You’ve seen it all over the news lately. Your co-workers talking about it. You’ve walked by your local courts buzzing with people playing it. Your favorite celebrities are touting it on social media. There’s no denying it. The Pickleball craze is real and you’re ready to get out there and see what all the buzz is about! But how do you get started?!
Here’s how to get started playing pickleball in 3 steps: learn the rules, choose the right equipment, and find opportunities to play.
1. Learn The Rules
First and foremost, it’s best to do some homework on the basic rules of the game. When I walked out on the pickleball court for the first time in 2019, the sport was still new enough that the ‘regulars’ (mostly patient and kind retirees) were willing to take the time to teach a newbie the rules. I was lucky. While I’m sure welcoming culture still exists, I imagine this type of patience and kindness are less common nowadays when complete beginners step on the court. Why? Well, because the sport has exploded over the last few years, creating more demand for games than the supply of courts. Many community courts are overwhelmed with players, which results in long lines of players waiting for their turn to rotate into play. It’s likely that when it’s their turn to get back on the court, they’d prefer to play a competitive/fun game at their level rather than teach a complete stranger the basic rules of the game.
You will feel more comfortable and confident and have more fun if you show up to the courts with a solid understanding of basic rules and knowledge of scoring for doubles play. Scoring in pickleball can be confusing and takes some practice to get the hang of it. It is absolutely okay to ask questions if you get confused or to ask your partner to remind you of the score. Here you can find the basic rules of the game. YouTube is also a rich source of information if you are a visual learner. This sport is so social and fun that you’re bound to have a good time and get help from fellow players, but learning the basic rules in advance is a great place to start.
2. Choose Equipment That Will Help You Succeed
Choosing a Paddle
Depending on where you decide to play, there may be equipment provided for you to use free of charge. I grabbed a wooden paddle out of a box my first time and played a few games before someone thoughtfully snatched it out of my hand and replaced it with an extra composite paddle of their own. This completely changed my experience of the game. I didn’t realize how unpredictable, small, slippery, and heavy the wood paddle was until I switched. Only then, did the game start to really get more fun. Equipment DOES matter.
We’ve seen so many beginners go buy crappy paddles on Amazon (it’s OK, we did it too - no judgment here!). The problem is when those players start to get the hang of the game and realize within a few weeks that they need to upgrade their paddle. This was part of the early inspiration for Rich Cat Supply. Seeing the wasted money and environmental implications of cheaply made equipment made us realize we could solve this problem. At Rich Cat Supply we’ve set out to design and produce performant, durable paddles that stand the test of time at entry-level pricing. We know that most players get hooked on the sport. We know most beginners don’t need or want to drop $200 on an advanced paddle. And at that time, most paddles were frankly, ugly. Therefore, we developed two paddles that are ideal for beginners/improvers - the Gusto, and the Savvy. They offer generous sweet spots and are made with a carbon fiber surface (much more durable and consistent than other paddles at this price point). These paddles allow beginners to enter the game and succeed with a paddle that will allow them to grow their game. Oh - and they are pretty!
Why The Right Type Of Shoes Matter
While beginner recreational pickleball could feasibly be played in flip-flops, that doesn’t mean footwear isn’t an important consideration as you start your pickleball career. Being able to move efficiently and safely is critical to your enjoyment of the game! Countless players have arrived at the courts with the intention of playing a few games of pickleball and find themselves still at the courts FOUR hours later. I’ve heard of people playing up to 13 hours of pickleball in one day! This has implications for our feet, and ultimately our ability to move our entire body, thus choosing proper footwear will ensure that our bodies will be ready to get back out and repeat the fun the next day.
Choosing to wear tennis or pickleball-specific shoes will set you up to cover the court as well as prevent injury. This means no running shoes, no trainers, and no casual sneakers on the court! Runners and trainers have higher heel cushioning which can result in sprained ankles. Tennis/pickleball shoes are designed less with emphasis on cushioning and focus more on lateral support and stability. These shoes sit lower to the court so players can move or cut in any direction. The soles of court shoes should be durable enough to endure the wear and tear of the starting and stopping, sliding, shuffling, and backpedaling that pickleball demands. Also, tennis/pickleball-specific shoes will have soles that don’t scuff up the courts and likely will be required at many facilities.
