Pickleball Youth Leagues on the Rise, Bring New Talent to the Game

Pickleball is a fantastic hobby for young players for the same reasons it’s great for adults—the nature of the game is a strong equalizer which lowers the barrier to entry, both financially (for their parents) and from a skill-based perspective.

Many players have come to pickleball not only from other racquet sports but from non-sporting backgrounds entirely, which makes it ideal for kids who don’t consider themselves particularly athletic. Bring the game to a school gym or community center, and time and again, we’ve seen young players take to the sport like it’s second nature.

As noted by Beverly Youngren of the Carlsbad Pickleball group, “While older competitors are often former tennis players looking for a sport that’s easier on the knees, young players often go the other way. They become confident at pickleball and move on to tennis.

“You can see the glimmer in their eyes, and they say, ‘I can do this.’ ”

Carlsbad Pickleball hosted their first tournament for youth in December 2016.

“We had other youths that wanted to play, but I had to cut it off because there [aren’t] enough courts.”

At PickleballCentral we’ve seen this trend continue to grow as clubs open up enrollment to kids and start classes or leagues specifically for them. Even manufacturers have started to take note, with some businesses like Paddletek creating paddles specifically for younger players (see the Ranger).

We’re always happy to see players of any age take up pickleball, but it’s especially exciting to know the next generation will be bringing some fresh talent to the courts.

Jack Munro

Jack Munro won US Open gold

Younger players have already been engaging in more competitive events as well. One particularly fun example is that of 12-year-old Jack Munro, who won gold with 69-year-old JoAnne Russell in the 2017 US Open Mixed Doubles.

They were respectively the youngest and oldest competitors in the 19-49 group!

The USAPA launched a Juniors Division in 2016 which was kicked off at the USAPA Nationals VIII Tournament where the kids got a chance to play with pros. You can find additional resources and information on the USAPA site specifically for junior players or those interested in promoting the game to a younger demographic.

Check out some of the amazing play from these up-and-comers at the Nationals VIII Tournament:

From both official tournaments to local initiatives, we know pickleball can only benefit from more youth involvement.

If you haven’t seen them yet, be sure to check out our articles on the Yavapai Detention Center and Ontario Pickleball Club. Both of these groups are great examples of local pickleball associations that have taken the initiative to provide healthy outlets to kids in their community.

We’re glad that existing pickleball communities are welcoming young players with open arms. Do you know of any youth programs or leagues started up in your community? If so, let us know in the comments!

 

Ontario Pickleball Club Creates Free, Year-Long Program for Kids

Pickleball has a reputation as an old timers’ sport, and that’s fine by us—more time on the courts! But sometimes you just have to wonder: Won’t someone think of the children?

Today an Ontario club is sharing how they not only started an adult pickleball league, but created an entirely new pickleball program for kids.

This past August, Dan Pronovost of the K-W Badminton Club was awarded a $13,331 provincial grant to start a free pickleball program for the community’s youth. It’s an exciting development that will help show how the game’s versatile appeal while giving kids a positive outlet for their energy.

KWBC Building

Setting the Scene

“I’ve been a member of the K-W Badminton Club (KWBC) for many years,” Dan explains. “About 5 years ago, it became clear we’d need to purchase our building to continue growing our club and add additional sports. I joined the board to help manage this process and oversee renovating our 45,000 sq. ft. building.

“I’m happy to say since the purchase of our building in 2013, we’ve renovated about 25,000 sq. ft. of space for sport use. About 75% of the building is in use by our sports tenants and users. This includes axe throwing, roller derby, bike polo, professional wrestling and pickleball, along with our badminton club of course.”

Dan says that his group first reached out to KWPA, the Kitchener Waterloo Pickleball Association, in 2014 to bring the sport onto their six court badminton facility. Thanks to this cooperation, they now have daily pickleball programs for all skill levels.

“Hundreds of players visit the facility for pickleball every week, from beginners to advanced players who visit despite being hours away. Pickleball has been an excellent way to add additional weekday daytime programming in a facility that would otherwise be empty.”

