Pickleball is designed to be an easy game to get in to, so you don’t need complicated and expensive equipment. The bare minimum you need are a court, a ball, a paddle and someone to play with. As the sport has increased in popularity, technical advances have been made and now there is a wide of equipment you can chose from.
Obviously, understanding the basics of pickleball is going to help you work out what equipment you need to play either for fun or competitively.
Basics of Pickleball
Although pickleball has its own set of unique rules, it is similar to badminton, tennis and ping pong, so getting up to speed will not take much time. Pickleball is played on a badminton court, which is like a tennis court but smaller and also has a doubles secondary line.
Essentially, a player serves the ball, we call it a pickleball, diagonally across the court in to their opponents serve area and the ball is then hit back and forth until it goes out of bounds, hits the net, or is missed by either player. Simple!
Basic Pickleball Equipment
If you are a new player, the most basic equipment you will need is a paddle and ball. However, there is a lot more pieces of equipment to consider as you progress which will improve your game. For example, perhaps you have picked up several pickleball strategies, like how to serve with top spin, hit a backspin dink or pop a shot from the baseline, the equipment you choose can greatly enhance your ability to pull off these strategies and win games.
Your paddle is the most important piece of equipment. Understandably, this is the area you have the most choice in and there has been the most technological advances. A Pickleball paddle is a bit bigger than the ones used for ping pong but smaller than a tennis racket. A Pickleball paddle looks a bit like a square with rounded edges. The original paddles were made of wood but nowadays they are made of much lighter materials.
It can be a bit overwhelming when you start looking at the vast range of paddles available. To help you choose the best pickleball paddle for your game you need to look at four main criteria.
- Price – First things first, if you have never played pickleball before, see if you can borrow a paddle from a friend to see if you enjoy the sport and want to play more. Now, having found you love the game, you are going to want to get your own paddle. Anything that costs below $50 is more likely to deter from your game and enjoyment, rather than improve it, as they tend to be quite heavy and much more likely to break. So realistically, you are looking at $50+ for a reasonable paddle and up to $100 for a really good paddle.
- Material – Wooden paddles should be avoided unless you are playing in the garden with the kids as they are much heavier and give you no help, i.e. spin or power. Aluminum paddles cost a bit more but the paddles are lighter and give a lot more back to you as a player. Graphite paddles are excellent but also the most expensive, so unless you are going to be playing several times a week or in competition, you are unlikely to get the true value from the paddle. So a composite paddle is what I would recommend and perfectly suitable for most casual players.
- Weight – This is a really important factor in choosing the ideal paddle for yourself. Basically, the heavier the paddle the more power you can get from it in your shots but the clumsier and less manoeuvrable it is to swing. Paddles range from 6 to 14 ounces in weight so there are lots of choices available to you.
- Grip – It might not seem important, but the grip of the paddle can make a huge difference to your performance and enjoyment of pickleball. So make sure that the handle is big enough for you to hold comfortably and that the grip cushions your use and stops the paddle flying out of your hand. No one wants that!
The ball used for Pickleball sadly looks nothing like a pickle. It is very similar to a whiffle ball, being a round plastic ball with holes in it. Depending on where you are playing, you can have an indoor or outdoor ball. So what’s the difference?
When you are playing indoors, you want a ball that moves slightly slower. The holes in the ball make it aerodynamic so for an indoor ball they are bigger, which also means the ball tends to be lighter. Indoor courts are usually light coloured so indoor balls come in a contrasting rainbow of colours, from purple to orange. Some indoor balls have a textured surface to improve the grip on smooth gym floors.
Outdoor balls have smaller holes so they move faster but weigh a little more. Some outdoor balls have a mixture of large and small holes. The plastic walls of the balls are thicker too, both to make them heavier and to make them more durable. They usually come in orange, white or yellow.
As with most things, you get what you pay for. Cheaper balls are made from two halves stuck together. Higher quality balls are all one piece. They are made by injecting melted plastic into a mold and then spinning it round fast as it cools. This produces a seamless ball that is much more durable. When deciding which ball to buy, as well as weight you should also check out how high the average bounce is.
