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What are the Similarities & Differences of Wiffle Ball and Pickleball?

Wiffle Ball is to Baseball as Pickleball is to Tennis. There, we said it. The similarities in gameplay derive from the shape and construction of the ball used, and the fact that both games involves striking that ball with a swing.

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How you play a Pickleball game and a Wiffle Ball game varies wildly after those two things. And, the shape and size of the holes on the perforated plastic ball aren't quite the same.

But let's discuss the fineries of both games and see what comes to light. Just for some context, Wiffle Ball arrived 10-15 years prior to the start of Pickleball in 1965. In fact, Pickleball was started using the Wiffle Ball early in the history of the sport.

And, the two were created on opposite coasts, as Wiffle Ball came from Shelton, Connecticut, and Pickleball from Seattle, Washington. Well, technically Bainbridge Island. Pickleball is actually the offical sport of the Washington, which is kind of cool.

Understanding Wiffle Ball

The sport of Wiffle Ball was invented to give children a way to simulate baseball (or softball) in the backyard on the cheap. Wiffleballers can take the literal approach and model their game after it's traditional counterpart, or, they can develop backyard or playground rules that modify the game to the field of play.

A typical game of Wiffle Ball involves 1-5 player, up to three of which actively "take the field". The smaller dimensions of the Wiffle Ball field lead to less defensive positions to fill, with a pitcher and two outfielders, or, one outfielder and one infielder standing next to the pitcher at the singles line.

You see, backyard Wiffle Ball rules create lines that a batter must hit the ball beyond to get a certain type of hit. The singles line is generally where the pitcher stands (the mound). Then there is a doubles line, and a triples line and home run line that completes the overall maximum distance of the field.

In lieu of a catcher, players set up a strike zone for the pitcher to throw to. It's typically made of PVC pipe with a thin piece of sheet metal that helps determine strikes - and to give off an excellent gong sound when struck. Lawn chairs are also make an excellent strike zone.

Then the game is played much like baseball, with the batting team trying to score runs and the team in the field trying to take them away.

How Are They Different?

The differences are in the game play and the equipment used to play them. With regard to the game play, there are no rallies in Wiffle Ball. Well, scoring a ton of runs is considered a rally, but a very different kind of one.

If you're familiar with Racquet Sports such as Badminton, Table Tennis / Ping Pong) and Tennis (obviously), then you're familiar with the rules of Pickleball and how the game is played. That middle net in those sports isn't anywhere on the Wiffle Ball field.

Beyond different balls, Wiffle Ball doesn't have a bounce rule. And Wiffle Ball doesn't have a "serving team".

Ball Specs (Circular Holes vs Oval Holes)

Pickleballs and Wiffle Balls (baseball model) are pretty much the same size, being off by 1-2 tenths of an inch. However, the number of perforated holes they have are very different, with a regulation wiffle ball having 8 larger holes (oval-shaped) and a pickleball having between 26-40 smaller holes, based on indoor/outdoor style.

Pickleballs also come in blue, yellow, magenta and a variety of colors. Wiffle Balls are, have been, and will always be white.

Is your pickleball ball an official pickleball on the USAPA approved list.

Back to indoor/outdoor, there are even differences in the creation process for indoor pickleball balls and outdoor pickleball balls. Balls meant for indoor play are softer, where as balls meant for outdoor play are created in such a way that their plastic is more rigid.

Outdoor balls such as the Dura Fast 40 have more holes than their indoor counterparts. Competitive players take advantage of the different properties that different balls offer when it comes to spin and power.

Indoor balls such as those awesomely colored orange Onix balls are built to provide a true, authentic bounce each time they strike the floor.

Pro-Tip: One way to remember how many holes an outdoor ball has is to look at the branding. Brands like Dura use the number 40 in their product naming. Same goes for Franklin Sports with their X-40 outdoor pickleball balls.

Pro-Tip 2: Don't just assume that a Wiffle Ball with fewer holes will curve less than a Pickleball. You'd be surprised at what crafty golden stick players can do with a little bit of scuffing. Even the best pickleball balls are no match for the mighty Wiffle Ball when it comes to in-air flight patterns.