KW Pickleball Interior

Wish Granted

Clearly, the club’s leadership went a long way toward getting pickleball established in the first place. But considering grants are something many pickleball groups would love to obtain, how did Dan make his case? Turns out it was a combination of past experience and finding an underserved demographic.

Dan Pronovost

Dan Pronovost

“We became aware of the Ontario Sport and Recreation Communities Fund (OSRCF) through our successful Ontario Trillium Foundation (OTF) grants in past years. In talks with KWPA, we decided that pickleball for youth is a very underdeveloped demographic, since the sport is primarily aimed at seniors.

“But pickleball is of course equally exciting and fun for kids! The partnership opportunity with KWPA made perfect sense: KWBC is a mature and fiscally strong non-profit organization with grant experience and a world class sporting venue. KWPA has excellent talent for developing and leading a professionally-coached youth pickleball lessons program.”

The money for the grant has been allocated for, in order of usage:

– Coaching/instructor costs for the lessons (although 50% of the coaching is volunteer/non-paid)

– Additional administrative staffing and facility upkeep

– 20 new pickleball paddles and sufficient balls for one year

– Development of the coaching program/youth lessons sets

– Coaches certification and training

There are an incredible 192 kids that will get to enjoy this new program, where before there were no local opportunities for kids to play pickleball. The KWBC has also run paid youth badminton lessons for over 10 years which have been successful, so they feel confident there will be similar interest in pickleball.

KW Pickleball Games

Dan says the OSRCF grant will let them to make the pickleball lessons available for free to all participants for the 2016/17 school year, even with paddles and balls being included. With professional coaching, a great venue and free lessons, it’s not hard to see why spots fill up fast.

Their aim is to use the OSRCF grant to “seed”‘ the pickleball youth program in 2016/17, then continue with a nominally paid program beyond that to break even.

It’s a smart and beneficial model for all parties involved. While securing the grant was relatively straightforward, there are other concerns Dan has about supporting a thriving sports community.

Effort and Expansion

“The challenge is maintaining an 80+ year old building for sport use. Since the purchase of our building in 2013, we’ve invested over $500,000 in renovations and thousands of volunteer hours. While we are very happy to have received generous grants from sources like OTF and OSRCF, we can always use more help to further improve the quality of our venue.

“We are hoping to further renovate our 10,000 sq. ft. concrete rink pad space, which is used for pickleball and roller derby, by replacing part of the roof, adding heating for better winter usage, insulation, and high-quality floor painting and lines. Adding air conditioning for summer-time use is one of our more frequent member and user requests!

KWPA Players

“The demand for sport space in the core of Kitchener is growing, but there are no municipal plans to add venues. Every time we open an area of our building for tenants and renters, the space is taken almost immediately, especially for lesser-known sports struggling to compete for space.”

Dan says that he believes forward thinking, financially secure non-profit organizations such KWBC are key to helping address shortages of sport space for everyone in the community.

He also welcomes and encourages all pickleball players to visit their club, so if you’re ever in the area, feel free to stop by! KWBC hosts a popular regional pickleball tournament in spring, which is a draw for players from abroad to come out and compete.

“Many other sporting organizations are starting to see the value of adding pickleball to their venues. Indoor and outdoor tennis clubs are a good candidate for adding pickleball to help support their facilities and courts. Any club with a suitably-sized gym should be thinking about adding it to fill unused court times.”


We agree! To our readers looking to expand pickleball offerings in their area, we hope you’ll keep this advice in mind and push local community centers and other facilities to bring our favorite sport to the masses.

Thanks to Dan for his time and hard work ensuring pickleball is available to players of all ages!

Meet the Pros: Jack Munro

Meet the Pros – one of youngest players at US Open Jack Munro

Jack Munro medals

Jack Munro – Gold Medal at 2015 USAPA Nationals

Jack Munro is one of the two youngest players who competed at the US Open Pickleball Championship. Many of the top players in Pickleball know Jack Munro, aka. “Jr. Mint” and are always great with him!  Enjoy some of his story!

Can you list for us your major wins so we can correctly introduce you to our readers?

