A Beginner’s Guide to Para-Pickleball

You may have heard of wheelchair tennis and para-badminton, but have you heard of para-pickleball? Though it’s not currently as widespread as other paddle or racket sports, you may just want to add this to your list of adaptive sports to try.

What is Pickleball?

Pickleball is considered a paddleball sport that encompasses some of the aspects of tennis, badminton and table tennis or ping-pong. This sport is played by two or four players who use solid paddles made of wood. The basic idea is to hit a ball, like a wiffle ball, over a net.

Pickleball was invented in the mid-1960s on Bainbridge Island, not far from Seattle, Washington. According to the USA Pickleball Association (USAPA), three fathers, Joel Pritchard, Bill Bell and Barney McCallum are credited for creating pickleball as a backyard game for family, as a remedy for their kids who were bored with their usual summertime activities. Pickleball was later adapted for wheelchair users and is known as para-pickleball.

Contrary to its name, pickleball has nothing to do with pickles. There are multiple accounts of the origin of the name of this sport, but no one knows the true origin of the name. Two popular theories, according to the USAPA are that Joel Pritchard’s wife said that she started calling the game pickleball because the combination of different sports reminded her of the pickle boat in crew where oarsmen were chosen from the leftovers of other boats. Another theory they mention is that the game was officially named after the Pritchards’ dog Pickles, who would chase the ball and run off with it.

An Overview of the Para-Pickleball Rules

Pickleball shares elements of other racquet sports, but also has its differences, which make it unique. For instance, it is played on a 20’ x 44’ court, sharing the dimensions of a badminton court. Like tennis, players in wheelchairs can play single or doubles matches. Teams can be made up of a wheelchair player partnered with a standing player, making para-pickleball different from other adaptive sports.  The ball is served diagonally, and points can only be scored by the side that serves. The serve must clear the seven-foot non-volley-zone in front of the net and land in the diagonal service court. The first side scoring eleven points and leading by at least two points wins.

The official International Federation of Pickleball rules already includes a section on wheelchair rules, which, as you can guess, only apply to wheelchair users. The wheelchair is considered part of the player’s body and all applicable rules that apply to a player’s body will apply to the wheelchair, with some exceptions. A few modifications have been made, including that a double bounce is allowed for the para-athlete and the front wheels of his or her chair can cross the non-volley line. For more details on para-pickleball rules, you can check out the USAPA/IFP Pickleball rules on their website.

How to Start Playing Para-Pickleball

Although pickleball is growing and played in all 50 states, it may be difficult to find para-pickleball teams to play with for fun. There’s always the option of starting your own team.

One thing you can do is contact a para-sport organization in your area to find out where to find potential candidates to play para-pickleball. You can also pitch the idea of para-pickleball to the local sports and para-sports organizations.  Be sure to mention its versatility and inclusivity, as teams can be made up of a wheelchair user partnered with a standing player or play doubles against a team of two able-bodied individuals.


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