The net goes across the middle of the court and is similar to a tennis net. On a permanent court there are two posts set outside the playing area and the net is tied between it. Alternatively you can get a portable net that you set up and take down as needed. Nets don’t really wear out or get damaged so you rarely need to replace them once you have them, so it’s worth investing in a high quality net. Take a look at our review of the best pickleball nets for more details
To make life easier, you can buy Pickleball sets. They tend to work out cheaper than buying all the pieces of equipment individually. If you are not sure what to buy a set is a good idea to make sure you have everything you need. A basic set would just have paddles and balls in it. More elaborate, complete pickleball sets can include nets, carrying bags, line tape and a rule book. A Pickleball set is great if you are just getting started and they also make great presents.
Like most sports, Pickleball requires comfortable clothes you can easily move in. Ideally, you should be looking for a V-neck and short sleeves with generous arm holes. Various lightweight fabrics have been developed over the years that wick away sweat and are ideal for any active sport, including Pickleball. Recently, Pickleball t-shirts have become something of a fashion statement. They come in a wide range of styles and colours, many with funny slogans on them.
In addition, many Pickleball players choose to wear gloves to improve their grip on the paddle. Hats and visors are also popular, along with sunglasses, especially when playing outside.
You also need the correct footwear. Due to the similarity in the sports, if you do not have pickleball shoes, any shoes designed for playing tennis or badminton are a good alternative option. Bear in mind that you will need different shoes for indoor courts and outdoor courts. Things to look out for are support around the ankle so you don’t roll when twisting quickly. A heavy shoe will slow you down so look for the uppers made from mesh. You will also need some kind of cushioning to reduce impact when you are running. Indoor courts require a smooth sole with good grip. Outdoor courts need a more durable sole or your shoes will wear through in only a few months.
Once you have invested in equipment to play Pickleball you are going to want to keep everything in prime condition for as long as possible. A sensible place to start is with a cover for your paddle to protect it from dents and scratches when not being used. Most good paddle covers are made from neoprene but if you have an unusual shaped paddle double check the measurements to make sure it will fit.
Although Pickleball is a simple game requiring little more than a ball and a paddle you still tend to find yourself carrying various extra equipment and a bag can come in handy. Thanks to the rising popularity of Pickleball there are now bags specifically designed for Pickleball. They come in a wide variety of designs so there is something for everyone. Features to look out for are small internal pockets for valuables like car keys and cell phones; outside pockets for holding spare balls and water bottles; a divider in the main pocket so you can keep your trainers away from the rest of your kit. See our review of the best pickleball bags for more details.
When you start enjoying playing Pickleball you are probably going to look for ways to improve. There’s plenty of training aids available to you. At the most basic level, you can buy books and DVDs giving tips and advice. If you actually want to practice on a court but lack a partner then rebound nets are a good option. Although designed for tennis they work equally as well for Pickleball. If you really want to take your game to the next level than you can invest in a machine that will fire balls at you. There are various machines available aimed at sports like baseball or tennis that can be adapted for Pickleball. There is however a machine specifically designed for Pickleball. The Pickleball Sports Tutor Machine has been around for over 25 years and is very popular with clubs and professionals. It has a number of different settings and accessories making it ideal for improving all aspects of your game.
You can find official Pickleball courts in most towns nowadays. If you want to create your own court then you have a few options. Obviously you can use chalk or masking tape to mark out a court. However you can also buy pickleball court stencils that have corners and lines made from vinyl and the correct distances worked out for you. A Pickleball court is the same size as a badminton court, which is smaller than a tennis court. It usually takes two rolls of tape to mark out a court. Stencils are available to make sure you get all the measurements correct. If you are feeling lazy and can afford it, you can buy an entire premade court.
As you can imagine, a popular sport like Pickleball has led to people inventing any number of gadgets to make it more enjoyable. While none of them are essential they can be useful. A way to keep score helps to stop arguments. You can get chalk boards, flip charts that fit on the net or a bead string that clips onto your shirt. There’s a number of ways to pick up balls from the court and store them until needed. Ball holders on a belt are also useful or you can opt for ones that hang off the posts. Unless you live somewhere with permanent sunshine, court dryers are worthwhile. They are basically giant squeegees on a roller but they do the job. You can even get benches to put alongside your court so your friends and relatives can cheer you on!
There’s so many ways to show your love for Pickleball. As well as Pickleball shirts that can be worn anywhere, you can also get Pickleball slogans on hats, scarves and jewellery, including keyrings. Home accessories from aprons to hand towels, weathervanes to bedding can all be used to declare your enthusiasm for Pickleball. Or alternatively, if you are looking for a present for the Pickleball fan in your life there is plenty of choice!