2016 US Open Pickleball Competition Mixed Doubles with his Mom Nichole Munro – participant
2016 Tustin Winter Classic with Brett Butcher Men’s Doubles 4.5 – Gold
2015 USAPA Nationals VII Junior Men’s Singles 11-14 – Gold
2015 Summer Grand Prix at Bobby Riggs – 4.5 Men’s Doubles with his Dad Jason – Gold
2015 California State Games – 4.0 Mixed with Sue Smith – Silver
2015 California State Games – Men’s Singles – Silver
2015 So Cal Summer Classic – Mixed 4.0 with his mom, Nichole Munro – Bronze
2015 So Cal Summer Classic – Men’s 4.0 Doubles with Ryan Kaltman – Gold

What paddle do you play with and why?

I play with the Engage Encore because I can put more spin on it and I have more control over the ball with it! 

What’s your pickleball story? How were you introduced to pickleball?

My dad plays tennis and pickleball. I played baseball until I hurt my shoulder in 2014 and couldn’t play the game anymore.  I couldn’t play tennis so I started playing pickleball with my dad, and the rest is history.

What’s your preference – playing indoor or outdoor?

I prefer playing outdoors because indoors has bad lighting. I like playing the wind. 

Do you like singles or doubles better? Why?

Jack Munro doubles

Jack Munro AKA “Jr. Mint”

I like BOTH- mostly doubles though- I like having a partner to keep me positive. 

What’s your favorite place to play? Why?

My favorite place to play is in Simi Valley at Lemon Park. They have wind screens, lights and courts that are even. 

What’s your secret sauce? Any tips for players?

My secret sauce are spin third shots and spin dinks as well as a 2 handed backhand. I also play right and left handed! 

What’s your day job?

My day job is going to school and playing pickleball! 

How many hours a week do you play? How do you make time to play?

I play at least 14 hours a week and in the summer it will be more.  I complete my homework first then I go out for 3 hours Tuesday and Wednesday and then the weekends I play from 7 am-Noon.

Any lucky rituals before a big tournament?

My lucky ritual is wearing different colored socks when I play as well Neon shirt and shorts! 

Do you have any pickleball goals you’d like to share?

I would like to win a 5.0 event.

Jack Munro in action1

Jack Munro’s 2-handed backhand

Anything else you’d like to share about your experience being one of the best pickleball players in the world?

Practice, Practice, Practice and smart shot selections! My mom and dad taught me to do 30 cross-court dinks as a start to learning, then moving to the backhand. Now I can do 100 cross court dinks because I have practiced so much! Having a 2-handed backhand (on the left side) and being able to play both right and left handed! When I make a great shot selection or hit a winner….. I say…..” I LOVE THIS GAME”!!!!!! 

 

Betty Catron L-O-V-E-S PICKLEBALL!!!!!

Betty Catron has the only private pickleball courts, emphasis on more than one, in Knoxville, Tennessee, that she knows of!

Betty Catron

 

She has converted her home tennis court into two, count them, 2 pickleball courts.

Catron Pickleball Complex Knoxville Tennessee

She has a bunch of friends, all former tennis players, who just love the game of pickleball, all 15 or 16 of them!

Catron Court Buddies

 

Some of her friends have given up tennis completely and only play pickleball. They don’t let the weather get in the way of playing pickleball.

Cantron Pickleball Buddies in the Tennessee Winter

Don’t you just wish you had a bunch of fun ladies like these gals to play pickleball with every day!

11402455_807645932684041_2338835844875693451_o

 

Thanks Betty for taking the time to share some of your favorite photos of the only private pickleball courts in Knoxville, that you know of!

For the Love of the Sport, Meet Pickleball Gems Ray and Renee Padilla

Ray and Renee Padilla

Ray and Renee Padilla

Sheer dedication! That’s how I describe Ray and Renee Padilla and their Pickleball Training program. Ray and Renee offer free instruction to folks from age 4 to 94 in Albuquerque, New Mexico. As I listen to Ray’s account of how he got into teaching the sport of pickleball, I hear his dedication to all athletic programs that help a student to learn to do their best, no matter what.

