How Pickleball Became a Global Phenomenon

How Pickleball Became a Global Phenomenon

Pickleball is a fast-paced sport that combines elements of tennis, badminton, and table tennis. It is played on a court with a low net, paddles, and a plastic ball with holes. It can be played by anyone, anywhere, and at any skill level. But how did this sport come to be? And how did it grow from a backyard game to a worldwide sensation?

The Origins of Pickleball

Pickleball was invented in 1965 as a children’s backyard game on Bainbridge Island, Washington. The game was created by Joel Pritchard, a congressman from Washington State, Bill Bell, a successful businessman, and Barney McCallum, a friend and neighbor. They were looking for something fun to do with their families on a summer weekend.

The story goes that they could not find a complete set of badminton equipment, so they improvised with ping-pong paddles and a perforated plastic ball. They lowered the badminton net to 36 inches and started volleying the ball over it. They soon realized that the ball bounced well on the asphalt surface and that the game was easy to learn and play. They also came up with some basic rules, mostly based on badminton.

The name “pickleball” has two possible origins. One is that it was named after the Pritchards’ dog Pickles, who would chase the ball and run away with it. Another is that it was named after the term “pickle boat”, which refers to the last boat to return with its catch in fishing. According to McCallum, the name was chosen because "the combination of different sports reminded me of the pickle boat in crew where oarsmen were chosen from the leftovers of other boats."

The Growth of Pickleball

Pickleball soon spread beyond the Pritchards’ backyard. The first permanent pickleball court was built in 1967 at Bob O’Brian’s home, another friend and neighbor of Pritchard. In 1972, a corporation was formed to protect the creation of the new sport and to promote its development. The first official rulebook was published in 1984 by the United States Amateur Pickleball Association (USAPA), which was founded by Sid Williams.
Pickleball also attracted media attention and public interest. In 1975, the National Observer published an article about pickleball, followed by a 1976 article in Tennis magazine. In 1976, the first known pickleball tournament in the world was held at South Center Athletic Club in Tukwila, Washington. Many of the participants were college tennis players who knew very little about pickleball.
Pickleball continued to grow in popularity and reach throughout the 1980s and 1990s. By 1990, pickleball was being played in all 50 states2. The first composite paddle was made by Arlen Paranto, a Boeing industrial engineer, who used fiberglass and honeycomb materials. 
In 1997, Joel Pritchard passed away at age 72. He is widely remembered as one of the co-inventors of pickleball and as Washington State’s lieutenant governor from 1988 to 1996.

The Global Phenomenon of Pickleball

In the 21st century, pickleball experienced a rapid growth both nationally and internationally. According to USAPA, there were over 3.3 million players and over 8,000 places to play in North America as of 2020. Pickleball also expanded to other countries such as Canada, Mexico, India, Japan, Australia, Spain, France, Germany, and many more.

Pickleball also became more organized and competitive. USAPA became USA Pickleball in 2020 and is the national governing body for the sport in the United States. USA Pickleball sanctions tournaments, certifies referees and instructors, provides ratings and rankings, and supports grassroots development. USA Pickleball is also a member of the International Federation of Pickleball (IFP), which was established in 2010 to perpetuate the international growth and development of pickleball.

The IFP is the world governing body of pickleball and has over 60 member countries as of 2023. The IFP’s goal is to introduce pickleball to all nations so that they may embrace the sport as one of their national sports, and ultimately to achieve official recognition by the International Olympic Committee (IOC) in order to establish pickleball as an Olympic sport. The IFP organizes and conducts international tournaments and events, such as the Bainbridge Cup, which is the World Cup of Pickleball.

The Bainbridge Cup was created in 2017 as an intercontinental competition that showcases the global phenomenon of pickleball. The first edition was held in Spain and featured teams from Europe and North America. Since then, the event has grown to include teams from Asia, Africa, Oceania, and South America. The Bainbridge Cup is named after the island where pickleball was born and celebrates the sport’s origins and diversity.

Pickleball is more than just a sport. It is a social activity that brings people together across ages, backgrounds, and cultures. It is a fun and healthy way to stay active and enjoy life. It is a passion that inspires creativity and innovation. It is a phenomenon that has changed millions of lives around the world.

If you are interested in learning more about pickleball or joining the global community of players, visit the websites of USA Pickleball ( or IFP ( You can also find local clubs, courts, tournaments, instructors, and events near you. Whether you are a beginner or a pro, there is a place for you in pickleball with Tenacious Outdoors.

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