Pickleball Primer

Here’s a field guide for playing this growing sport

Pickleball is popular, there is no doubt about it. Everyone and their brother seems to be playing the court game.

It’s one of the fastest-growing sports in the U.S. How fast? The Sports & Fitness Industry Association, a national trade group, says the number of people playing pickleball grew to 8.9 million in 2022 — an increase of 159 percent over three years.

Pickleball is a competition sport in the Indiana Senior Games (see “Something for Everyone”), and there’s an International Federation of Pickleball that issues guidelines for equipment, play, and rules. You can even watch pickleball competitions on ESPN.

Have This in Hand
Pickleball can be played on any concrete or asphalt surface outdoors — or wood or rubber flooring indoors — that is big enough to accommodate an approximately 20-inch by 44-inch court cut in half by a 34-inch-high net. The court is framed by baselines and divided into two service areas per side, plus a “kitchen,” a non-volley zone that runs parallel to the net from sideline to sideline.

Paddles for casual players often are made of lightweight composite materials, such as plastic, aluminum, and graphite, but professional players use paddles also made of fiberglass weighing up to 14 ounces. Paddles are 7 to 8 inches wide and 15 to 16 inches long, with a handle grip of 4 to 4.5 inches. The exact shape of a pickleball paddle varies based on the manufacturer, but all have rounded edges around an elongated square.

A pickleball ball, like a wiffleball (see “In a League of Their Own”), is perforated. The dress code for pickleball is more casual than tennis, but sneakers and loose-fitting clothing still are encouraged.

Take It to the Court
Pickleball rules are a mix of tennis, badminton, and ping pong. Points are scored whenever the receiving team faults or fails to return the ball, and only the serving team can score points. Service transfers to the opposing team whenever a serve is lost. Court positioning depends if the team is receiving or serving, but players must remain between the baselines and kitchen during play.

Games usually are played to 11 points as long as there is a two-point lead. A typical game takes around 15 to 20 minutes, but matches of three to five games are common and can take up to an hour.

Photo by Audra Straw

Match in Play
Pickleball enthusiasts who Evansville Living talked with at the Ascension St. Vincent YMCA say they’re excited by the likelihood of 16 new courts at Wesselman Park, predicting that the project will expose more people to the activity and draw tournaments to Evansville. The project was opened for bids in April by the City of Evansville’s Parks and Recreation Department.

Local players say they believe pickleball will have greater staying power than, say, racquetball, which was a popular recreational activity years ago but seemed to fizzle out.

“I don’t think it’s here just temporarily,” says Rick Decker of Evansville. “It’s here, and it will keep growing. Young kids will start to pick it up. The average age is 60 and above, and it keeps us out of the house and gets some movement in the body.”

Decker started playing at Burdette Park two years ago. On a recent morning, he was among a few dozen players – many retired – enjoying games on the Ascension St. Vincent YMCA’s hardwood floor.

More than 100 people come to play every week at the YMCA in Downtown Evansville. Additional indoor and outdoor pickleball courts are scattered throughout the community (see “Where to Play,” below).

James Brown of Mount Vernon, Indiana, sat on a bench eating a protein bar before getting back into the game. He played tennis and was a distance runner before discovering pickleball nine years ago. Now, he swats a perforated ball across a net three days a week.

“The court is smaller, and it’s a little bit faster than tennis,” Brown says. “I just figured it’s easy, I can pick it up. I was 235 pounds when I first started, and now I’m 175.”

Photo by Audra Straw

Bill Cundiff retired from CSX Transportation after 38 years and started playing pickleball about seven years ago. His wife, Shelly, grabbed a racket a few years later after retiring a secretary from Washington Middle School. The couple also play in the Downtown YMCA gym several days a week.

Now nearly 70, Cundiff loves the game as well as its social aspect. It’s competitive, yet friendly, he explains.

“All these people here, I wouldn’t have ever met if not for pickleball,” Cundiff says of his pals on the YMCA floor. “It’s a good social game. You can complement one another, build people up, keep it positive.”

Decker, who had a 30-year career in sales with Farm Boy Food Service, started playing pickleball after retirement and hasn’t looked back.

“I had to pick up something (new) when I retired,” Decker says. “If I didn’t, my wife said, ‘You’re going back to work.’”

Where to Play
Scott Township Pickleball in Darmstadt, Indiana, hosts free play with eight dedicated outdoor pickleball courts near the Scott Township Baseball Fields at 550 Radio Ave.

Rivertown Pickleball of Southern Indiana holds indoor and outdoor play for members at a rotation of Tri-State venues — including First Christian Church at 4544 IN-261, Newburgh, Indiana, and Centre Court at 2965 Bittel Road, Owensboro, Kentucky — until construction finishes on 10 new courts at Newburgh Sports Complex at 5433 S. Vann Road in Newburgh. Annual membership includes exclusive events, organized league play, tournaments, and clinics.

The C.K. Newsome Center at 100 E. Walnut St. is a City of Evansville Department of Parks and Recreation facility and hosts three indoor pickleball courts for $5 per play, $30 for a six-play pass, or $40 per monthly pass. Courts are open 8:30-11:30 a.m. on weekdays, with occasional 5-8 p.m. sessions on Tuesdays. The Evansville Tennis Center at 5428 Davis Lant Drive also has a monthly pickleball membership for $25.

Both the Ascension St. Vincent and Dunigan YMCAs — at 516 Court St. and 6846 Oak Grove Road, respectively — open pickleball play to the public for a $5 non-member fee.

In Henderson, Kentucky, Community Park at 1776 Madison St. has three outdoor courts, and the Henderson County Family YMCA at 460 Klutey Park Plaza Drive offers two courts for members.

Jodi Keen
Jodi Keen
Jodi Keen is the managing editor of Evansville Living and Evansville Business magazines.

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