Pickleball vs Racquetball: What’s the Difference?

Pickleball and racquetball are popular racket sports with notable similarities and differences. Both sports involve using a racket to hit a ball back and forth across a net or against walls. However, they vary in equipment, court size, scoring system, and more. 

This guide provides an overview of pickleball and racquetball, including their origins and key attributes, and a detailed comparison of the two sports. Whether you already play one of these sports and are curious about the other or want to decide which one to take up, read on to learn all about pickleball vs racquetball!

History of Pickleball

Pickleball can trace its origins back to the summer of 1965 on Bainbridge Island, near Seattle. Three dads – Joel Pritchard, Bill Bell, and Barney McCallum – whose kids were bored with their usual summertime activities invented pickleball to entertain them.

They developed basic rules for this new game using an old badminton court and ping pong paddles. Little did they know that their backyard project would become an international phenomenon! Since its humble beginnings, pickleball’s growth has skyrocketed, especially among older adults drawn to its moderate exercise and social nature.

History of Racquetball

Racquetball emerged in the 1950s as an offshoot of paddleball, which itself was derived from handball and squash. Paddleball players were frustrated by the ball bouncing uncontrollably off indoor surfaces, so Joe Sobek developed the first strung paddle and a racquetball to contain shots better.

He named the sport “racketball” and created the first codified rules and dimensions in Greenwich, Connecticut 1969. The name later changed to one word – racquetball – as the sport grew in popularity through the 70s and 80s, especially in Canada and the US. Like pickleball, racquetball offered exercise junkies a fun new way to break a sweat. 

Key Differences Between Pickleball and Racquetball:


The most notable difference is the equipment used in each sport. Pickleball uses a paddle, similar to an oversized ping pong paddle, and a plastic ball with holes like a whiffle ball. Racquetball uses a strung racquet akin to a squash racquet and a much bouncier rubber ball. The racquet gives more power to shots in racquetball.

Court Size and Surface

Courts are another central point of difference. A pickleball court measures 20×44 feet, while a regulation racquetball court is much more significant at 40×20 feet – more than twice as long.

However, pickleball courts have the same surface as racquetball courts: hard and smooth walls. The more extensive racquetball court combined with the lively ball makes for a fast-paced game with lots of running.

Scoring System

Pickleball scoring averages 11 points per game, but you must win by 2 points.

Racquetball is more like tennis – the winning player or team needs to score 15 points in a game to win; there is no “win by 2” necessity. One unique aspect of racquetball scoring is players can only score points when serving.  

Serving Style

The serving style reflects this difference in scoring systems. Pickleball allows underhanded or overhand serves from the right-hand quadrant, while racquetball only permits overhand serves that bounce before striking the front wall. Racquetball serves happen from any point along the back line.

Game Pace

With its smaller court and whiffle ball, pickleball has a much slower overall pace with longer rallies. The average pickleball rally lasts about 5-7 shots. Racquetball is lightning fast, with most rallies lasting at least 5 shots unless expertly played. The constant running helps make racquetball an excellent cardiovascular workout.

Ball Speed

Relatedly, shots in racquetball routinely exceed 80-90 mph! While some competitive pickleball smashes reach 40 mph, most dinks and volleys land around 15-25 mph. The ball, court, and racquet differences facilitate much faster play and require quick reaction time in racquetball compared to pickleball.


The smaller space and slower shots in pickleball mean players cover less distance per game. Racquetball’s larger court demands great agility to reach all wall returns, so players sprint and change direction frequently. As such, racquetball provides more intensive movement and aerobic conditioning.


Regarding participation in the US, pickleball’s growth has hugely outpaced racquetball. Over 5 million people play pickleball in America, while only around 5-15% as many play racquetball – generally an older audience. Pickleball’s broader appeal stems from its more manageable learning curve for beginners thanks to less speed and power.


Relatedly, pickleball’s slower pace makes it more accessible for a wider range of ages and abilities. As indicated above with popularity trends, pickleball sees more female players, older players, and players with less athletic experience – groups often intimidated by racquetball’s fast speed and steep learning curve. These factors also facilitate pickleball’s expansion.

Key Similarities Between Pickleball and Racquetball:

While pickleball and racquetball certainly have numerous differences, they still have commonalities as racket sports.


Both sports use paddles or racquets and lightweight balls that can achieve spin based on striking angle. Proper grip and stroke mechanics apply to generating powerful shots.

Court Surface

 As noted earlier, standard surfaces are the same – smooth, flat, hard indoor floors and walls without obstacles. Concrete is most common, but some facilities install wood floors.

Scoring System

 Despite differences outlined earlier, pickleball and racquetball scoring both involve incremental additions to reach an exact winning score, ending on service scoring plays. Racquetball does use rules involving winning margin leads of 2 or more points.

Serving Style

While details vary and pickleball allows underhand serves, the general motions of serves share some resemblances, often involving a fluid overhead swinging movement and ball toss in front and to the side. Advanced players use spin and placement to dominate rallies better. 

Game Elements

Despite their pace differences, strategies around shot placement, control, and winning rallies are central to pickleball and racquetball. Smart positioning, deception, shot disguise, and quick direction changes characterize high-level play of pickleball or racquetball games.


In conclusion, pickleball and racquetball offer fun racket sports experiences with several core similarities around basic equipment, scoring procedures, serving essentials, and tactical ingredients. But they diverge into two distinct worlds regarding court dimensions: ball rebound dynamics, rally length and pace of play, overall movement demands, broad accessibility, and popularity trends. 

While racquetball provides aerobic benefits and fast reactive play for a smaller dedicated player base, pickleball promotes more inclusive participation with its manageable pace, fueling its rapid rise. Understanding these sports contrasts allows interested athletes to select the game best aligned with their goals and athletic capabilities. Whether you prefer pickleball’s friendly playability or racquetball’s heart-pumping intensity, grabbing a racket with pals typically guarantees smiles!

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