The first ever game of pickleball was played with ping pong paddles, and many people still compare the sports today. They have many similarities and some crucial differences - keep reading to see how the two sports compare!
The History of Pickleball and Table Tennis
Pickleball was invented in 1965, when two friends – Joel Pritchard and Bill Bell – were attempting to pass the time for their families on a slow summer’s afternoon.
They had a badminton court at their disposal but no racquets or shuttlecocks. What they did have, however, was a Wiffleball and a set of old ping pong paddles.
With that motley selection of bits and pieces, Pritchard and Bell set in motion the creation of a new sport that has now become one of the fastest-growing sports in the world: pickleball. And it all began with a set of old table tennis paddles, some boredom, and a bit of ingenuity.
Pickleball Paddles vs Table Tennis Paddles
Ping pong paddles tend to be small and round with short handles. They usually measure about 10 inches in length (from handle to tip) and just under 6 inches in width.
Ping pong paddles are made from laminated wood coated with rubber on either side. The thickness of the rubber depends on the style of the ping pong player – those wanting more control will pick a thinner rubber, while those after more power go for thicket options.
Pickleball paddles are a similar shape to those used in table tennis, but extended. The combined length and width of a pickleball paddle cannot exceed 24 inches, with the usual dimensions coming in at 7-8.25 inches in width and 15.5-17 inches in length.
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).
Pickleball Balls vs Table Tennis Balls
Pickleball balls and table tennis balls are made from a similar type of material – they are both hollow and made of lightweight, durable plastic.
The main difference between the balls used in either sport is the size. According to the USAPA (USA Pickleball Association), pickleballs measure 2.874 to 2.972 inches in diameter, while a table tennis ball has a diameter of just 1.575 inches (40mm).
The other big difference is that table tennis balls are solid, while pickleball balls are perforated with between 26 and 40 circular holes.
Pickleball Courts vs Table Tennis Courts
Of all the differences between pickleball and table tennis, probably the most profound is where the sport is played.
Pickleball is played on a court the same size as a badminton court (44 feet by 20 feet). These courts can be found outside or inside and are usually surfaced with either laminate wood or hard asphalt.
Pickleball courts feature a non-volley zone seven feet from the net, two service boxes, and a baseline. The net measures 36 inches tall at the center.
Table tennis, on the other hand, is quite unique. It is not played on a court but rather on a specially-built table.
Like a pickleball court, the table has a net splitting up either side of the court. The net is just six inches in height.
Each side of the net has a center line that splits it in half into two service boxes. Though there are sidelines and baselines, ‘out’ is not whether or not the ball lands inside these lines but rather whether the ball hits the table.
The total dimensions of a table tennis court are nine feet long by five feet wide, with the table standing at two feet and six inches tall.
Pickleball Rules vs Table Tennis Rules
When people are describing pickleball to their friends, they will often say something like this: ‘It’s like table tennis, except you get to stand on the table!’.
This is because the two games have quite similar rule sets. The ball is allowed to bounce on each side of the court once before being returned; the ball has to go over the net; and if the ball leaves the confines of the court it is considered out.
Another similarity in the rule sets of these sports is that pickleball has the ‘kitchen’, or as it is known in the USAPA rules, the ‘non-volley zone’. This is the area on either side of the net where volleys are not allowed.
Table tennis has a similar rule, except volleys are not permitted anywhere on the court.
This is why some people refer to pickleball as ‘tennis meets table tennis’ – in the non-volley zone, it functions like ping pong, while outside of that, it plays much more like tennis.
One of the main differences in rules is the style of serve. Pickleball players and table tennis players must both serve underhand and across the court. However, in pickleball, the ball must go straight over the net and into one of the service boxes. In table tennis, the serve bounces on both sides of the net before being returned.
Transitioning to Pickleball from Table Tennis
If you’re a table tennis player looking to get started in the pickleball game, you’re in luck! Many of the skills you’ll have developed playing ping pong will suit you well in pickleball.
One of the key skills to develop in pickleball is the dink – a soft nudge that drops just over the net on your opponent’s side. This is a shot that requires a lot of finesse and control. If you’ve played table tennis you’re used to hitting into a much smaller court, and you likely already have quite a bit of control.
The more general skills required in table tennis—hand-eye coordination, rally tactics, putting spin on the ball—will transfer over almost directly.
The big difference for new pickleball players is the court size. Because a pickleball court is much larger than a ping pong table and requires more moving about, it can be a bit of a learning curve. There is a big difference between running to hit a shot (in pickleball) and simply taking a couple of steps (in ping pong).
However, due to the size of the court, you also have more time to react than you do in table tennis – so within a few games, you should be getting the hang of it!
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