what is platform tennis

What is Platform Tennis? Why Am I So Confused?

Racquet sports are my thing, so you can imagine how excited I was when I was first introduced to Platform Tennis.  I was hooked and began to do a ton of research around it.  But, the more research I did, the more confused I got.  20 minutes later, I was still asking myself "what is Platform Tennis?" and "why does it have so many different names?"  After digesting hours of research and even making some phone calls, I'd finally found the answers...

Platform tennis is a racquet sport invented back in 1928 played on platforms of raised aluminum planks designed to be enjoyed year round and played with composite paddles instead of strung racquets and a sponge like rubber ball versus a traditional fuzzy tennis ball.

Video Source: American Platform Tennis Association

Now, across the community of devoted platform tennis fans and web sites you're going to hear talk of "paddle tennis" too.  Are these fans talking about the same sport or a different sport?  It's super confusing, but I combed through the archives of platform tennis and paddle tennis to flush out the answer.  And the story is fascinating!

What is Platform Tennis?  Is it the same as "Paddle Tennis"?

This is where I got really confused too.  Don't feel bad, you're not an idiot.  It really IS confusing.  I literally called the office of the American Platform Tennis Association to get things cleared up.  

So, is platform tennis the same as paddle tennis?  Yes and no.  How's that for an answer?

Let me add some context.  When platform tennis first became a sport back in 1928 it was first referred to as "Paddle Tennis".  However, once the game was legitimized and the courts were raised up on platforms, the game began to be called "Platform Tennis" because the courts were up on platforms - unlike traditional tennis and all other racquet sports.  

Long time fans of the game still call it "paddle tennis" or even just "paddle" for short.  So technically, the phrases "platform tennis", "paddle tennis", or "paddle" all mean platform tennis depending on who you're speaking with.  I've even heard it referred to as "paddleball" as well.  

What is Platform Tennis

Winter coat and gloves are useful for winter play - special thanks to oakgov.com for the photos!

The reason why platform tennis has so many other names or in this case nicknames is because back when it was originally called "Paddle Tennis" there was in fact, another entirely different sport called "Paddle Tennis".  Two separate sports with the same name, that's a recipe for confusion.  I'll cover that in a minute.

Quick Facts About Platform Tennis

Here are some fun facts about platform tennis and how it's played.

  • Platform tennis is scored EXACTLY like tennis.  Points are awarded via the Love, 15, 30, 40 and deuce rule.  When tied at deuce the serving team must win two points, just like in tennis.  
  • Six games wins the set, and the first to win two sets wins the match.  If you've played tennis before, you'll feel right at home.
  • Platform tennis can be played as a singles game or a doubles game.
  • The court is approximately 1/3 the size of a traditional tennis court and is 44 feet long and 22 feet wide.
  • The court is surrounded by a wire fence made out of "chicken wire" that extends up 12 feet high and acts as a wall for the ball to be played off of like in racquetball.  How cool is that?!
  • The net stands 34 inches high and does not have a no volley zone.  
  • Despite being played on a miniature sized tennis court, players still serve overhand like in tennis.  This is VERY unique for a game played on a court this size.  
  • Platform tennis is played year around, even in cold weather states where they use propane heaters underneath the court to melt ice and snow.

Why I Love Platform Tennis

If someone asked me "what is platform tennis?", I'd reply - if tennis and racquetball fell in love and had a child or in this case, a mini version of the two sports, that child would be Platform Tennis!

I love the fact that you still serve overhand like in tennis.  I love the fact that it looks and feels like a real tennis court, just smaller.  I think the ability to play this sport outside all year long, is brilliant.  People who live in snow covered states, like us in Michigan, still like to get out and enjoy the colder weather.  It's part of our identity.  So to have a sport that allows us to get outside, enjoy a fun tennis-like game and get exercise is wonderful!  It makes the sometimes brutal winters we endure, a little more enjoyable because despite the weather we can still get outside and play.  In a way, we can thumb our nose at old man winter and enjoy it!

However, most of all I enjoy the pace of the game.  By that I mean the points can be long, the rallies can be extended and it's a game all ages and skill levels can enjoy.  It's a little slower paced because of the lobs used and the play off of the fence.  The fence alone extends each point and makes them way more fun!  

