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The spectrum of pickleballs

When I talk about differentiation in coach education courses, one of the most common topics I cover is how to alter the choice of ball you use to modify the challenge for a player.  However it’s occurred to me that it isn’t really codified anywhere the “spectrum” of ball characteristics as a specific list. Pickleballs are all regulated but they have a range of performance. There was an outdoor ball post across five balls and using proper metrics. This post tries to capture the UK range of balls from a less scientific angle, based more on use cases and experience. We play on wood floors and other indoor surfaces in the UK mainly so important to address how this impacts the balls.

My list isn’t 100% definitive as I haven’t tried every ball on market but it covers a broad range of the most commonly available and used balls in the UK. I’ll start with the indoor balls then go through the outdoor balls.  By using an increasingly bouncy or speedy ball, you can overtrain or simplify a skill with a player. Using outdoor balls indoors will also challenge players beyond the norm and allow them to easily adjust to outdoor surfaces as the “correct” surface will play easier. 

Indoor balls: Jugs, Penn 26, Gamma Indoor/training, Diadem indoor, Franklin X26 colour options

The first ball to mention is the Jugs ball. This is a very common ball to experience in your first pickleball session as it is a classic “beginner” ball. Its big characteristic is that it is very slow playing: it’s known as the “marshmallow” as it’s normally white and squishy. They also last a very long time so a dirty grey/brown Jugs may appear on court, discoloured by dirt and dust.  However I’m not at all a fan of the ball as it causes elbow issues when used by better players.  It causes you to over hit and balls that should be killed end up coming back, with the associated contortions that can exacerbate elbow problems.  Even for beginners, I’m not a huge advocate: a beginner doesn’t know a Jugs ball from a Penn 26 or Gamma Photon so it’s all a new learning curve for them. New players can normally adapt to a slightly quicker ball in a similar amount of time. I still keep a couple of Jugs in my ball cart for those who are really struggling but rarely ever need to use them. 

The Penn 26 is the next step up in balls. It plays really well on a wooden gym floor: it was designed with this surface in mind and its red colour often tracks well. Although for some older males, the red/green colourblindness that can be common with aging can make these difficult to use in challenging wall/floor colour combinations. The Penns do go soft fairly quickly and for better level players, they may lose performance inside an hour or two, although won’t break for a few more hours.

A really popular indoor ball is the Gamma Photon indoor. I define this as the all rounder: it’s a classic neon green colour, lasts a decent time for playability, retains its shape well and has a lively bounce.  One of my players described the ball as having a bit of personality to it.  It’s a really good solid ball choice for almost any situation.  There is also a training version that is two tone, pink and purple.  This allows for players to visibly see spin on the ball more easily. 

The final main indoor ball seen in the UK is the Franklin X26. This comes in a few different colours and plays a bit heavier and slicker than the rest.  It can skid more often but is certainly more of a performance tournament ball and can be a challenge on wood. Diadem have launched an orange indoor Power Pro that’s a great rival for the Franklin: similarly lively, slightly less skiddy, tracks well due to colour and seems to have good lifespan so far. It’s a smidge pricey so lifespan will be the big factor.  It’s proved popular with my intermediate and advanced players so I’m hopeful they last and could be a permanent feature in the club rotation.  There are also options from Onix, Pckl, Zcebra plus a whole range of non USAP approved eBay/Amazon random branded balls. 

Outdoor balls: Penn 40, Onix Fuse, Franklin X40, Joola Primo, Wilson Tru 32 Pro, Diadem Powerball /Drop shot, Selkirk Pro S1, Onix Durafast 40

Once you move to outdoor balls, your choice expands as the bulk of the US market is outdoors. The slowest outdoor ball, and also a great indoor choice, is the Penn 40. It only comes in a yellow colour and can play quite slowly compared to other outdoor balls. It also goes a little soft so can be a great choice for wooden indoor floors as a quicker alternative to the Penn 26.  It’s the default ball for improvers and intermediate players at my club.  Penn balls are also the most common ball in a David Lloyd club as they have a deal with Head/Penn. 

The next ball in the scale is the Onix Fuse, another yellow ball. This plays heavier than the Penn 40 and stays firmer for longer.  You then come to the Gamma Photon Outdoor that looks similar to the pro level Dura fast 40 but plays slower. After this come some similar balls, the Core, the DropShot and the Diadem Power Pro. My experience of all three balls are similar: the Core goes out of shape rapidly, the DropShot loses shape and also cracks quickly but is an extremely low cost ball. At just over a pound a ball, it’s the most cost effective ball around so it can have poor life if you can buy them in large quantity, although not great from a plastics usage standpoint.  The Diadem Power Pro tends to go out of round in a reasonably fast time but resists cracking.  A couple of outliers are the Joola Primo and Wilson Tru 32 Pro: expensive but top performing with the Wilson being US only. I’ve placed after the Franklin in the photo and before the three mentioned previously to reflect their place in the speed and liveliness range.

At the top end, you come to the three performance outdoor balls: the Franklin X40, the Selkirk S1 Pro and the Durafast 40. The Franklin is the ball of the English Open and Nationals so is ubiquitous in the UK for advanced players who want to play/train with the ball they will compete with. It plays a little slower than the Diadem, Drop Shot and all those in the paragraph above. It does play very true compared to those however and has decent durability. It’s popular in hot climates in the States so commonly seen in Florida. It’s a ball you can use indoors on wood but will be a real challenge to control: a classic overtraining ball.

I’ve covered the Selkirk S1 pro, which has its unique 38 hole design, in a previous post. It plays a little heavy but does have really good resistance to cracking. The Onix Dura Fast 40 was the pro ball for all the US tours until 2024 when new players entered the pro ball market.  This ball plays fast, skiddy indoors until it ages (it’s an outdoor ball) and cracks fairly quickly or goes eggy. It’s betraying its age now as newer balls have different characteristics and usability. It’s still a strong choice for an absolute top end ball that pushes you to the limit. 

Hopefully, this post gives you an informed choice on ball options for your groups: if you are a ball manufacturer or distributor and want me to review or test a ball, please let me know. I’d love to try the Oso, PCKL, Owl and Vulcan balls: the latter two being the new pro standard so really curious to see how they play. 

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