Do Pickles And Pickleball Have Any Real Connection?

A new racket sport in town is taking over the courts, and it goes by the name of pickleball. If you were absent the day Americans seemingly received a collective mandated lesson on the sport, don't fear — we're here to clear up the confusion. 

While it's been enjoying a popularity streak for a couple of years (at the time of this writing, at least) pickleball isn't new. According to USA Pickleball, the sport's official governing body, pickleball was borne from an improvised game of badminton on Washington's Bainbridge Island in 1965. The spontaneous progenitors of the game couldn't find their badminton rackets or their birdie — that plastic, cone-like projectile badminton players use in place of a ball — so they instead made do with ping-pong paddles and a "perforated plastic ball." In order to play their modified impromptu game, the players then proceeded to significantly lower the net to 34 inches above the ground, and the game commenced.  A few years after the game took off, a man named Joel Pritchard founded an official organization in 1972  in order to standardize the sport, and with that, pickleball became official.

If you've never played pickleball, you might have a few questions. What does pickleball have to do with pickles? Does its name have any connection with pickles? And if so, do you need to bring some jarred pickle spears to the closest pickleball pickup game? 

When it comes to pickleball, you can leave the pickles at home

There are a couple of theories about how pickleball got its name — and some of those theories do have ties to pickles, albeit very, very indirectly. One origin story contends that Joel Pritchard's wife, Joan Pritchard, coined the game after the pickle boat, a term used to describe "thrown-together leftover non-starters" in crew racing (via USA Pickleball). Another theory maintains that the game was named after the Pritchards' family dog, Pickles. So while the word "pickles" might crop up in both of these accounts, unfortunately, neither of them involves chomping on beloved pickles between serves. (Even so, the pickle theme is interwoven throughout the sport's jargon; a "dillball," for instance, refers to "a live ball that has bounced once in bounds," per The Takeout). 

Though the game might be decades old, statistics show its rapid uptick in popularity coincided with the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. In 2020, the number of people who admitted to loving pickleball increased from 3.46 million the previous year to a whopping 4.2 million, according to findings published by the Sports & Fitness Industry Association (via USA Pickleball). Whatever the case, pickleball is proving to be as popular as ever at the time of this writing in 2022. And if you insist on eating pickles while you play — well, there's no rule against it.