Regulation Pickleball Size

Regulation pickleballs are sized between 2.874-2.972 inches in diameter.

Regulation Wiffle Ball Sizes

The official ball of Wiffle Ball is 2.865 inches. And that's that.

Hitting Implements (Paddle vs Plastic Bat)

Below is an example of one of the best paddles on the market right now, Ben Johns's Hyperion CFS 16mm paddle. That is pretty much the complete opposite look of the long, thin, yellow Wiffle Ball bat that we've all grown to know and love over the years.

A Joola Ben Johns Hyperion CFS 16mm Pickleball Paddle

Joola Ben Johns Hyperion CFS 16mm

A USAPA-approved competition paddle that is ready to follow you to the top of your game.

Learn More Buy Now

While the object of the game is the same - hit it where they ain't - how players get there is entirely different when it comes to hitting the ball.

Pickleball strokes require touch and finesse. Players at any level would struggle for precise placement if they were waving a Wiffle Ball bat around like a lightsaber trying to return the ball back over the Pickleball net. That's why Pickleball paddles take on more of a square-ish shape. A broad surface for contact is necessary for good gameplay.

A kid holding a thick red plastic Wiffle Ball bat and a pitcher about to throw a white plastic Wiffle Ball
That thick bat is going to do damage

As all Wiffleballers known, give them a child-sized thick bat and it becomes Homerun City. The thin bat decreases the rate of contact to a point that is necessary for good gameplay on the Wiffle Ball field.

One simply can't throw enough grass-cutting risers to avoid a thick club. But give the batter a thin yellow bat and you can chuck curvy sliders all day long to get that nice metallic clang on the PVC pipe zone.

Court vs Field

Pickleball is played on a hard court. Unlike a tennis ball at Wimbledon, a pickleball isn't bouncing on grass. Wiffle Ball is played on a field (usually grass).

A Pickleball court is in the shape of a rectangle. A Wiffle Ball field is in the shape of a cone.

Yes, Wiffle Ball can be played on a hard surface, like a Badminton Court or Tennis Court, but the only real similarity in terms of the playing surface of the two games is that they both have lines that determine when a ball is considered to be out of play. In Pickleball, those lines are the baseline and the sidelines. In Wiffle Ball, it's the foul lines.

Come to think of it, Wiffle Ball does have a sort of kitchen (Non-Volley Zone) like Pickleball. Any ball that drops in front of the Pitcher's mound / singles line is also considered a foul ball.

Pickleball vs Wiffle Ball Professional Leagues

Put simply, Pickleball has professional leagues, where Wiffle Ball does not. Those leagues would be the Professional Pickleball Association (PPA) Tour, the Association of Pickleball Professionals (APP) Tour, and Major League Pickleball (MLP).

Pro Players such as Ben Johns and Tyson McGuffin have actual careers in the sport that are quite similar to the ATP Tour, only for far, far less salary and sponsorship.

Speaking of sponsorship, the sport is only going to grow. How do we know? NBA star Lebron James bought a team, and he's not doing that if there isn't future earnings involved.

And, there's a chance that Pickleball will eventually be selected for Olympic play. Wiffle Ball, even with its incredible appeal and backyard glory, will never be in the Olympics.

Baseball and Softball can't even manage to retain a permanent spot in the Olympics. For example, Baseball took a 12 year layoff from 2008 to 2020 when Japan decided to include the sport for the XXXII Olympiad in Tokyo.

Wrapping Up

Both sports are fun in their own right. And yes, you could use a Wiffle Ball to play Pickleball in an absolute bind. Pickleball players should not expect the same response out of the ball that you would get from a true pickleball.

Actually, the seldom-seen hard plastic ball of Quickball is probably more akin to the pickleball ball. Maybe you might want to keep a sleeve of those on hand for emergency use.

Ultimately we want you to remember that the best pickleball ball is the one you have available to play with next time you step on that court, whether that's for practice or for tournament play.

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