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What’s the Difference Between Padel and Pickleball?

WriterKelsy Kim
10 min read
A graphic of a padel racquet next to a pickleball paddle and ‘vs’ in the middle.

Two contenders in the world of racquet sports have been gaining rapid popularity: padel and pickleball. Although they have similarities, each sport offers unique experiences and challenges for players of all ages and skill levels. In this article, we’ll discuss their key differences, similarities, and considerations to help you decide which sport is right for you.

Key Takeaways

  • What is a Padel? - Padel is a racquet sport played on a walled-in court in singles or doubles that combines elements of tennis and squash.
  • What is Pickelball? - Pickleball is a racquet sport played with a perforated plastic ball that combines tennis, badminton, and ping-pong elements.
  • Differences Between Padel and Pickleball - The key differences between padel and pickleball are court size, racquet and ball type, return and volley rules, scoring, and types of shots.
  • Similarities Between Padel and Pickleball - Three similarities between padel and pickleball are how their courts are laid out, the skills they require, and the health benefits they offer.
  • Which Sport is Right for You? - Both sports are excellent for socializing and exercise. Consider what courts are available near you, which is most popular in your area, costs, and physical requirements.

What is Padel?

Two women playing padel on an outdoor court.

Padel is a racquet sport that combines elements of tennis and squash. It originated in Mexico in the 1960s and gained popularity in Spain before becoming a global sport.

The game is typically played in doubles, with players using perforated racquets to hit a pressurized ball back and forth over a net. Padel can be played by people of all ages and skill levels.

What is Pickleball?

A woman on an outdoor pickleball court about to serve the ball.

Pickleball is a paddle sport invented in Seattle, Washington, in 1965. It combines elements of tennis, badminton, and ping-pong. Players use solid paddles to hit a lightweight plastic ball with holes over a net. The goal is for the ball not to be returned by the opposing team.

Game play is usually faster-paced than in padel, but pickleball is still suitable for players of all ages and skill levels. However, it tends to be most popular amongst individuals seeking low-impact sports.

Differences Between Padel and Pickleball

Although padel and pickleball may seem similar at first, they have a few differences.

Court Differences

Padel is played on a larger court than pickleball, measuring 32 ft. 10 in. x 65 ft. 7 in. It resembles a tennis court, with two service boxes close to the net. The court is surrounded by glass walls and a metal cage that can be played off.

Pickleball is played on a smaller court that measures 22 ft. x 40 ft. and has service boxes connected to the baseline. There is also a no-volley zone (known as the ‘kitchen’) that spans the width of the court.

You can find courts for both sports at parks and recreation centers, clubs and gyms, sports complexes, schools and universities, and community centers. To make finding courts easier, USA Pickleball and Pickleheads have created a pickleball court locator available both online and as an app.

Equipment Differences

A close-up of someone holding a padel racquet on an outdoor court next to a net and padel balls.

A padel racquet has aerodynamic holes and is usually made of carbon fiber or fiberglass. It can be round or diamond-shaped. Players tend to choose round racquets for more control and diamond racquets for more power. Unlike pickleball, padel uses balls similar to tennis balls: they are slightly different in size and have less pressure than tennis balls, which reduces the bounce.

A pickleball paddle is solid, thin, and made of fiberglass, graphite, or a composite material. They all have rectangular heads but can be different widths and lengths. Pickleball uses a plastic ball with 26 holes for indoor play and 40 holes for outdoor play to prevent it from bouncing as high.

Rule Differences

Both sports begin with a diagonal underhand serve into the opponent’s service box. The ball can only bounce once on each side of the court to count.

In padel, players can use the walls surrounding the court to help with returns. This means players can hit the ball off the wall, but it must bounce on their side of the court before making contact

Pickleball has stricter rules regarding volleying and court positioning. Before a volley can be played, there must be one shot on each side of the net. To be legal, every volley must be played outside of the kitchen.

Scoring Differences

The way games are scored in padel and pickleball is very different. In padel, players score similarly to tennis, where matches are played as sets and games. To win one set, players have to win six games by a margin of two. Each game is scored in increments of 15:

  • 15 = one point
  • 30 = two points
  • 40 = three points

If both players or teams reach 40-40, known as a deuce, they must get two consecutive points to win the game.