It's a game that can be played by older retired players yet still be fun for younger players.  Plus, because of how the game is played, the younger, more athletic players won't dominate the older group.  The savvy older players who know how to use the wire fence to their advantage, can outplay any age group.  It's a thing of beauty to watch.

Video Source: APTA

Paddle Tennis vs Platform Tennis

As I mentioned, platform tennis was actually first called "Paddle Tennis" because of the solid paddle used to play with - versus a strung racquet we use in traditional tennis. However, the game was quickly dubbed "Platform Tennis" because of the raised platform used to lift the court off the ground so snow melting technology could be installed for year round play.

If you're talking to an avid platform tennis player, then you might very well hear them call it paddle tennis.  To them, it means the same thing.   But, there is a separate "Paddle Tennis" sport, different than platform tennis that is now being rebranded as "Pop Tennis."

Paddle tennis - now called Pop Tennis - is actually way older than Platform Tennis.  It was started in 1898 to be exact!  The only tennis-like sport older than Pop Tennis is probably Tennis itself!  Before Pickleball and even Platform Tennis, there was Pop Tennis.  The game's heritage is a long one...

What is Platform Tennis

Even on a cold Fall night, players in Oakland County Michigan enjoy a game under lights!

Despite it's long history, Pop Tennis didn't become a part of the USA Tennis Association until 2016!  In fact, the game wasn't rebranded and renamed until 2015.  So, for nearly four decades as the game grew in popularity, so did confusion around what it actually was.

Up until the late 90s there was a ton of geographic confusion because essentially we had two different kinds of "Paddle Tennis".  If you were on the West Coast like Southern California, Paddle Tennis was what we now call Pop Tennis.  If you lived in a cold weather state on the East Coast, Paddle Tennis was actually Platform tennis.  

The two sports desperately needed their own identity, and now they do!  They each started out as "Paddle Tennis" but are now called Platform Tennis and Pop Tennis respectively!  Clear as mud right?!

Video Source: Pop Tennis

The differences between Platform Tennis and Pop Tennis are as follows:

  • The fundamental difference between Platform Tennis and Pop Tennis is the pace of the game.  Because the ball can be played off the wire fence in Platform Tennis, the game tends to be about keeping the ball in play with lobs being a frequently used shot.  This is different than Pop Tennis where the pace is more frantic and points are put away quicker with passing shots and volleys at the net.   
  • Pop Tennis is played on a court that is larger than the court used for Platform Tennis and comes in three sizes.  Pop 50 is played on a 50x20 ft court while the more common version of Pop Tennis, Pop 60 is played on a 60x27 ft court.  A newly adopted Pop 36 version is played on a 36x18 ft court.
  • The lines on a Platform Tennis court differ slightly from the lines on a pop tennis court.  Platform Tennis extends the line for doubles play horizontally - meaning the court gets wider with an extra left and right out of bounds line.  In Pop Tennis, the doubles line extends at the baseline (vertically) meaning the court gets just a little longer during doubles play.
  • In Platform Tennis AND Pop Tennis, you're only allowed one serve however, the serve in Platform Tennis is overhand while the serve in Pop Tennis is underhand below the waist (just like in Pickleball).
  • Pop Tennis balls or the "Green Dot Ball" as it's called, are low compression tennis balls with 25% less air.   Platform tennis balls are way different and have a spongey and rubber like texture.  
  • Even though both Platform Tennis and Pop Tennis racquets each have holes drilled into them, the materials used for each paddle are very different.  Pop Tennis paddles primarily use carbon fiber (very light weight) while Platform Tennis paddles use composite materials (better for surface grip).  Pop Tennis paddles are not allowed to have any surface grip added to them.
  •  Platform tennis has a net that stands 34 inches high, while Pop Tennis has a net that is 36 inches high.
  • There are some subtle differences between the shoes worn for Platform Tennis and Pop Tennis.  Platform Tennis has more specific footwear requirements due to the rough texture of the platforms its played on. Manufactures make dedicated Platform Tennis shoes, while any traditional court shoe with a non-marking or scuffing rubber sole are preferred for Pop Tennis.

