UP YOUR ALLEY: PICKLEBALL OR TENNIS?
Who would name a sport pickleball? Does it have anything to do with pickles? How do you play it? Is it like a giant’s version of ping pong? If you’re a tennis player and you’ve been hearing more and more people talk about pickleball, maybe you want to find out why it’s all the rage. If you’ve recently gotten into pickleball and are wondering how it’s similar to its cousin, tennis, we’ll share some of the differences (and similarities) between the two sports. By the end of this article, you will be ready to make an informed decision about which sport might be the best match for you…or just sound like an expert when you talk about either one. But before we discuss which one is more fun or is easier on your body, let’s dive into their origins, because they're interesting.
Tennis originated in England during the 1870s. While it wasn’t created from scratch, it is a direct descendant of the jeu de paume (game of palm) invented in France during the 11th century. This game combined components of volleyball and tennis, as players would hit a ball over the net with their hands. As you can imagine, hitting the ball with your hand would be incredibly difficult, so over time, the game evolved, and in the 16th century, the racquet and scoring system that we have come to know and love as tennis was invented.
Did you know that the name tennis comes from the French word tenez, which means “here it comes”? Players used to shout it to their opponent before serving, and over time, it became the name of the sport.
Pickleball is much younger than tennis. It originated in 1965 when Congressman Joel Pritchard from Washington State returned home after a round of golf with a friend. Pritchard’s teenage son complained of boredom, and Pritchard encouraged his son to make up a game. He grabbed some ping pong paddles and a perforated plastic ball and headed to the family’s badminton court. As the two men began hitting the ball back and forth over the 60-inch tall net, they realized that the ball bounced extremely well on the asphalt. This led them to try lowering the net a bit to see what happened. This fun mishap led to the invention of the family-friendly sport we now know as pickleball. In 1967, they constructed the first pickleball court, and the rest is history!
The official origin of the name of pickleball was hotly debated for years, but the truth has recently been uncovered. While many claimed it was named after the Pritchards’ dog Pickles, it turns out that Pickles the dog was named after the game, and the game was named by Joan Pritchard after “pickle boats” in crew race competitions. Since leftover non-started oarsmen were thrown together into pickle boats, they reminded Joan of how badminton and ping pong were thrown together to create pickleball.
Today, pickleball is the fastest-growing sport in America. According to the USA Pickleball Association, pickleball continues to increase in popularity with 39% growth over the last couple of years, making it the fastest growing sport in the United States for two years running. In 2021, there was a record number of 4.8 million pickleball players in the US alone.
While tennis has been around much longer, it has been growing in popularity as well. According to the USTA (2022), it showed 4.5% growth during 2021, with 22.6 million players currently in the United States.
It’s interesting to see how tennis and pickleball each originated in a different way, yet over time, they evolved into games with many similarities. While the differences might be a bit harder to spot, they do matter when you are deciding which sport is best for you. Let’s talk about the pros and cons of both.
Why play pickleball?
- Simple rules. Limited technical ability is required to learn or play the game.
- Low learning curve. The game is easy to pick up, and there’s not a huge gap between less experienced and more experienced players.
- Age and ability friendly. Every level of experience and age will have fun playing pickleball.
- Smaller courts. Less space to cover means less impact on a player’s body and joints, even with long-term play.
- Lighter paddles. With less weight to whip around, a player won’t endure as much stress to the shoulder and wrist joints.
- Social. Pickleball cultivates a welcoming environment that encourages friendship and a strong sense of community.
Court versatility. Pickleball nets are easily portable and lines can be made with tape or chalk, which means you can play almost anytime and anywhere!
Why play tennis?
- Cardio, cardio, cardio. Tennis is an incredibly active sport, so you will be gaining tons of health benefits while you play.
- Room for improvement. There are many more instructors who coach tennis than pickleball, so if you’re looking for someone to help you improve your technique, you can easily find a tennis coach to help you take your game to the next level.
- Global presence. In most other countries, tennis is more popular than pickleball, so if you’re looking to play during your travels, stick with tennis.
- Court variety. Tennis can be played on grass, clay, and hard courts, and you may even be able to find an indoor court near you. In the US, hard courts are the most prevalent, but if you want to try something different, grass courts produce a faster game. Clay courts are common in Europe, South America, and parts of Asia as they are easier on lower body joints like the ankles, knees, and hips.
- Overall popularity. The sport of tennis is extremely popular and comes with a huge community that organizes professional tournaments, amateur leagues, clinics, venues, and other tennis-related activities and events.
How are they similar?
So you’ve learned about the similarities and differences between tennis and pickleball, the history of both sports, and discovered some of the reasons why one might match your needs more than the other.
Does one seem more your speed than the other? Maybe both? Everybody is different, so it’s nice that we have options that meet our needs, no matter what they are.
Pickleball has been the fastest-growing sport in America for the past two years, with over three million players playing this fun and versatile sport. With its simple rules and ability to be played by all ages and levels of players, it’s a great option for getting out there to enjoy fresh air and exercise with family or friends. We are grateful that Mr. Pritchard and Mr. Bell thought outside the box (or net) back in the sixties and invented this enjoyable sport.
Speaking of history, when a sport has stood the test of time like tennis has, we know it’s playing for keeps. Tennis offers so much to players, whether amateurs or pros. If you are enjoying a casual game on grass or getting competitive on clay, there are clubs and instructors who will help you elevate your game. And of course, no matter where you are in the world, a court is just a tennis ball’s throw away.
When you break it down, you can’t go wrong with either sport. No matter which one you gravitate toward, you will get a workout, meet new people, and have a blast in the process.
Sounds like a win-win to us!