Pickleball vs. Badminton: What are the Similarities and Differences?

Badminton was a sport that originated in the British-ruled colonies of India during the 19th Century. Created from earlier sports like battledore and shuttlecock (the latter term of which survives to the present day as the name of the feathered cork with which the sport is played), the game was dominated in its early history by Denmark. As the 20th Century continued, China began to develop supremacy in badminton, and recent competitions including at the Olympics, where badminton has been a medal sport since 1992, have been dominated by Chinese athletes.

Pickleball originated in 1965 when Representative Joel Pritchard of Washington came home from a golf outing during a vacation on Bainbridge Island to discover that his family was out of things to do. Finding a partial badminton set and supplementing it with ping pong paddles and a whiffle ball, he invented the game that would become pickleball over that weekend.

Initially, pickleball was simply a game of badminton played with the alternate sport implements instead of a shuttlecock and racquets. Over the weekend, however, Pritchard found that the whiffle balls bounced perfectly well on the floor of the badminton court and the game was modified to use ground strokes in a way similar to tennis or ping-pong.

The sport would be named “Pickleball” after the Pritchard family’s dog, and over the space of a few short years, it took off. After Pritchard left Congress, it would continue to evolve until the formal governing body of the sport, the U.S. Amateur Pickleball Association (now USA Pickleball), was formed in 2004.

Badminton and pickleball are both highly-popular racquet sports that are played in five disciplines. Singles, mixed singles, men’s doubles, women’s doubles, and mixed doubles are all considered distinct disciplines in each sport. The most common form of casual play in each sport is mixed doubles, and the singles game is generally less popular.

Badminton and pickleball are both popular and fast-growing racquet sports. They are played on similar courts and have many similar rules, as pickleball started as a game that was based on an altered game of badminton. Pickleball vs. Badminton is an especially interesting sports comparison as the two sports are so closely related.


Badminton and pickleball are both racquet sports played across a net on a smaller court than their cousins, tennis and volleyball. Badminton is played exclusively indoors using a long, skinny racket and rally scoring with a shuttlecock. Pickleball is played both indoors and outdoors with a short paddle and a whiffle ball. Pickleball, like tennis and table tennis, uses sideout scoring. A point in pickleball is scored only if the team that served wins the rally. A point in badminton is scored any time the rally ends.

Court Dimensions

Pickleball was invented on a badminton doubles court, and as such, gets many of its features from the badminton court as well. Pickleball shares the same dimensions with doubles badminton, of 44 feet by 20 feet (13.41m x 6.1m). Badminton courts include both singles and doubles sidelines, with the singles sideline set 1 foot 6 inches (.45m) in from the singles sideline. Pickleball uses the same court dimensions for singles and doubles play. The unlined front area of the pickleball court is six inches longer than its equivalent on a badminton court and has special rules.

No-Volley Zone, or Kitchen

Because badminton is a sport played exclusively on the volley, the no-volley zone in pickleball, nigh-universally called “the kitchen,” is unique to that sport. The formal name of the zone indicates what is unique about the rules governing it: Players are not permitted to volley the ball within that area. If a player’s clothing or body touches the no-volley zone during or immediately after volleying the ball, a fault is charged and the rally immediately ends.

The equivalent space in the badminton court is the no-service zone, which has a simpler purpose: Defining the area before the net in which the shuttle cannot be served. The no-service zone is six inches shallower in the badminton court than the equivalent no-volley zone in pickleball, and once service is played, players will very frequently enter it in order to gain an advantageous position to volley the shuttle.

Net Height

Pickleball and badminton use similar nets, set at different heights. The badminton net is set at 61 inches (1.55 meters) at the posts and net tension can bring the center of the net legally down as low as 54 inches (1.42 meters) at midcourt. The net in pickleball is set at 3 feet (.9m) at the posts. This was designed while the sport was being invented, as the Pritchards discovered during play that the ball was perfectly capable of bouncing on the hard badminton court their game was being invented on and wanted to include tennis-like groundstroke hits in the game they were inventing. Lowering the net and adding groundstrokes to the game made pickleball a unique combination of three seemingly unrelated sports, creating a game with a feeling and a flow all its own.


One of the many visible differences between the two sports is in their racquets. Badminton uses a long, slim, lightweight racquet, typically with a metal frame, though badminton was originally played with wooden-framed racquets. Trends in badminton racquet construction mirror those in tennis racquets.

The racquet in pickleball is customarily called a paddle, as the first pickleball racquets were ping-pong paddles that had been pressed into service to play the then-badminton-like game, and the sport continued to use that terminology. The original pickleball paddles, and the most common beginner paddles, were made of wood, but most competitive players use plastic, aluminum, or carbon fiber for lightness, rigidity, and durability.