Platform Tennis vs Pickleball - The Main Differences

Many people unfamiliar with either sport often ask "Is Platform tennis the same as Pickleball?"  The answer is no.  They are two entirely different sports, with different rules and played with completely different paddles and balls.  Sure, most racquet or paddle sports share a lot of similarities in stroke form and shot technique but the games are different; but fun in their own ways.  

For the complete history of Pickleball and how it came to be, check this out!

pickleball vs platform tennis

A pickleball court pictured above is smaller than a platform tennis court.

Here are the main differences between Platform Tennis and Pickleball.

  • Platform tennis is played in a "cage" with fencing that the ball can be played off of.  Pickleball has no wall or fence.
  • The scoring systems for each sport are vastly different.  Like I said, platform tennis is scored identical to regular tennis.  Pickleball has it's own scoring system and serve rotation unlike any paddle sport.  For more info on Platform Tennis Scoring click here.  For scoring in Pickleball, click here
  • In platform tennis you only get one overhand serve (in doubles) and there is no let.  In pickleball, you get two chances at a good underhand serve.   (Want to improve your pickleball serve?  Click here.)
  • A platform tennis court is 4 feet longer compared to a pickleball court but, just as wide.
  • Platform tennis has a net that is two feet higher and allows players to come right up to the net.  Pickleball has a shorter net and does NOT allow players to come right up to the net - this is called the no volley zone. 
  • Platform tennis is played with a spongy rubber ball while pickleball is played with a plastic wiffle ball with holes drilled into it.  Each ball plays differently off of it's home surface.  
  • Platform tennis paddles are made from composite material and are generally round in shape and cannot extend beyond 18 inches long.
  • Pickleball paddles are made from composite or graphite material and tend to vary in shape compared to platform tennis paddles.  They can be round, rectangular, oval or even blade shaped and cannot exceed 17 inches in length.  
  • Platform tennis paddles have a bottle opener built into the butt of the handle.  Pickleball paddles do not...but they should!
  • Platform tennis is only played outside, year round, thanks to heating systems consisting of propane powered blowers built underneath the court to melt snow and ice.  
  • Pickleball does not have heating systems built into the court and is only played year round outside in warm weather states.  Unlike platform tennis, pickleball can be played indoors on basketball courts or volleyball courts.
  • Platform tennis has specific shoes designed for the sport that can withstand the rough/abrasive surface of the "platforms" it's played on while pickleball can be played indoors or outdoors using traditional tennis or court shoes.  For a list of my favorite court shoes of all time, click here.

Related Questions

Is Padel Tennis the same as Platform Tennis or Pop Tennis?  The short answer here is no.  As you can see from the spelling alone, there are differences.  Padel Tennis is a separate sport that has a long standing international history where is was formed in Acapulco Mexico back in 1969.  Despite having walls that the ball can be played off of, Padel is vastly different than Platform Tennis.  The walls alone stand over 9ft high and the rules and style of play differ from other paddle sports considerably. 

Other sports, like Deck Tennis and Beach Tennis have popped up over the years but are not nearly as popular as Platform Tennis.  They are more unique "niche" sports without the mainstream appeal of Platform Tennis, Pickleball and Pop Tennis.

What is Platform Tennis

Serving overhand is one of platform tennis' best features.

Final Thoughts

Even though it's got many similar sibling type sports, I'm a big fan of Platform Tennis.  Mainly because, despite it pint size tennis court, it still plays a lot like traditional tennis.  From the overhand serve to lob shot and forehand power smashes - it all feels like tennis even thought the paddle in your hand is different.  Add in the fact that the ball can bounce off the cage and still be played and you've got a sport that even incorporates the best part of racquetball as well!

Cold weather fans in Michigan, Main and New York love the fact that they have a sport that allows them to still get outside, get some exercise and play a game that feels a lot like tennis.  And I could't agree more. 

**Special thanks for the friendly staff at Oakgov.com and Oakland County Parks for allowing me to use their great platform tennis photos!  If you live in Michigan, and want to learn more about where to play platform tennis, click here.

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