Retired from the Department of Defense after 41 years, Ray has been certified to coach soccer for Olympic level players.  In all sports, Coach Ray likes to teach in the dynamic, progressive style. He is not a fan of classroom lectures. He believes in getting out there and practicing as soon as possible: “Less talk, more doing!” He teaches the “why”, the “what” and the “pros and cons” of technique. Then he encourages his students to make what they do the best, even better. He has lots of paddles, so he shows folks the nuances of paddle grips and paddle sizes.

Ray Teaching Pickleball at a Summer Rec Program

Ray Teaching a Summer Rec Program

Ray and Renee’s motto is “Doing our best to Give Back and Pay It Forward, to develop, promote, grow and share the dynamic fitness exercise Pickleball experience to all ages.

Ray loves to coach with three things in mind:
Consistency
Control
Accuracy

It’s a labor of love for Ray and Renee. They do their training workshops on a volunteer basis. They reach out to school P. E. programs. They work with veterans. They teach at a Senior Center and they work with special needs students at a local high school. They set up at locations that don’t have enough space with a mini court. It’s an easy way to teach the basics of the game of pickleball. They offer training mostly indoors. Albuquerque weather can be daunting at times: 100 degrees, a mile up in altitude, can cause fatigue and heat-related health problems.

Ray's Pickleball Training Class

Pickleball Training Class

There’s a growing contingency of tourists interested in pickleball. People traveling through Albuquerque from places like California, Idaho, New York and Chicago find out about Ray’s Training Program and stop in to learn more about the game. Information about Ray’s Pickleball Training program is posted on the USAPA website, usapa.org.

See the link below for an article in the Albuquerque Journal that highlights Ray’s Pickleball Training:

http://www.abqjournal.com/456474/sports/go/demo-teaches-the-fun-of-pickleball.html

Thanks Ray and Renee for sharing your love of pickleball with the wonderful folks in Albuquerque!

NEW COURTS IN PAYSON, ARIZONA – A DREAM COME TRUE

I’ve been chatting with Deanna Wright for about two years about how pickleball is taking off in Payson, Arizona.  You’ll be delighted by this Payson pickleball success story.

Deanna Wright

Deanna Wright

We never dreamt in a million years we would ever get our own pickleball courts,” explains Deanna Wright. “We petitioned the Town of Payson for permission to put ½” tape down on two of the four existing tennis courts in town. We only wanted to put down ½ inch tape so as not to aggravate the tennis players too much. We chalk the court lines every day. The tape would last longer than a day. We begged for a year and a half.”

Deanna breaks the good news: “Payson recently poured concrete for two brand new courts dedicated to pickleball!

New pickleball court in Payson

Brand New Pickleball Court poured

“They will be painting the courts soon. The kitchen will be painted in lime green and the rest of the court in a regular green.” Deanna’s huge circle of pickleball friends can hardly wait for the courts to be ready. Deanna has never played on a real pickleball court. She is pinching herself to make sure she isn’t dreaming.

Aero-D Graphite

Aero-D Graphite

Interest in pickleball has been growing in Payson, Arizona for the last 2 years.  As the story goes, Cindy & Phil Galvin told Dianne Wing about pickleball.  Dianne researched and taught herself the game.  One day, Mike Wing invited Deanna over to join a group playing pickleball. She was immediately hooked on the game. After about 6 months of playing pickleball, Deanna started teaching pickleball to anyone who showed an interest in the game. Just recently, she taught a church youth group and their leaders how to play pickleball.

Deanna’s favorite paddle is the Pro-Lite Aero D Graphite paddle.
She also likes the Pro-Lite Blaster 2 Alloy and the Phantom Graphite paddles.

Graphite Phantom

Phantom Graphite

Deanna is definitely a “Pickleball Spark Plug!” A lot of folks, most recently from Michigan, Missouri and Nebraska, are snow birds.  If they stop by to watch while Deanna and friends are playing, Deanna will walk over after a game and answer questions. Usually, they are open to trying the game. Nearly everyone who plays becomes addicted to the game.

