What started as a way to battle boredom and engage high-strung youngsters became one of the fastest-growing sports out there. While everyone and their mother seems to be playing pickleball these days, we couldn’t be more perplexed about one thing – how did pickleball get its name?
Pickleball’s often described as an amalgam of three different racket sports, namely tennis, badminton, and ping-pong.
Players play pickleball on a court that’s much smaller than a tennis court with paddles that are much bigger than ping-pong paddles and plastic balls with a bunch of holes (a.k.a. whiffle balls) – who even came up with that?!
But, the sense of community shared by pickleball players makes up for the funny name and the fact that you’re playing a twisted version of tennis. Before you deem pickleball as challenging to play as tennis, though, know that the game’s meant for all ages and skill levels.
Number one, you play with a ball that’s not as fast or bouncy as a tennis ball. Number two, the pickleball paddle’s much shorter and lighter than a tennis racket. Number three, you serve underhand which happens to be much more comfortable and easier to hit and return.
Now, everyone agrees that pickleball makes for the best workout because you’re too busy having fun to notice you’re sweating your bottom off. But, not everyone agrees on whether the game of pickleball was named after everyone’s favorite salty snack, a dog, or a boat.
What’s the history behind pickleball?
1. Who invented pickleball?
We gotta start at the source, right?
Whether or not that sounds strange, the game of pickleball wasn’t meant to become one of the most prominent and popular sports out there. Pickleball was created by three fathers, Joel Pritchard, Barney McCallum, and William Bell, who were trying to figure out a way to keep the children off the streets.
Joel Pritchard‘s the name you’re most likely to come by when you’re searching for deets on pickleball.
He wasn’t a regular dad, though. He was a U.S. Congressman, a Lieutenant Governor of Washington, and a part of the Washington State House of Representatives and the Washington State Senat throughout the 1960s – around the time when he came up with pickleball.
Barney McCallum, on the other hand, made sure that Joel didn’t mess up the rules of the game.
Barney and Joel knew each other because they worked together at the Griffin Envelope Company and were neighbors on Bainbridge Island. Barney built the first pickleball court in the backyard of his house and founded the first pickleball company, Pickleball Inc., which sold pickleball equipment.
William Bell was one of their neighbors on Bainbridge, too. William was a part of the entire process of coming up with the rules of the game and even co-creating Pickleball Inc. with Barney. Needless to say, the three fathers didn’t have a clue of how big the game was going to become.
2. Where was pickleball invented?
Now that we know the who, we can focus on the where.
Pickleball was created on Bainbridge Island. This was a very popular summer holiday spot for many prominent people at the time, which attests to the fact that the three fathers came up with the game while they were spending the summer there.
Pickleball was created sometime between 1963 and 1966, but most pickleball players and devotees agree that the game came to be around 1965. What were the three fathers doing when they thought to combine tennis, badminton, and ping-pong to create a game as addicting as pickleball?
3. How was pickleball invented?
We weren’t kidding when we argued that pickleball was created because Joel, Barney, and William needed something to do on a hot summer day. When they came home from playing golf, they were greeted by a bunch of annoyed, aggravated family members who didn’t know what to do with themselves.
Prichard suggested that the three families play badminton on the old, dilapidated badminton court that was a part of the property. They weren’t able to gather enough rackets for everyone, though, and they decided to use some spare ping-pong paddles. They opted for a wiffle ball rather than a tennis ball, though.
By the end of the summer, the game became a huge hit between the three families and the dads decided to create a set of rules and a name for the game. Before they even knew what was going on, pickleball became one of the most played sports among families across the USA!
How did pickleball get its name?
OK, we’re ready to answer the big question.
On one hand, the game of pickleball might have been named by Joan Pritchard, Joel Pritchard’s wife, who wanted to honor a dog by the name of Pickles. On the other hand, Joan might have named the game after a pickle boat because of the charming connection between the two. Which one’s true, though?
1. First version: After a dog
We know that pickleball became much bigger than the three families anticipated.
Whether or not the Prichards were planning on making pickleball the next big thing, they knew they needed a name that was simple enough for everyone to pronounce and gripping enough for everyone to remember.
One day, they were trying to come up with a name when Joan, Joel’s wife, suggested the name “pickleball.”
Right off the bat, everyone knew that the name was connected to the family dog’s name Pickles – and, Pickles was known to chase after wiffle balls when they were playing the game which made the name even more fitting.
And, the name pickleball rolled off the tongue enough for everyone to agree that’s how they were going to refer to the game from that moment onward. According to the two co-creators of the game, Barney and William, that’s the correct story of origin when we’re referring to the name of the game.
2. Second version: After a boat
Everyone’s obsessed with dogs, right? Dogs make every story bigger, better, and more believable. Depending on which creator of the game you choose to believe, the story of Pickles the dog might have been the right move to promote the game.
However, there’s another story that explains how Joan came up with the name pickleball. And, that’s the story that was confirmed by Joan’s husband, Joel. Who would know better how she came up with the name than her husband, right?
According to Joel, Joan decided on the name pickleball because of pickle boats.
Pickle boats were common on Bainbridge Island because of rowers who used to frequently practice there. Pickle boats were driven by rowers that didn’t make the other teams and that’s why Joan thought that the name pickleball would be fitting for a game that was made of other games.
But, that story didn’t make the cut because it wasn’t as interesting or inspiring as the other one. When the three fathers, who were businessmen and politicians and knew how to tell a good story, were asked about the name of the game, they agreed to say that pickleball was named after the family dog.
We can’t forget that Peggy Prichard, Joel’s daughter, argued how the game couldn’t have been named after the dog because Pickles came two years after the game was created. Pickles might have been named after the game considering he adored running after wiffle balls when everyone was playing.
3. Which version’s true?
Whichever version of the origin story you were rooting for, know that one of them was fabricated to make the game even more admired and accepted. We do need to underline that most pickleball enthusiasts believe the second story, the one that suggests the name came from rowing.
Considering the fact that Joan was the one that came up with the name, we’re compelled to believe her words rather than the words of other co-creators.
Moreover, the story of Pickles the dog makes pickleball more marketable and happens to be the one that the US Pickleball Association endorses – which explains why everyone’s having a hard time siding with either of the two.
Whatever the case might be, pickleball was created many, many years ago and nobody’s surprised that the circumstances under which the name came to be have been forgotten.
We’re pretty sure that both stories took place, but the families couldn’t agree on which of them encouraged the name pickleball the most.
Should you play pickleball?
Pickleball seems to have taken the world by storm and we’re over the moon about the prospects of playing a game that’s simpler than badminton, easier than tennis, and (arguably) more entertaining than ping-pong.
Pickleball’s appropriate for everyone, whether you’re a beginner or a pro. Pickleball courts are popping up everywhere, and you don’t need anything other than a pickleball paddle, a pickleball ball, and a cute outfit to get started.
Whether you opt for running shoes, gym shoes, or even tennis shoes, make sure you’re comfortable and supported throughout the game. Good luck!