If you’ve wondered, “is pickleball different from squash?” you’re not alone. For the casual bystander, most racket-related sports might seem like different sides of the same coin, but there are usually some pertinent differences between these sports. Some, however, are not so vastly different, and distinguishing between them is often challenging.
Pickleball and squash are two vastly different sports. Although they share some similarities, pickleball is more akin to tennis. It is played on indoor or outdoor courts with ping-pong-like paddles and a perforated ball. Squash is an indoor sport played with strung rackets and a soft rubber ball.
While racket sports resemble each other, and the hand-eye coordination required is similar, there are some keystone differences between pickleball and squash. This article investigates these differences and any similarities these sports have.
The best way to understand how these sports differ is to understand what each sport entails, where it originated from, how to score points, the equipment used, the skill involved, etc.
The below table summarizes the major differences and similarities between pickleball and squash.
|Number of players||Doubles (4) (more common)Singles (2) (less common)||Singles (2) (More common)Doubles (4) (less common)|
|Equipment||A perforated plastic ball (wiffle ball)Pickle paddles (a large table tennis paddle)Tennis/pickleball shoes||A rubber ballStringed squash rackets Special squash shoesProtective eye gear|
|Court||Indoor or outdoor pickleball court (a small tennis court) with a net||Indoor squash court (it resembles half a tennis court) without a net|
|Player positioning||Players/teams play on opposite sides of the net||Players stand next to each other and take turns hitting the ball|
|Scoring system||You can only score on your serve.Scoring is from 1 to 11. Tournament games are to 15 or 21 points.You need to win by 2 points.||You can only score on your serve.Scoring is from 1 to 11.You need to win by 2 points.The first player/team to 3 wins, wins the game.|
|Serving||Made from outside the court.Served underhand.Served to the diagonally opposite court.Only 1 serve is allowed (no faults).||Made from inside the court in the server’s block.Served over or underhand.Served diagonally across the room off the front wall.Only 1 serve is allowed.|
Pickleball is a racket sport that borrows elements from tennis, ping pong (table tennis), and badminton.
The court is akin to a badminton court, with a net roughly two inches lower than a tennis net.
The paddle is reminiscent of a table tennis paddle (but larger). The ball is closer to a table tennis ball but is larger, more durable, and riddled with holes (perforated).
The significant draw of pickleball is that it is an easier sport to learn than most other racket sports, plus it is not as intensive (thanks to the smaller court and that the standard play style is “doubles”). However, pickleball is fun, suitable for all ages, and can provide a workout.
Squash is a game where technique and strategy are as essential as fitness, skills, and luck. Squash involves two players (usually) on an indoor court. The aim is to hit the ball to strike the front wall and bounce it twice on the floor before the other player gets to it.
We could spend hours divulging the differences in techniques, strategy, and other technical details regarding these two sports, but we won’t do that (yet).
Below we’ll examine the basics of each sport in a bit more detail, including how it’s played, the courts, and the equipment used.
Standing on either side of the net, a player plays across the net, trying to make the ball bounce twice on the opposition’s side.
Play must be within the boundary lines (like tennis, etc.), and each player must hit the ball once. If the ball hits the net, it goes to the other team/awards a point depending on the serve.
Although there are not too many rules dictating technique, serves are played below the waist (underhand).
The three fundamental shots in pickleball are the following:
- Ground shot (bread and butter shot) after the ball bounces once.
- Volley (the ball doesn’t bounce). No volleys are allowed in the “no-volley zone” (called the kitchen).
- Dink – a soft shot from the “kitchen” that creeps over the net.
There is an interesting rule in pickleball called the “two-bounce rule.” After a serve, the ball needs to bounce in the receiving team’s court once before they return it. After they’ve returned it, the server needs to let the ball bounce once in their court before returning it, making two bounces.
Once the ball bounces for the “second” time, teams can resume normal play (i.e., volleys are allowed). This rule ensures that most games don’t end after the service is returned (i.e., it extends the rally duration).
- Pickleball paddles look like oversized ping-pong paddles. They are made of wood, graphite, or composite materials (a combination). The traditional paddle is (slightly) square, 7 to 8.25 inches wide, and 15 to 16 inches long.
Elongated paddles are 6 to 8 inches wide by 16 to 17 inches long. There are no regulations concerning paddle thickness. On average, these paddles weigh 7.2 to 8.5 oz, but there are no set limits.
- Pickleball balls come in two varieties. Indoor balls, which are slightly lighter, and outdoor balls. There are between 26 and 40 holes in these balls. Balls are made of durable plastic.
Balls weigh between 0.78 to 0.93 oz and have a diameter of 2.87 to 2.97 inches.
Pickleball uses a specific court:
- It looks like a tennis court but replicates the dimensions of a doubles badminton court, 44 feet long and 20 feet wide (including the lines).
- The court has a net stretching across the width halfway through the length. This net is approximately 36 inches high at the sides and 34 inches in the middle.
- Pickleball courts have boundary lines around the edge of the court. The line that runs along the “back” of either side of the court (the line that’s parallel to the net) is called the “baseline.”
Halfway through the baseline (at 10 feet), at a perpendicular angle, a centerline runs toward the net. This centerline is 15 feet long before terminating seven feet from the net, perpendicular to another line running the width of the court.
This line (seven feet away from the net) marks the “non-volley” area of the court.
Two side lines run down the two sides of the court (along its entire length).
- Pickleball courts have a surface of concrete or asphalt (like a tennis court) lined with round silica sound for shoes to grip onto.
