Palo Alto High School's sports news magazine

Viking Magazine

Palo Alto High School's sports news magazine

Viking Magazine

Palo Alto High School's sports news magazine

Viking Magazine

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Pickleball Prosperity

Pickleball has had a rapid ascension over the last few years across the world. Explore the sport’s history, how it is played, the professional scene, and the reason for its skyrocketing in popularity.

Pickleball, the sport that has taken America by storm over the past few years. Millions of people across the country have picked up the sport as a hobby, or even a profession, playing it every chance they get. Pickleball was a niche sport, ignored by the general public until Covid-19 struck the world. With close contact team sports like basketball out of the question, pickleball began to rise in popularity due to the space factor the court provided between your team and your opponents while maintaining enough space to remain social. Even though the social distancing mandate and Covid are mostly behind us, pickleball’s rapid ascension continues.

Pickleball was invented in 1965 by Joel Pritchard and Bill Bell in Washington after playing badminton with a ball and ping pong paddle. They continued to play and shaped the game and rules to the pickleball we know today.

Pickleball is played in a 44×20 foot rectangular area. Each side of the court has a small area called the “kitchen”, a seven foot wide rectangle in which volleys can not be made. Lastly, there is a centerline on each side of the court to help people know where to serve. 

Similarly to tennis, pickleball requires players to hit the ball back and forth. However, pickleball uses a smaller plastic paddle and a wiffle ball, rather than a racket and tennis ball. Furthermore, the rules are actually pretty different. Games in pickleball are played to eleven points, but a point is only counted when the team serving the ball scores. In pickleball, it is mandatory to let both the serve, and the return of serve bounce before any player can volley it. This allows the team returning the serve to have an advantage, and get to the kitchen quicker. If the team who does not serve the ball gets a point, it does not count towards their official score, but they now get the opportunity to serve the ball themselves, and score points. 

Seasoned pickleball player and current Paly PE teacher, Peter Diepenbrock, explains how he originally picked up the sport.

“We’ve had pickleball in PE here at Palo Alto as part of our curriculum since the early 1990s, but I didn’t start playing seriously until 2018,” Diepenbrock said. 

Pickleball is similar in style to other sports such as tennis, ping pong, and badminton, but it has its own unique nature that makes it appealing to all generations.

Pickleball offers a different skill set than other similar sports, as it requires a lot more touch and precision with each shot. Specifically, the “dink”, a short bump that lands in the opposing kitchen, is utilized a lot by high-level players, and is an extremely effective shot. It may look pretty weak to the naked eye, but the dink is possibly the most lethal shot in the game, because if it’s placed correctly, it prevents the opposing team from volleying back – and potentially hitting a winner.

Professional pickleball player, Connor Garnett, who is ranked 30th in the world for singles, and 64th in the world for doubles, explains how he enjoys working on his game and seeing growth.

“You can take the time to get into the details and master it,” Garnett said. “In pickleball, I was learning something new everyday and it was fun to see the growth of my game.”

“In pickleball, I was learning something new everyday and it was fun to see the growth of my game.”

— Connor Garnett

Current Paly senior and avid pickleball player Oliver Rasmussen further explains his love for seeing growth in his game. 

“I really got satisfaction out of working on my game that I haven’t really found other sports before,” Rasmussen said. “I’m always willing to go back out because it’s easy to practice and you can choose to go out and practice with other people.”

“What makes it a lot of fun is [that] it’s [primarily] doubles,” Diepenbrock said. “So I like the teamwork aspect of it where you get to work with another person.”

Alongside the teamwork aspect of pickleball, there is a massive strategic element that goes along with it. The court is much smaller than a tennis court, so players must position themselves accordingly and each shot must be placed perfectly to get your opponents off guard.

“I like the exercise and I like the strategy,” Diepenbrock said. “Basically, it’s a very small court and it’s very easy to slam the ball. So you have to be very smart with each shot that you make, so the other team doesn’t have an opportunity to put it away.”

One of the biggest appeals for pickleball and the rise of its popularity is its simplicity in nature and the easy learning curve for newer players.

“You can learn [pickleball] pretty quickly,” Diepenbrock said. “There’s a pretty quick learning curve to get to the point where you can be competitive.”

Garnett adds his ideas surrounding the ease in which pickleball can be played.

“What makes pickleball unique is the ease of being able to play it,” Garnett said. “That barrier to entry is a lot lower, and if you have decent hand-eye [coordination], you’re able to pick it up and play.”

While most people play pickleball as a hobby, there are a certain number of people who play it professionally (like Garnett), or even as a lifestyle. 

“From my personal experience, just when you call it a hobby, I think certain people would have issues with that, ” Diepenbrock said. “There’s people I know that play literally six or seven hours a day. And so for them to say it’s a hobby, it’s [more] like a way of life for a lot of people. It’s changed a lot of people’s lives as far as just giving them a social outlet, and an exercise outlet. It really has a huge community aspect to it.”

“It’s changed a lot of people’s lives as far as just giving them a social outlet, and an exercise outlet. It really has a huge community aspect to it.”

