If you are looking for a fun and relatively inexpensive way to be outdoors and get active, then pickleball could well turn out to be your next big sporting passion. With around five million players in the U.S. alone, pickleball is one of the fastest growing games in North America, and there’s an undeniable ground swell of support for a game that was first invented back in 1965.
In order to find out just what has people clambering for the paddle, M&F sought out two of the top pickleball players currently on the scene, Catherine Parenteau and Tyson McGuffin, so that we could bring you a deep dive into the basic premise, skills required, and equipment needed to become king of the court.
Pickleball has come a long way since its origins on Bainbridge Island, close to Seattle, where it was developed by friends who were looking to keep their children busy during school holidays. These days, there are pickleball governing bodies all over the world. Top-level matches are broadcast on ESPN and CBS—and there’s even a dedicated pickleball channel, and prize money is growing each year thanks to increased sponsorship revenue.
The Association of Pickleball Professionals began offering purses ranging from $25,000 to $125,000 in 2022. and Professional Pickleball Association players will have a chance to take home a portion of around $10 million in prize payouts in 2023, thanks to a merger between Major League Pickleball and the Vibe league.
So, have we got your attention yet?
In its simplest form, pickleball is an indoor or outdoor paddle-based sport where single competitors, or teams of two, hit a hollow pickle ball over a net. The game is similar to tennis but is played on a court that is one third of the size. In pickleball, all serves are made underhanded and the winner is determined when 11 points are reached, but you must win by a clear two points, so gameplay may be extended. Also different to tennis is the fact that a side does not have to be serving in order to score points.
“I think part of the reason that people may try pickleball, over other racquet sports, is because of how easy it is to learn, and how social of a sport it is,” says Catherine Parenteau, who is a three-time Pickleball US Open winner and 16-time PPA Tour winner from Montreal, Canada. “I believe most of the players who pick it up, end up making lifelong friends, I know I have! That is one of the aspects of pickleball that made me fall in love with it!”
“It makes you feel like part of a community and is the best form of therapy,” says Tyson McGuffin, who is a five-time grand slam and four-time national champion in tennis. “It is less stuffy than most racket sports, all while still maintaining its backyard feel.” McGuffin, a Washington native, is now a top ranking and multi-medal winning pickleball star with The USAPA.
Both of these elite athletes love to teach the sport just as much as they enjoy playing, and will admit that their abilities in tennis provided a great springboard for picking up the pickleball, but they maintain that it really is a sport that is accessible to all. “I think the hardest part of the game for me, at the beginning, is what you would call the ‘soft game,’” says Parenteau. “This includes dinks (hit softly on a bounce) and third shot drops (hit softly from a height) which are very different from tennis, because I just wanted to hit everything hard!” While pickleball does have some funky terminology, this just adds to the feeling of being part of a subculture—once you master it. “If you want to avoid getting ‘pickled,’ make sure that you score at least one point against your opponent,” says McGuffin.
Since you will need to be able to turn on a dime, run, stop, and run again, you will need to make sure that you are wearing appropriate clothing similar to that of tennis or badminton. Also crucial to the game of pickleball is the paddle, and as you would expect from these two experts in the field, both Parenteau and McGuffin have had a hand in developing their own signature paddles. Still, both competitors can agree whole heartedly that when it comes to footwear, they’ll choose the Skechers Viper Court Shoe every time.
“Whether you’re a new or experienced player, comfort, durability, and support on the pickleball court are all essential,” says McGuffin. “Skechers Pickleball footwear feature a Goodyear rubber outsole for enhanced traction, stability, and durability on the court. Plus, its removable Arch Fit insoles will mold to your foot and offer incredible podiatrist-certified arch support.”
“I used to compete in regular tennis shoes and they always felt so heavy and bulky,” adds Parenteau. “The Skechers Viper Courts are equipped to handle frequent starts and stops and a wider toe box allows for freedom of movement.”
Avoid These Pickleball Mistakes
“Shot selection isn’t very disciplined at an entry level,” says McGuffin, who warns that players shouldn’t rely too much on a “lob.” When executed well, lobbing the ball in an offensive manner can surprise the opponent and give them little time to react, but repeat it too much and you will become predictable. Instead, make sure to include other hits such as the drop shot.
“I think one of the most common mistakes I see when players are first starting out is that they avoid having to learn the ‘soft game’ and just want to hit everything hard,” says Parenteau, who, as we’ve learned, had to work diligently on this aspect herself. “I get it! It’s more fun! However, you won’t continue getting away with not being able to be consistent with your dinks or a third shot drop. So, the earlier you start working on it, the better! Lobbing can be a great strategy… if done at the right time!”
Train to Win
As with upping your game in any sport, training requires as much thought off the court as on. “One of my favorite drills is to improve your reaction time behind the kitchen line (the non-volley zone before the net). This drill entails two players volleying back and forth to each other from one foot inside the kitchen line,” says Parenteau. “Although this is technically not allowed in pickleball, the drill is great for hand speed. Since you are one foot closer to each other on each side, you have less time than you normally would to react. Then, once you get out of the kitchen and volley from the normal spot, you should feel like you have more time leading to a better reaction time.”
“General strength training, combined with functional and resistance training, also lends itself to pickle,” says McGuffin. “Specifically, hand-speed drills to work on your reaction and foot speed to help make your first step more explosive. I’d also suggest incorporating lateral exercises with a band as well.”
Overall, pickleball is growing at an incredible rate, and there has never been a better time to pick up the paddle. “From a professional standpoint, it’s getting much more established,” says McGuffin. “Pros can finally make a semi living at playing the sport. In addition to pros signing brand deals (like with Skechers) the prize money is increasing and it’s also super accessible—and inexpensive enough—to play at your local park.”
“I am still loving it,” shares Parenteau. “I feel so lucky to be able to teach and compete professionally at the sport I love! It is a great way to be active because although it is hard to master, it is easy to learn and pick up. Most groups of four can be playing full points in under an hour, and you could never do that in tennis for example.”