Shuttles and balls

A moment’s examination will reveal the obvious fact that while badminton is played with a feathered shuttlecock, typically called a birdie, pickleball is played with a ball. The shuttlecock is usually made either of plastic, goose, or duck feathers bound firmly to a cork head. Goose feather shuttlecocks are used almost exclusively in competition. Because players often hit the birdie hard, feather shuttlecocks are almost always replaced several times during a single match as feathers come unbound from the shuttle and the shuttle becomes legally unsuitable for play. While plastic shuttlecocks are more durable, they are also heavier and bounce more, and are generally only used for casual play.

Pickleball is played with a heavy plastic whiffle ball. Pickleballs are typically yellow to fluorescent green in color, and always made of plastic. Indoor balls are a little softer and typically have a little bit of a “nicer” bounce than the harder, thicker outdoor balls, which are made to last on rough, clay, tennis-style courts. Indoor balls and outdoor balls are legally interchangeable, but an outdoor ball will typically result in weaker bounces and less predictable play indoors, while indoor balls will wear out much faster than outdoor balls.

Service and service rules

The serve is the most important part of any net sport, as it’s how the ball is put in play. Service in both sports is typically underhand, with pickleball having more specific rules about how the ball is allowed to contact the racquet. Added rules in recent years allow the drop serve, where the ball is permitted to be dropped on the court and served on a bounce. This differs from tennis and racquetball in that the drop served ball must be dropped only – any added momentum either upward or downward is disallowed.

Pickleball has three different types of serves, which can be delivered either traditionally or through a drop serve. These are the high soft serve, the power serve, and the soft angle serve. They are each intended to put the opponent off-balance in a different way. Badminton differs in that it has an additional serve, the low serve that aims to get the ball just over the net, unlike pickleball which requires the ball to be served into the service box opposite the serving player. Badminton’s drive serve is similar to a power serve in pickleball.

The main difference, however, is that badminton players serve within the service box of the court while pickleball players serve at the edge of the court, like how tennis players serve. The no-service line in badminton is located in a place mostly analogous to the no-volley line

Scoring and Winning

In pickleball, a point is scored if you or your partners served. A rally won by the returning side only advances the ball to the next server and does not score a point. A rally is won if the opponent volleys the ball while in the no-volley zone, if the ball bounces twice before a player returns the ball, three times in wheelchair pickleball, or if the ball lands out of bounds. As long as the serving side continues to win rallies, they continue to serve. In doubles pickleball, the first service on each side is traded, after which both players on each serving side get a chance to serve before service is passed to their opponents.

In badminton, a point is scored if the shuttlecock lands within the opponent’s side of the court, if a return lands within the court of the player who struck it, if the shuttlecock lands out of bounds, or if the opponent commits a fault.

Badminton is played best-of-three and is won by the first side to reach 21 points with a victory margin of at least 2, or by the first side to 30 points total. In pickleball, the game is played to 11 points with a victory margin of at least 2, or the first side to score a point after a deuce match continues to 15 points. Tournament pickleball can be played to different point totals, typically 15 or 21.

Volleying and Ground Strokes

One of the most obvious differences between badminton and pickleball is the use of a ball in the latter versus a shuttlecock in the former. Since a shuttlecock doesn’t bounce the way a ball does, the rally in badminton ends when the shuttlecock hits the ground, similarly to volleyball.

Pickleball is played both on the volley and on the ground stroke, like tennis and table tennis. The game of pickleball is unique in that its volley rules prohibit volleying the ball within 7 feet of the net. This area, called the no-volley zone, is a feature intended to extend the length of rallies by prohibiting players from simply advancing to the net and volleying back any ball that comes across before it has time to travel. Any ball returned in the no-volley zone must be a ground stroke or it is a fault. Pickleball’s no-volley-zone rules are one of its most crucial differences with other racquet sports, but once the rules are learned and the player learns to keep out of the kitchen when receiving a stroke that they may have to return on the volley, they become second nature to the experienced player.


Pickleball and badminton, overall, are more similar as games than they are different. Pickleball was developed from badminton and its rules are fundamentally and functionally similar to badminton in most respects. The differences listed in this article are exactly that, differences. Where the two sports are similar is that they encourage similar skills of mobility, speed, and body control, and similar basic strategies.

With the strong popularity of pickleball worldwide and the increasing number of people interested in learning to play this game either as opposed to or in addition to more traditional racquet-based games like tennis and badminton, it’s likely that more players will be finding both pickleball and its cousins like badminton, tennis, and table tennis, and learning a lifelong game with many physical, psychological, and social benefits.

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