Who Invented Pickleball and Why Was It Called Pickleball?


Pickleball has become one of the fastest-growing sports in the world today. Its quick-paced, easy-to-learn, and age-friendly nature has made it a popular pastime for people of all ages. Although the game enjoys a massive following, very few people know its origin or why it is named “pickleball.” This article aims to shed light on the sport’s history, its naming, and why it is crucial for pickleball players and enthusiasts to know and understand its origins.

The Evolution of Pickleball: Origin Story and Naming Conundrum

Pickleball is a paddleball sport that combines elements of tennis, badminton, and ping-pong. It involves two to four players hitting a small, perforated plastic ball with paddles across a net on a court that is roughly a third of the size of a tennis court. Its rules are simple and easy to learn, making it accessible to players of all ages and skill levels.

The sport evolved from two other backyard games, namely, badminton and ping-pong. Joel Pritchard and Bill Bell, two American congressmen, invented the game in the summer of 1965 in Bainbridge Island, a small community near Seattle, Washington. Legend has it that the game’s creation was a result of a lack of equipment to facilitate a game of badminton. They improvised by using ping-pong paddles and a perforated plastic ball which was used as a ball for the game. Pickleball was born!

A prevailing theory claims that the sport was named after Pritchard’s dog, Pickles, who loved chasing after balls as they went out of bounds. However, other theories suggest that the name “pickleball” was derived from the name of a boat used in crew racing that is known as the “pickleboat.” Nonetheless, the exact origin of the name remains a bone of contention among pickleball enthusiasts.

Pickleball Unveiled: A History Lesson Behind the Sport and Its Name

The earliest known version of pickleball was played in the summer of 1965 on the Pritchard’s property in Bainbridge Island. It was a simple game that involved hitting a perforated plastic ball over a badminton net using ping-pong paddles. They created specific rules like not allowing the ball to bounce and below the waist hitting and served the ball diagonally into a 20×44-foot court. After some modifications and improvements, the paddle and ball used for the game become specific, and a court designed solely for pickleball was created.

With the popularity of the sport growing, Pritchard and company approached a local company to produce paddles specifically designed for the game. The first paddles were handcrafted in western Washington State by the founding fathers of the game.

For several years, pickleball remained a comparatively unknown recreational activity confined to Bainbridge Island. However, it began to attract attention after instructor Barney McCallum discovered the game and introduced it to other states in the late 1960s. The sport continued to grow, and in 1972, the first pickleball tournament was held in Tukwila, Washington.

Origins of Pickleball: The Mystery Behind Its Inventor and the Name

Although the origin of pickleball is attributed to Joel Pritchard and Bill Bell, some dissension exists regarding the inventor of the sport. Some people argue that Barney McCallum, an American entrepreneur, played a more significant role in refining and popularizing the game. McCallum was responsible for designing the first official pickleball court in 1972 and helped to craft rules for the sport.

Despite the mystery surrounding the inventor of pickleball, there is no denying that the sport owes its success to many early players who contributed to refining the rules and equipment used in the game. These players included the likes of Barney McCallum, Joel Pritchard, and Bill Bell, who played a significant role in Pickleball’s early development.

One thing that still puzzles many is the naming of the sport. Although the theory of naming it after Pritchard’s dog Pickles seems like the most plausible explanation, others think it could have some other alternate origins. The mystery remains unsolved to this day.

Pickleball’s Humble Beginnings: A Look at the Origins of the Sport

The first official pickleball court was created in the backyard of Joel Pritchard, Bill Bell, and Barney McCallum. The court was 20 feet by 44 feet wide, which was one-third the size of a standard tennis court. Around this period, the original paddles used were a simple rectangle-shaped wood cutouts measuring nine by twelve inches with the handles having a length of one-foot long.

The sport’s growth in popularity continued to rise, leading to the first pickleball tournament held in 1972. The tournament was held in the South Center Athletic Club in Tukwila, Washington. The contest attracted nearly 120 players who participated in various singles and doubles categories. The tournament was a massive success, and there was no looking back for the sport from then on.

The popularity of pickleball continued to skyrocket over the following years, spreading to beaches, parks, and recreation centers across America. After its inception, the sport quickly evolved from a backyard game into a competitive sport with standardized courts and equipment.

From Haphazard Invention to Global Sport: The Story of Pickleball’s Creator and Its Name

Pickleball’s popularity became more widespread in the early 2000s, when it began gaining a foothold outside the United States of America. In 2001, the International Federation of Pickleball (IFP) was formed, primarily to standardize rules and promote international play. The federation’s efforts have borne fruits, with the sport now enjoyed in over 60 countries worldwide.

Today, pickleball attracts players of all ages, with an estimated 3.3 million active players in the United States alone. It is now a fully developed competitive sport, complete with leagues, organizations, world championships, and professional players. The game’s simplicity, ease, and adaptability have created an inclusive environment, attracting players with different abilities and backgrounds.

The future of pickleball looks promising, with the sport continuing to grow and gain popularity. More courts, better equipment, increased media coverage, and support from organizations have significantly contributed to the sport’s expansion. Pickleball is not just a pastime; it is a global phenomenon.


Pickleball’s success, popularity, and massive growth worldwide are undoubtedly pointed to the game being simple and easy to learn, yet challenging and competitive. The simplicity of the sport has made it accessible to people of all ages, skill levels, and backgrounds. Pickleball’s history is fascinating due to its ambiguous origins and naming that remains a mystery to date.

The history of the sport is vital to all pickleball enthusiasts because of its rich origin and humble beginnings that are evocative of American ingenuity and creativity. The sport’s growth shows no signs of slowing down, attracting more and more players worldwide. The knowledge of the sport’s origin is essential not only for nostalgic purposes but for all who have a passion for the sport. Getting to know the sport’s history is an excellent way to appreciate and value not only the sport but also the journey and passion behind it.

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