The fundamental point of squash is to hit the rubber ball against the front wall and make it bounce twice on the floor before your opponent reaches it. That wins you the rally and, hopefully, some points.
Squash allows you to play off the side walls, provided you stay within the boundary lines. Points in squash are scored on your serve.
If you did not serve but “won” the rally (the play from service until the ball goes dead), it becomes your serve, and you’ll have to win the next rally to score a point (a bit like a deuce situation in tennis, but on every point).
Players play until 11 points before they win the match. You play best out of 5 matches (i.e., you need to win 3 matches to win the game).
The ball needs to stay within the boundary lines at all times. Players may only hit the ball once on their turn.
Players compete for possession of the “T” as it cuts the court in half between the front-back and side walls.
Various shots come from a forehand or backhand. The number of walls the ball hits before/after it hits the front wall, the distance the ball travels before/after it hits the front wall, and the end point of the ball determines the type of shot.
Squash shots include:
- Straight drives
- Squash players each use a stringed racket. Similar to a tennis racket, squash rackets are slightly narrower. They are a maximum of 27 inches long and 8.5 inches wide. The strung area is 77.5 square inches. The average weight is 3 to 5.3 oz, with a maximum of 9 oz.
- Squash balls are constructed from two rubber halves joined together. There are different ball “grades.” A single white dot is best for beginners and children; it’s called a “start squash ball.”.
A single yellow dot ball is called a “tournament” ball. These are moderately bouncy balls and are great for intermediate players.
A double yellow dotted ball is a “prime squash ball.” These balls have the least bounce and are intended for skilled/experienced players.
A squash court is a room with demarcations on the walls and floor.
- The front wall takes the place of a “net.” When the player hits the ball, it needs to touch the front wall. The ball can touch any number of side walls (provided it is within the boundary lines) before hitting the front wall, but it cannot touch the floor first.
After hitting the front wall, the opposing player must return the ball to the front wall (before the ball bounces on the ground twice). Again, the ball can touch the side walls any number of times, but it can only touch the floor once before they return it.
The front wall has a top boundary line (“out line”), a “serving line” in the middle of the wall, and a bottom boundary line called the “tin” (underneath this line is a metal board that makes a loud noise when hit).
- The back wall has a top boundary line lower in height than the front. Players often volley a ball off this wall.
A player may also play the ball straight into this wall to try and bounce it through the air to the front wall (the player faces away from the front wall and hits the ball hard at the back wall).
- The two side walls are marked with a top boundary line which tapers from the (higher) top boundary line in front diagonally down to meet up with the (lower) top boundary line of the back wall.
The ball may hit these walls before or after the front wall during play (unless it’s a serve).
- The floor has multiple markings. At the center of the floor, there is a “T” shape where the line that runs between the side walls (the top of the T) joins with the line that runs from the center of the back wall to halfway through the court (the leg of the “T”).
On each side of the court is a block where the player serving needs to stand (at least with one foot) while serving.
The floor is constructed from hardwood, giving players a stable surface but also with some elasticity and shock absorption.
While squash is a well-established sport with many years of development, pickleball is relatively new.
Squash is played in roughly 185 countries. In the UK, there were 425 600 squash players in 2016, but by 2021 there were only 105 600 professional players. Globally there are around 20 million squash players, 1.6 million of which are in the US.
Pickleball is officially played in the United States, Canada, Czech Republic, India, Mexico, Philippines, and Spain. Several other countries are picking it up. There are roughly 4.8 million pickleball players in the US alone.
In 1965, Joel Pritchard and Bill Bell invented pickleball on Bainbridge Island.
The story goes that upon arriving at Pritchard’s home, they decided to rouse their families from their dormancy (sitting around not doing anything) by throwing together what sporting equipment they had and playing a game on their badminton court.
The equipment included ping pong paddles and a perforated plastic ball. During the weekend, they tweaked their setup, placing the net at 36 inches off the ground, and by the following weekend, the two men (along with Barney McCallum) drew up the rules.
Squash originates from England in the 1800s. Squash is an offshoot of tennis. People who fell into debt or went bankrupt were imprisoned in the Fleet prison in London.
They started playing a simple form of tennis, hitting a golf ball-like ball against two walls (called racquets; the ball was made from cloth wound up). From the prisons, the sport spread to taverns, school yards, and neighborhoods.
By 1830 the first racquet courts were erected, and by 1893 Robert Knox built a covered court in the US.
Squash is a combination of racquets and fives (a similar game, played with hands instead of rackets) called “baby racquets.”
Although pickleball and squash are racket sports that have a similar scoring system, that is where the similarities end.
Squash is a sport that requires practice, skill, and hard work to overcome a learning curve. In contrast, pickleball is a relatively easy “sport” that you pick up after a few minutes of playing.
While both require strategy, pickleball is less reliant on it. However, that doesn’t mean that squash is better. Since its inception, pickleball has been a family-friendly game aimed at having fun.
Which one is best depends on what you’re looking for. Pickleball is a great option if you want a slightly less competitive, socially focused game that gets you moving but doesn’t require as much time, money, and fitness.
If you want a sport that pushes you to be more competitive and strategic, and you have the time and energy to invest in learning a new skill, then squash is for you.
The essential thing is sports should be a fun way to exercise with like-minded people.
Pickleball and squash are vastly different games. While some similarities in both sports are racket and ball oriented and the scoring systems, the rest of the game differs significantly.
Squash is a competitive indoor game that requires skill, hard work, and practice. While pickleball, at its core, is a social game aimed at fun and group participation more akin to tennis, badminton, and table tennis.