Pickleball and badminton are played on courts of almost exactly the same sizes - in fact, pickleball was invented on a badminton court! Despite these similarities, the two sports are actually very different, especially in regards to the rules and playing equipment employed in each game.
The Shared History of Pickleball and Badminton
Pickleball and badminton are intrinsically linked through the story of the newer sport’s founding. In 1965, Joel Pritchard and Bill Bell were trying to entertain their families on a summer Saturday afternoon on Bainbridge Island. They discovered that the property had an old badminton court but were unable to locate a full set of equipment for a game.
Rather than giving up, Pritchard and Bell looked to make the most of a bad situation. They found some old ping pong paddles, and though there was no shuttlecock, they did get their hands on a perforated plastic ball similar to a wiffleball. With their makeshift gear in hand, they set out to invent a new game.
Initially, the game was played by volleying the ball over the badminton net. However, over the next few days, they discovered that the plastic ball bounced well on the hard court surface. The net was lowered to 36 inches, and the first game of what we would later recognize as pickleball was played.
Though the game has evolved a lot in the last sixty years, anyone familiar with pickleball will recognize its roots in badminton, and the debt pickleball fans owe to that old badminton court in Washington State. In fact, the court dimensions are still the same, with pickleball played on a badminton-sized court.
Pickleball Paddles vs Badminton Racquets
One of the main differences between pickleball and badminton is the equipment. While pickleball is a paddle sport like ping pong, badminton is a racquet sport (squash, tennis, and badminton are the most prominent examples).
A pickleball paddle has a solid face—usually made of carbon fiber, graphite, or composite material—and a thick internal core (in fact, there are no restrictions on the thickness of a pickleball paddle).
The paddles are relatively short and squat: the combined length and width cannot exceed 24 inches, with the usual dimensions coming in at 7-8.25 inches in width and 15.5-17 inches in length.
Badminton racquets, on the other hand, are longer, thinner, and sleeker than pickleball paddles. They usually measure around 26 inches in length and 9 inches in width.
Like the equipment used in other racquet sports, rather than having a solid face, a badminton racquet features strings (now usually made of nylon) stretched between a metal (steel, titanium, or aluminum) frame.
Pickleball Balls vs Badminton Shuttlecocks
Badminton is quite unique among racquet and paddle sports in that it doesn’t use a ball. Instead, to play badminton, you employ a strange piece of equipment called a shuttlecock.
Shuttlecocks are made up of an open cone shape (traditionally made of feathers, now often made of plastic or another synthetic material) embedded into a rubber or cork base. They are lightweight, high drag, and aerodynamically stable. They float through the air slower and more lightly than the balls used in most racquet sports.
The pickleball ball is probably the closest ball to a shuttlecock employed in modern racquet sports, but it is still a very different piece of equipment. The pickleball is a mid-sized plastic ball perforated with 26 to 40 circular holes.
Pickleball balls bounce evenly on a hard surface, are lightweight (like a shuttlecock), and due to the aerodynamic resistance caused by the holes, don’t move very quickly through the air.
Pickleball Courts vs Badminton Courts
The biggest similarity between pickleball and badminton is the size and makeup of the courts. Here, we can clearly see pickleball’s roots in badminton.
Both sports share almost exactly the same court dimensions. Pickleball games are played on a court size of forty-four feet in length by twenty feet in width – these are the exact same dimensions used on a badminton doubles court.
Both courts are separated in the middle by either a pickleball net (which is 36 inches tall) or a badminton net (which measures 60 inches tall). This net sits in the center of the court, splitting the opponent’s side from your side.
A badminton court will feature tramlines of 1.5 feet on either side. These are used when playing men’s singles or women’s singles to reduce the width of the court to 17 feet. Pickleball has no such rule, with singles and doubles matches played on the same size court.
Both pickleball and badminton feature service boxes, split down the middle by a center line. They also feature an area directly adjacent to the net – in pickleball, this area is 7 feet from the net, while in badminton, it is 6.5 feet.
These areas are delineated by a line: in pickleball, this is the ‘non-volley line’, while in badminton, it is the ‘no-service line’.
Pickleball Rules vs Badminton Rules
Pickleball, like most racquet and paddle sports, features a bounce rule – i.e., the ball is allowed to hit the floor once on each side of the court before being hit back over the net.
Badminton is a slight exception to the rule: the ball cannot touch the ground at all. If it touches the ground in your opponent’s court, you have won the point.
In both sports, you have to serve underarm from the baseline, aiming to land the ball/shuttlecock in the service box across the court from you.
Pickleball’s unique rule comes in the form of the non-volley zone. This non-volley zone is the area directly adjacent to the net in which the ball cannot be volleyed. This is obviously different from badminton, where the shuttlecock is always volleyed as it cannot bounce.
Pickleball also has a slightly different scoring system. Pickleball games are played first to eleven, but points can only be won by the serving team. If the receiving team wins a point, they do not score but instead, win back the right to serve.
Badminton is played first to twenty-one, with every point counting. Rather than winning and losing the serve, each team serves a set number of times before swapping.
Transitioning to Pickleball from Badminton
Players coming to pickleball from badminton have a number of natural advantages. Hand-eye coordination, upper body strength, and lateral movement are all transferable skills from one sport to the other. Due to the similar court sizes, badminton players will also have an inherent idea of where the lines are, as opposed to tennis players used to competing on a much larger tennis court.
The big differences come in gameplay. One of the keys to pickleball is keeping the ball low, while badminton players are used to hitting the ball much higher in the air.
Badminton is also a game where smashes are used a lot. In pickleball, smashes are rarer due to the non-volley zone.
The big similarity in gameplay is that the projectile (pickleball ball or shuttlecock) doesn’t move very fast, and the court is quite small. This means powering past your opponent is difficult, and instead, you have to out-think and out-maneuver your opposition.
The ability to move your opponent around the court is one that badminton players should be able to bring relatively seamlessly into pickleball.
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