— Peter Diepenbrock

Pickleball has a major impact on communities, due to its ability to bring people together across all ages. The appeal of pickleball lies in this community aspect, it offers both a social and physical outlet that makes it intriguing for all people.

Arjun Jindal, a sophomore at Paly who plays pickleball occasionally, reflects on pickleball’s rapid rise to the mainstream, and its appeal to the older generation. 

“When I go to play pickleball at the public courts, there are tons of old people playing,” Jindal said. “I think since the court is pretty small, and there is less of a need to run around, pickleball is a really good sport for older, less mobile people.” 

The rapid rise of pickleball can be partially credited to the sport’s accessibility. The only required equipment needed for pickleball is a paddle, court, and a ball. Unlike other sports like football and baseball the lack of necessary equipment makes it really easy to play pickleball. 

“Part of the reason I started playing pickleball was because it’s super easy to play.” Jindal said. “The first time I went to play, my friend brought these $5.00 paddles and a wiffle ball. It’s super easy to get equipment.” 

Another aspect of the sport that is benefitting from the recent surge of pickleball, is the professional scene. Garnett shares his experience on tour. 

“Starting professionally is kind of a tricky question, like I guess I played my first pro tournament in September [of 2022],” Garnett said. “I was still working full time, but I just threw my hat in the ring and was fortunate enough to get silver in singles and doubles in that one.” 

After getting his feet wet in the professional scene, Garnett shined in early 2023.

“I really made the leap at the beginning of this year,” Garnett said. “I got drafted for Challenger League Major League Pickleball and I was offered a gold card by the PPA and so once I was able to afford to travel to all of these tournaments I started really traveling on the tour and that’s when I would say I made the leap to focusing on it full time.” 

With the professional scene for pickleball being pretty new, there is a lot going on in order to make it a consistent and efficient system.

“The professional scene is pretty chaotic right now which is pretty cool,” Garnett said. “I think the merger that just happened definitely calmed it down, having a unified Major League Pickleball and Professional Pickleball Association, which is awesome for the players.” 

The merger of the pickleball leagues allows for more diversity in the matches that people play.

“It is really great that we are going to be able to play against everyone, so I am really stoked about that,” Garnett said. 

The constant change and growth of professional pickleball offers unexpected and dynamic experiences for the players.

“There’s a lot of new players coming into the space, it’s changing everyday, and it’s one of the fastest changing sports as well which is really cool,” Garnett said. “You’ve got to make sure you’re constantly staying up to the task and that’s one of the most exciting things, you never know who you are going to meet.”

Within the professional world, there are two kinds of tournaments: individual and team. Individual tournaments are similar to tennis, consisting of singles, doubles, and mixed doubles, each played on a different day of the tournament. Team tournaments are where players are a part of a professional association or team. For Garnett, he is a member of the Bay Area Breakers. Each team consists of four players, two guys and two girls, who compete head-to-head against another team. The two guys on each team play doubles against each other, the girls play doubles against each other, and then there is a round of mixed doubles as well.

Garnett enjoys this system of professional pickleball. 

“One of the cool things about it is you can have both individual tournaments, and work and play on a team which is awesome,” Garnett said.

In his preparations for matches and tournaments, Garnett puts a heavy focus on his mentality. 

“I prepare for matches just making sure the night before I am mentally ready. I think that’s the most important part is going to bed in a good mental headspace,” Garnett said.

Not only is it essential to be mentally ready for the game, but you have to be physically ready for all the quick movements and difficult shots.

“In the morning it is important to do all of the typical routines, get a good warmup in, stretch out, stay loose, have a good breakfast, all kinds of the basic things,” Garnett said. “It really starts for me the night before, and I have a specific routine of those things to make sure I do.”

The speed of pickleball’s growth, both as a hobby and a profession, has been eye popping, leaving many of us to wonder how far can it go?  

“Pickleball has gone from irrelevant to one of the fastest growing sports in the matter of two years.”

— Arjun Jindal

“Pickleball has gone from irrelevant to one of the fastest growing sports in the matter of two years.” Jindal said. “I think in a [couple] of years we could see pickleball be as big as sports like basketball, from a recreational standpoint.” 

Pickleball has the potential to grow into a mainstream sport, enjoyed by millions of people across the globe.

“I do think that it will get to the point where you see pickleball courts, just like you see tennis courts now,” Diepenbrock said. 

Furthermore, pickleball has the potential to develop into a sport that people play as a part of their high school, just like tennis and badminton.

[I think] eventually, it’ll be a high school sport,” Rasmussen said. “It’s definitely still pretty small right now, but my hope is that it grows to be a pretty big sport.”

Despite the fact that pickleball is relatively small right now, simply the growth that the sport has experienced recently makes the sky the limit for the future of the sport. 

“The future is bright for pickleball and I am really excited to be a part of it,” Garnett said.

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About the Contributor
Tyler Martin
Tyler Martin, Online Editor-in-Chief
Hi, I'm Tyler Martin a current Online Editor-in-Chief on Viking and I have played basketball all four years at Paly. A fun fact about me is that I am ambidextrous.

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