Does the type of ball matter? Yes. But let’s keep it simple. There are two types of pickleballs: Indoor and Outdoor.
Outdoor pickleballs are heavier, harder, and made of smooth plastic. They have 40 drilled holes that are smaller than the holes of an indoor ball. Outdoor balls are slightly larger, heavier, and noisier than indoor balls as well. They are harder to control, play faster, and are preferred by more serious players. Although they are called “outdoor” balls, they are often used on hard-court indoor surfaces.
Indoor pickleballs are softer, slightly smaller, lighter, and have larger holes (26). They are easier to control, thus making for longer rallies. They are quieter, more forgiving, and ideal for playing on gym surfaces. They tend to be preferred by casual players.
Indoor and outdoor pickleballs come in a variety of colors. Balls that are neon green are generally the easiest to see. However, variables of an indoor environment (gym lines, lighting, backdrop, net color, etc) can impact the visibility of the ball. Also, players may have certain preferences for ball color depending on their age. It never hurts to ask the players, instructor, or organizer at the facility in which you’re playing to find out what the preferred ball type and color for that particular location.
3. Find Opportunities to Play
The amount of opportunities for play has dramatically increased over the past few years and continues to grow at an incredible rate! There are many options available depending on where you live.
Local Pickleball / Tennis Courts
Many towns and cities have either constructed new pickleball courts or have added pickleball lines to existing tennis courts. Contact your local parks and recreation department to get information about court locations and open play times. It’s likely they will also be able to provide information on any programming / organized play through Community Education or through local pickleball associations. In general, most community courts are first-come-first-served basis outside of any dedicated programming hours. Heads up! Some community courts lock up their courts outside of certain hours. Public courts typically have signage with hours and rules so be sure to take note of those.
Fitness and Community Centers
Many community centers and YMCAs have large indoor gymnasiums with dedicated hours for open pickleball play that are open to community members. Sometimes these are free and in other cases, a membership may be required.
Tennis and Pickleball Clubs
Most tennis clubs have realized as the fastest-growing sport in the world, demand for pickleball courts will only continue to grow. Therefore, many clubs have added dedicated pickleball courts, or at a minimum, have added pickleball lines to their existing tennis courts. There are millions of dollars being invested into Pickleball-specific businesses. Many include restaurants, bars, cornhole, ping-pong, and bags to optimize socialization and play. Each month new plans for these types of businesses are announced Check out this directory to find clubs/businesses near you.
Once you have figured out where you want to play, there may be a variety of types of play for you to participate in.
Book a Court: If you have a partner (for singles) or a foursome of players (for doubles) you may be able to simply show up or book a court for a specified amount of time.
Open Play/Mixers: This refers to courts that have been reserved in advance for a specific amount of time (usually a 2-3 hour period) where individual players can show up and mix in with a group of other players. Open play may have a designated facilitator who assists with grouping players and ensures players are rotating on and off the courts when games are finished. If there are enough players that some are waiting to get on, there is often a paddle caddy where you place your paddle to secure your sport in the next foursome to rotate on. Please Note: Due to high demand, it’s always best to call and find out if you need to register in advance to secure your sport for open play.
Leagues: Leagues are often organized play that happens weekly over the course of a few months (or a season). They may be organized by gender (women's, men’s, or mixed), by age, or by player rating (i.e. 3.0). Joining a league is a great way to get to know people and make meaningful connections in the sport since you get to see each other regularly.
Tournaments: If you are new to the sport, you may be thinking “no way, I just want to play recreationally”, which is totally fine. While there are tournaments for the highly competitive, there are also social beginner tournaments that can be a really great way to spend a weekend being active and connecting with others.
Whether you are a former collegiate athlete, a busy parent with minimal athletic experience, or a young adult whose interest in the game was sparked in P.E. class, pickleball is a GREAT sport for you! Don’t let your fear of not knowing how to approach the game keep you from engaging with others in a fun, RICH experience.