How To Play Pickleball For Beginners

People playing pickleball indoors
Photo by Paul Currie

Before we start, let’s get one thing straight – pickleball is highly addictive! The newest racquet sport on the block (it’s a hybrid of tennis, badminton and table tennis) is surging in popularity thanks to being super accessible and fun for all ages. So if you’ve been thinking about picking up a paddle but wanted to know more, here’s our article on how to play pickleball for beginners. We sat down with Karen from Pickleball England to find out all the in’s and outs.

Why Is It Called Pickleball?

First things first, let’s start with the facts! Pickleball has been around since 1965 – the American inventors were on holiday and there was an outdoor badminton court but they didn’t have the right equipment. So they lowered the net, picked up a table tennis paddle and a wiffle ball and started to play.

Although it was rumoured to be called pickleball after the inventor’s dog Pickles, it was actually named by his wife because “the combination of different sports reminded me of the pickle boat in crew where oarsmen were chosen from the leftovers of other boats.”

Since pickleball made its way over the Atlantic to the UK in 2008, over 6,000 people have started playing. Karen actually discovered it by chance – she saw her older neighbours out and about, looking fit and healthy. When she asked them their secret, they said it was down to the sport and invited her to the village hall to see for herself. She hadn’t picked up a sports racquet in years, but found everyone to be so friendly and welcoming and was instantly hooked.

What Is Pickleball?

This net sport really is a mix of more well known racquet games. It’s played on a badminton size court, with a net that’s shorter than a tennis net and a paddle that is more durable than a ping pong bat.

A game is uaually played up to 11 points and must be won by two clear points (so 11-13 etc).

You can play pickleball as doubles or singles – doubles is more popular in the UK as it means more people can play at any one time.

It’s highly inclusive – Karen says that a new player should be able to play a game within 30 minutes. In that time, they can get used to the ball, understand the key strokes (service, return) and see the rules in action.

You’ll learn as you go along, and everyone will support you. It’s one of those games that’s just as fun if you miss the ball as having a good rally.

Is Pickleball A Good Workout?

Absolutely yes – Karen’s neighbours (in their 60s) are a shining example of this. It’s fast-paced (there’s more rallies than a game of tennis), but as well as being cardiovascular and improving stamina you’re also working on your reflexes and thinking strategically.

The court size is similar to that of a badminton court so you’re also close to your opponent and partner (if playing doubles) which means it’s really sociable too. So as well as being good exercise, it’s also great for your mind and soul too.

Pickleball Rules

Want to know how to play pickleball? There’s some very simple rules to master.

Pickleball court diagram
  1. The pickleball serve is underarm from the baseline and can’t land in the no volley zone.
  2. The first shot for each side must bounce before being hit. After that, you can volley away (unless you’re in the no volley zone!). 
  3. Serves are diagonal, like tennis, starting on the right-hand side and alternating.
  4. Points can only be won by the serving player or team, and when a ball hits the line it is ‘in’.
  5. Before each serve, the server needs to call the score. Points can only be won on serve.

Can You Play Pickleball On A Tennis Court?

Most people started playing pickleball on badminton courts as the dimensions are similar. However, since lockdown and people wanting to play outside, tennis clubs have started to allow pickleball players in.

It’s easy to mark up (you can get tape to do this without any damage) and amazingly on one tennis court you can fit from two to four courts, giving you a minimum of eight and up to 16 players (so it’s a good use of space!). You can play pickleball on asphalt, concrete or acrylic tennis courts.

A pickleball paddle could make a great present idea. We’ve got you covered with gifting inspiration – check out our in-depth article on this very topic!

What Do You Need To Play Pickleball?

As with any sport, there’s some great kit you can buy if you’re going to be playing often. 

Pickleball Paddles

If you go to a taster session, you might be given a wooden paddle to use. There’s nothing wrong with this (these were solely used until the 1970s) but a lighter composite or graphite paddle will be more comfortable and improve your game moving forward – it cushions the ball better and helps with power gain.

If you’re older or have small or weaker wrists, go for a lighter paddle but if you want more power you’ll need to go heavier. It really depends on you.

Pickleball Ball

You use a hard plastic, smooth surfaced hollow ball with circular holes. Depending on whether you’re playing indoors or out, there’s a different ball for each.

Pickleball Nets

If you’re a real fan (and have easy access to a tennis court), you might want to pick up a net. Almost 7m long, a pickleball net height is .86m in the centre and slightly higher at both ends.

What Do You Wear For Pickleball?

Whatever is comfortable! Most important is supportive footwear – you’re going to be moving about on the court so opt for a cushioned trainer that will support your joints and fit your feet well.

Pickleball Tips For Beginners

Follow these tips for pickleball success!

  1. Don’t take it too seriously. You’ll pick up the rules as you go – no one can be expected to know them all at the start. Don’t let this put you off trying.
  2. With kit, it can be good to try before you buy. Most clubs will have spare paddles and balls so don’t think you need to get hold of equipment before you start. This gives you the chance to try out different paddle weights and find what works for you.
  3. Tell everyone about it! Pickleball popularity is rising, and if you love the game, go and spread the word. The more demand there is, the more new courts there will be across the UK.

Pickleball England

Karen helped found this not-for-profit in 2019 with the aim of supporting the growth of pickleball here. Since then, it has grown to almost 2,000 members and 140 clubs.

20% of the players are over the age of 70 showing how it really is a game for any age.  And gender isn’t a factor either, with an equal split of men and women playing.

As pickleball goes from strength to strength, Karen’s hope is that more people of all ages will get involved, and that it becomes a mainstream sport that is played at the Olympics.


I’ve got to confess, it was the name of the sport that first caught my attention, but I’m now a real fan. The main thing that Karen has shown me is that learning pickleball is all about having fun.

Yes, it’s good exercise but it’s the social factor that really sets it apart. Hope you’ve found this article on how to play pickleball for beginners useful – give the game a go and let us know how you get on!

If you want to find a club near you, use this ‘club locator’ feature.

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