Deanna has 2 sons. Logan is now 14 and very involved in Special Olympics. His brother Joshua loves sports and is an avid athlete.

Joshua Wright playing Pickleball

Joshua Wright playing pickleball, Photo by Michele Nelson, courtesy of Payson Roundup News

Blaster 2 Alloy

Blaster 2 Alloy

Joshua’s Little League friends and teachers come out to play too. “We invite anyone and everyone to come join in the fun,” says Deanna. “Playing sports is a great way to spend time with your children, get to know them better and know what is going on with them. Family time is mostly spent at a field or by a pool, but when we want to really engage in a sport that can be played as an entire family, it is Pickleball!

Line chalking pickleball courtMike Wing designed a plywood tool with a hinge and a clamp that made it possible to hold the chalk they used daily to re-draw pickleball lines on one of the tennis courts in town. Plans to build pickleball courts in Chaparral Pines, a gated community within 5 miles of Rumsey Park are underway. “We are here to stay,” beams Deanna about the Payson Pickleball Club.

These folks are dedicated to the game.  Deanna shares, “It’s so hard to go a day without pickleball. In January, Payson had 8 inches of snow. Dianne and I went out and shoveled snow for about 2 hours, just so when the snow melted, we wouldn’t have to wait so long for the court to dry!”

Folks who play pickleball payson

Some of the many people who stop by the Payson tennis courts to play pickleball during the week: Pat Patterson, Jodee Smith, Paul and Jacque LeSueur, Joel Dean, Jennifer Kiley, Mike and Dianne Wing, Maryse Vossler, Joshua and Deanna Wright. Photo by Michele Nelson, courtesy of the Payson Roundup.

The Payson Pickleball Club is steadily recruiting some of the other tennis players in town to try the fastest-growing sport in the country!

Thanks, Deanna, for sharing your story about your new pickleball courts in Payson!

Rachael Kroog – Go to the Light Side

Everyone has a story about how they got started in Pickleball.  It usually starts with family!  I hope you enjoy Anna’s interview with Rachael Kroog at the 2014 USAPA Nationals in Buckeye, Arizona!

Anna;  Okay, so here we are with Rachel. Rachael, can you introduce yourself?

Rachael:  Hi, I’m Rachel Kroog from Minnesota.

Anna:  And Rachel, tell us about pickleball. How did you get into it?

Rachael:  Well, I’m a tennis player, and actually a four sport athlete, but my dad and I played tennis tournaments together. And one year, when he was probably about 79 years old, he called me and he said, “You know, I’m not playing tennis anymore.” And I, you know, my heart kind of sank. And he said, “But it’s okay.” He said, “I found a new sport, and it’s called pickleball.” And I thought, maybe it was something like shuffleboard, because they live in a senior community down in Sun City Center, and what sport does a 79-year-old just pick up, you know? And so he said, “No.” He said, “Really, it’s a great sport.”

So, I flew down there and I played for a couple days, and we batted the ball around. It was okay. And then a year later, I went back and we played for about a week. Then the hook was set, you know. And I came home and I googled pickleball in Minnesota and found out there was a small group playing very close to my house. And, you know, I’ve hung up my tennis racket and I really haven’t played much since. I call it, “Going to the ‘light’ side” versus “Going to the ‘Dark’ side”.

Yeah, so I’ve come to the “light” side, and it is addicting. It’ll change your life in so many positive ways. All generations can play it.  I’ve seen grand-kids play with their grandparents and with their parents, three generations out on the court. You know, what other sport can you have fun and compete with three generations? So, it’s really an all-around sport and I highly encourage you, if you haven’t picked up a pickleball paddle, pick one up, find a friend that plays. They will take you under their wing because that’s the pickleball “‘hood”. That’s what we do, we help the beginners. So, go grab a racket. Go grab a paddle.

Anna:  And Rachel, what did you win today?

Rachel:  I won the silver medal in the Women’s 50-54.

Anna:  And this is at the USAPA Nationals Pickleball Tournament.

Rachel:  In Buckeye, Arizona. The Nationals. It’s real.

Anna: Thank you.