can also personalize it with an embroidered monogram for a modern touch.
Why is pickleball so popular?
Unlike golf and tennis, pickleball is popular for its accessibility, inclusivity and availability to all ages. "One of the best aspects of pickleball is that anyone can play. Whether you have zero experience or you’re a skilled athlete, the learning curve of pickleball is incredibly low — about 10 minutes," says Gibson.
Also, pickleball is no longer for older players as the sport has been growing in popularity — the average age of a player is 43.5 years old, according to Gibson. And the appeal doesn't end there. Because the pickleball is designed with holes, it moves at a slower pace than a tennis ball making it more approachable for beginners.
What are the benefits of pickleball?
There are many benefits of pickleball, from physical fitness to the social aspect and its easy nature with which it is picked up. Not only is it a game that can be played by all members of the family, but it doesn't have an age limit. A great activity any time of the year, the sport decreases boredom, burns calories and can decrease screen time. "Pickleball is a fantastic activity to unglue your kiddos away from the imminent perils of TV, video games and electronics," says Gibson.
How to play pickleball?
While it is very similar to tennis, pickleball is played on a badminton-sized court and a slightly modified tennis net. The rules can be confusing at first, but Gibson provides the basics of the game below:
- You need a minimum of two players for singles or four for doubles.
- Every pickleball court will have a space called a “non-volley zone” located in the middle of the court.
- You cannot “volley” or hit the ball out of the air while standing in the NVZ (aka kitchen).
- Players play a game up to 11. The team thats up by two points, wins.
- The northwest side always starts the game with one serve.
- When serving the ball, players must serve diagonally over the net and non-volley zone to be a legal serve.
- Every pickleball game will have what is called two bounce rule: The ball must bounce once on each side of the court before players can “volley” or hit the ball out of the air.
- You can only score points when you are serving aka rally scoring.
- Players who score points on their serve will alternate their court position left and right, while those receiving the ball will alternate to a staggered position i.e. one at the NVZ while the other is at the baseline.
- Every pickleball game will have three numbers when serving: the first number represents your score, the second represents your opponent’s score, and the third number represents the team member serving i.e., 0-0-2.
Meet the expert
- Mindy Gibson is the pickleball lead at Life Time South Jordan in Utah, an athletic country club personal training group and more.