Pickleball has a simpler scoring system in which games are won by whoever first scores 11 points, so long as they are ahead by at least 2 points. When the score is announced, it is given as the server’s score, then the returner’s score, and then a 1 or 2 to indicate which player is serving, like this:

A graphic of the serving score, receiving score, and current server (1 or 2) pickleball scoring system.

Shot Differences

In both padel and pickleball, underhand serves, groundstrokes, and volleys are the essential shots used in gameplay. However, each sport has unique shots.

Padel has a few types of shots that are useful in different situations. La Chiquita, for example, is slow and soft, making it perfect for precise placement. The shot known as La Bandeja is slow and powerful, allowing the player to better control gameplay speed.

On the other hand, pickleball has soft shots like the dink, which can only be used near the net or in the kitchen area. It involves gently tapping the ball over the net to force the opponent to adjust their position and strategy.

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Padel vs Pickleball: Key Differences
Padel Pickleball
  • Dimensions: 32’ 10” x 65’ 7”
  • Surrounded by glass walls and a metal cage
  • Dimensions: 22’ x 40’
  • Open Court
  • Racquet with holes
  • Racquet can be round or diamond shape
  • Pressurized ball (10-11 psi)
  • Solid paddle
  • Rectangular paddles in various lengths and widths
  • Plastic ball with 26 or 40 holes
  • Only played as doubles
  • Ball can hit the wall to make a return
  • Played in doubles or singles
  • Played in sets and games like tennis
  • Both teams can score each set
  • First to 11 points wins, but must be ahead by 2 points
  • Only the serving team can score each round
Unique Shots
  • La Chiquita
  • La Bandeja
  • Dink

Similarities Between Padel and Pickleball

Aside from being racquet sports, padel and pickleball have a few things in common:

Court Similarities

Padel and pickleball both use courts that are smaller than traditional tennis courts to quicken gameplay. Both types of courts have a low net, two service boxes, and boundary lines to add structure to games and provide guidelines for serving, rallying, and scoring.

Skill Similarities

Both padel and pickleball require players to have excellent hand-eye coordination, accurate footwork, good racquet control, and proper net play skills to be successful. When played in doubles, they also require teammates to communicate effectively to work together better. In both games, these skills come together for quick, precise gameplay.

Health Benefits

Padel and pickleball are both fast, low-impact sports, making them great for players looking for a fun way to stay in shape. Both sports have been shown to improve players’ cardiovascular health, increase agility, and enhance hand-eye coordination. Their social aspects also support mental well-being by making connections with other players and reducing stress.

Padel vs Pickleball: The Community

  • Both padel and pickleball have rapidly growing communities.
  • They encourage social interaction and enjoyable exercise.
  • Pickleball has been popular in the U.S. for many years, but padel is on the rise, especially in areas with large Latinx communities.
  • People of all ages and skill levels play both sports.
Close-up of a pickleball net, two paddles, and three yellow pickleballs on a pickleball court.

Which Sport is Right for You?

When choosing between padel and pickleball, there isn’t a wrong answer. Both sports are fun, social, and great ways to exercise. However, there are a few key factors to consider before deciding:

  • Facility Availability: Are there more padel or pickleball courts in your area? Are they dedicated spaces or used for multiple purposes? When are they available to use? Are they indoors or outdoors?
  • Local Popularity: Which game is more commonly played in your area? The more popular it is, the more likely you’ll be to find opponents, teammates, and events.
  • Cost: What is the difference in cost between each sport? Be sure to consider equipment, clothing, and any potential gym or club membership fees.
  • Skill Level & Physical Requirements: While both games can be suitable for players of all ages, they require agility and balance. Players must also be able to stand for long periods of time. If you plan to play outdoors, don’t forget to consider exposure to harsh weather conditions and their impacts.

Have Fun Out There!

Whether you choose to play padel, pickleball, or both, remember the most important thing is to have fun on the court. If you’re ready to pick up paddleball, check out the wide selection of pickleball and racquet sports equipment available at Academy Sports + Outdoors.