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Everything you need to know about pickleball, the game that’s dividing the sporting world

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what is pickleball

It’s the fastest-growing sport in the US, and has already attracted more than 12,000 participants in Australia — so what exactly is pickleball and why are so many sporting megastars obsessed with it?

While the sport was first invented back in 1965, it has only gained mainstream popularity in recent years, thanks — in part — to investments from the likes of NBA star Kevin Durant, NFL quarterback Tom Brady and tennis star Naomi Osaka, among others.

What is pickleball?

Pickleball is a combination of badminton, tennis and ping-pong, which is played on a badminton-sized court in either singles or doubles games. You play with a perforated plastic ball and wooden paddles that are approximately double the size of a standard ping-pong paddle.

The rules of pickleball largely resemble those of the sports from which it draws its inspiration, except for the rule of “the kitchen” — a 7ft no-volley exclusion zone designed to prevent players from spiking the ball over the net.

The US professional league — Major League Pickleball (MLP) — is now in its second season, with 12 teams and six tournaments across the US scheduled for 2023.

pickleball paddle and ball
Pickleball paddle and ball. (Image: Unsplash)

Why is it called pickleball?

Contrary to what you may have first thought, pickleball involves no pickles. There are two alleged origin stories for the game’s name, depending on which inventor you ask.

Joan Pritchard, the wife of co-inventor Joel Pritchard, claims she named the game because had a dog named Pickles, and you’re having fun at a party, right? So anyways, what the hell, let’s just call it pickleball.”

But if you ask co-inventor Barney McCallum, the name comes from Pritchard’s dog — named Pickles — would would chase the ball and run away with it during the game’s early, backyard days.

“The Pritchards had a dog named Pickles, and you’re having fun at a party, right? So anyways, what the hell, let’s just call it pickleball,” McCallum recalled of the name’s origin.

Sadly, there are no pickles involved.

kevin durant, pickleball
Kevin Durant is into pickleball.

Who has invested in pickleball?

It is easy to see why the sport has garnered media attention in recent months, considering pretty much everyone who is anyone in the sporting world has seemingly invested in Major League Pickleball (MLP) teams.

While the MLP has remained tight-lipped about the actual value of the league and its teams, it has indicated that individual teams are fetching seven figures.

LeBron James, Tom Brady, Kevin Durant, Patrick Mahomes, Naomi Osaka and Nick Kyrgios are among the high-profile figures who have invested in teams. NBA agent Rich Paul, supermodel Heidi Klum and Anheuser-Busch — the parent company of Budweiser — have also thrown their cash behind the sport.

Why is it so controversial?

But while the sport is winning the hearts of both recreational players and professionals alike, not everyone is convinced that pickleball is a good thing — particularly for the future of tennis.

Australian tennis legend Rennae Stubbs and former women’s world No.1 doubles player — whose credentials also include working for Serena Williams’ US Open coaching team — has publicly slammed the sport, voicing concerns that have been echoed more broadly in the tennis community.

Her comment prompted backlash from investor and fan Nick Kyrgios, who said “I think LEBRON JAMES & KEVIN DURANT have a bit more of an idea of what to invest in.”

But while Kyrgios may not agree with her, Stubbs’ is not the only person questioning the new craze and its impact on professional tennis.

Former world no. 1 Andy Roddick has noted that the sport’s strengths — its accessibility, and the fact that it’s not particularly hard to be good at — are its weaknesses as a professional sport.

“It’s strengths are its weaknesses. On the plus side, it’s not hard, so everyone can play (except for the head pro that Brett skunked in his first attempt) On the down side, it’s easy, and people tend to wanna watch sports that aren’t,” said Roddick on Twitter last year.

How can I play and/or watch?

Pickleball is gaining traction in Australia, with 69 clubs and groups across the country and counting. You can find your nearest club via the Pickleball Association Australia’s website.

Alternatively, if you’d like to watch the professionals, you can check out games on the Major League Pickleball YouTube channel.

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