In this article I’m going to compare squash vs. pickleball, from the perspective of someone who’s played squash for decades but recently picked up pickleball.
In the last couple years, I’ve started playing pickleball regularly, and lately I have started playing competitively in tournaments. Since I’m playing regularly, and naturally testing out equipment as I go, I’m going to start adding some pickleball reviews and information to Squash Source.
Pickleball is a racket sport similar in concept to tennis, with opponents standing on opposite sides of a net, but on a much smaller court (20 x 44 feet). You can play singles or doubles, but I usually play doubles.
I won’t go into all the rules here but the most distinctive features of pickleball, in my opinion, are:
- The serve must be underhand
- You can’t volley the serve return
- You can’t volley within 7 feet of the net
The point of these rules, as I see it, is to encourage longer rallies by eliminating “serve and volley” tactics.
Pickleball vs Squash Equipment
Here’s a video I put together comparing equipment from squash, pickleball, padel and tennis.
Pickleball equipment is distinctive. You use flat paddles rather than rackets. The ball is a hard perforated plastic. The upshot is that you’re limited in terms of how much spin you can put on the ball and how much power you can put into the shot. In essence, it’s difficult to blast people off the court.
That’s what I like about pickleball: you can’t just blast people off the court. Shotmaking and movement and quick hands are important, but you have to use your brain. Pickleball is a puzzle.
The first time I played pickleball, I started off as many do with some cheap wooden paddles. The rec center near me had installed some dedicated pickleball courts, so I went out there with my buddies and a few beers and had a good time. That was about it, in the beginning.
The pandemic changed the dynamic. All of a sudden, we weren’t allowed to play squash. Later on we could play squash, but with a mask on. It was much less fun. Like everyone else, I started exploring outdoor options including pickleball and padel (which I’m also into and plan to write about soon).
I upgraded to a better paddle and went out to the pickleball courts for a game, which by now were mobbed with people looking for some outdoor exercise. I was pretty confident I’d be good at pickleball immediately because of my squash background. I was in for a rude awakening.
I partnered up with my buddy Tyson, who’s fit and has tennis skills, and we took on a pair of 60+ guys at the local courts. One of them could barely move. I thought we’d better take it easy on them so as not to humilate them. Instead they dominated us.
I think that happened sometime in 2020. I was determined to work out the puzzle though. I kept going to the local courts and trying to figure out the game. The club where I play squash added some pickleball courts and I started to pick up matches there as well. Gradually I started to improve.
Pickleball Tournament vs Squash Tournament
2022 was the first year I entered a pickleball tournament. That unlocked a whole new level of interest for me. At this point I’ve played in a mixed doubles tournament and a men’s doubles tournament. The pickleball season has pretty much ended now, but I can’t wait to get back out there for another tournament.
Unlike a squash tournament, which usually lasts all weekend, you can do a pickleball tourmament in a single day. For example they may schedule Singles on Friday, Doubles on Saturday, and Mixed Doubles on Sunday. It’s less of a time commitment, and it’s much easier on your body than a squash tournament.
When I tell my squash friends I’m into pickleball, the reactions usually range from bemusement to outright hostility. Pickleball has a reputation of being a racket sport for people who aren’t good at racket sports. All I can say is, give it a try. Maybe, like me, you’ll lose to some guys you think you should beat, and you’ll get hooked.
Pickleball vs Squash Workout
One question I get frequently is whether pickleball is a good workout. My answer is it’s pretty good. Nowhere near as intense as squash, but pretty good. I can speak from experience and also from Whoop data. For one thing, people usually play pickleball for an hour and a half, versus maybe 45 minutes for squash. So while pickleball isn’t as intense at the peaks, it’s still cumulatively a good workout. It’s less cardio, and more dynamic strength movements. Subjectively, I feel I’m in the best shape of my life, and I think that’s predominantly down to adding regular pickleball to my life.
Basic Tactics for Squash Players Trying Pickleball
If you’re a squash player looking to get into pickleball, I’ll give you three tactical tips to help smooth your transition.
The most basic tactic in pickleball is to get to the net as quickly as possible. You want to move right up to the “kitchen” or Non-Volley Zone line. This is the furthest up the court you can get while still being allowed to volley. Once you’re there, try and stay put. Volley everything you can, and try to keep your opponents back.
The biggest mindset shift from squash to pickleball is when you’re in trouble on a squash court, your first instinct is to lob — or it should be anyway. In pickleball, your first instinct should be to hit a drop shot. The pickleball court is small, so it’s difficult to get a lob just right. A drop is usually a safer shot because by rule, your opponents can’t volley the ball inside the kitchen. Work on hitting drop shots from all areas of the court, and especially on the third shot. (The serve is the first shot and the serve return is the second shot.) The third shot is important because you are not allowed to volley it, and your opponents will probably already be stationed at the net.
Lastly, keep your movement to a minimum. Pickleball is a fast-paced game, and you always need to be ready for a ball coming at your body or your feet. As a squash player, you’ll be used to covering more ground and taking a bigger swing. You don’t need to do that in pickleball. In fact it’s detrimental, because you’re more likely to make a racket error. You’re better off keeping your hands still, moving slowly, and focusing on the accurate placement of your shots.
This last tip is a funny one because it’ll help you play better, but it’s also the thing outsiders will look at and think, “this isn’t a sport”. The better players move and strike the ball very efficiently. They don’t look like they’re doing much. They make it look easy. But this is actually the fun of the game: trying to work out the nuances of where to put the ball, within the confines of a small space.