The Skinny On Pickleball

By David Johnson

Looking for a great camp sport that teaches sharing, cooperation, confidence and having fun with others? So was Liz Velazquez, founder and chairman of Light on the Mountain Camp in North Carolina. Velazquez was a lifelong tennis player and never thought she could enjoy another racket sport as much as tennis. After being introduced to pickleball by a friend, Velazquez instituted the game and the campers love it!


You’ve never heard of pickleball? Is it really a sport?

Pickleball is indeed a legitimate sport, and it’s catching on worldwide at schools and camps, among families and seniors. In fact, The Villages--an adult community in Florida--has more than 90 dedicated pickleball courts. Campers at Camp Champions in central Texas have been playing pickleball for more than 25 years on six courts. Pine Cove Woods Camp in Tyler, Texas, has been offering pickleball for 15-plus years, and just added another court a couple of years ago to keep up with the demand.

What Is Pickleball?
Pickleball is played with a perforated plastic ball similar to a whiffle ball and wood or composite paddles about twice the size of Ping-Pong paddles. The game can be played indoors or outdoors. Special apparel is not needed--merely something comfortable and appropriate for a court sport.

A pickleball court is 20 feet by 44 feet for both singles and doubles. The net is hung at 36 inches at the ends and 34 inches in the middle. A non-volley zone extends 7 feet back from the net on each side.

History Of The Game
The sport is governed by the USA Pickleball Association (USAPA), which maintains the rules, promotes the sport, sanctions tournaments, and provides player rankings.

Pickleball was invented in 1965 on Bainbridge Island, a short ferry ride from Seattle, by three dads whose kids were bored with their usual summertime activities. It evolved from the original handmade equipment and simple rules into a popular sport throughout North America, and is now popular in India, Canada, Singapore and New Zealand.

The name “pickleball” originated with the co-inventors’ family cocker spaniel that chased stray balls and hid them in the bushes.

Building A Case
Why should you try the sport at your camp?

“Pickleball stands out as a program good for our kids for the same reasons I liked it so much,” Velazquez explains. “It is a competitive sport--very challenging once it is mastered. However, in the process it can be a great deal of fun.”

She adds that the slower speed of the ball, the smaller court, the rules of the game (such as staying behind the service line and an underhand serve), the scoring and the paddle all contribute to making the game a safe, successful venture for any age group. And that it can be played inside or outside is especially helpful on rainy or cold days.

“The game seems to promote joy and laughter, and kids like playing with a partner, which helps share the responsibility.”

Reed Livesay, Senior Director at Pine Cove, says pickleball has, indeed, caught on at his camp. He says its strategic location makes the sport even more tempting.

“Ours is in a highly trafficked area, and so a lot of games start spontaneously,” he relates. “It tends to be a good free-time activity.”

The kids are not the only ones who are hooked on the sport.

“The adults at our camp have really gotten into pickleball, and it is almost humorous how serious the competition gets.”

Despite the fact it can get competitive, the game’s versatility is another attraction--the sport also can be adapted for all abilities, including special needs groups.

At Red Willow Bible Camp in Binford, N.D., pickleball hasn’t even been introduced to the kids yet. Becky Goetz, co-director and retreat coordinator, just learned the sport from snowbirds in the area.

“Our camp is using pickleball differently from other camps,” she explains. “We have been using it exclusively for our staff members, friends and neighbors throughout the winter and spring.”

Red Willow may introduce pickleball to its campers this summer on the outdoor courts. In the meantime, the “big kids” get to play indoors during the cold North Dakota weather.

The USAPA has a number of programs to assist camps in introducing pickleball as a camp activity. A grant program may assist with some equipment costs if the activity qualifies. The USAPA also has over 300 “local ambassadors” that can provide demos of the sport and provide useful resources to camp programs in the formative stages. For more information, visit

David Johnson is the Media Relations Chair for the USA Pickleball Association. He can be reached at