Introducing Pickleball as a Competitive Sport: Trinity Episcopal School in Galveston, Texas

trinity-episcopal-school

Activity Center at Trinity Episcopal School, Galveston

I heard it by the grapevine that some great things were happening in one school PE program in Galveston, Texas.  Here is some of their story, shared by Anne Hyatt, Program Director at Trinity Episcopal School. ENJOY!

We are in our 4th year of playing pickleball at Trinity Episcopal School, and I jokingly say that I have a group of little addicts. They are always asking me if they can play during PE, get more court time, when our next tournament is, etc. They are nuts about pickleball! I’m our school’s Program Director, and coincidentally also in my 4th year here. I was charged with creating after-school and extra-curricular activities in our new athletic facility, and in my first year I stumbled upon pickleball in an equipment catalog and thought we should give it a shot. We practice once a week, on Fridays, from 3:00pm-5:30pm. When I started, we played on Fridays for the spring semester. We are now up to every Friday from September – March, and I know they’re going to ask me for extra practices in April. 

 

The first year wasn’t as successful as we’d hoped. We only had about 18 students in 2nd – 8th grade, and a lot of them didn’t stick with it. The second year I had more students (20) in the same age range, but I tried to change our dynamic: we had holiday parties, a separate practice for the older kids and hosted our first “tournament.”

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Students playing pickleball at Trinity Episcopal

I think there were only 6 students registered, but at that point they finally had a grasp of the rules and it was awesome to see this competitive spirit come out of them during tournament play. I also added pickleball into my PE curriculum. I think it was a combined effort of students getting better and me getting better too. I was more confident in the rules and how to play the game and it helped the kids be more confident as well.

Last year the program took off; I had 30 students registered for after-school pickleball, with an even split of 15 2nd-5th graders and 15 6th-8th graders. We extended our season and played from October – March, and 20 of the 30 students participated in our 2nd annual “Spring Swing Tournament.”  

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Trinity Episcopal medal winners at Mid-South Regionals

I took 10 students to the USAPA Mid-South Regional in May of 2016 to compete, and everyone medaled in either doubles or singles (or both). We were the only Juniors registered, but we don’t mention that. 😉 Last year’s group was so large that I had to enlist the help of a couple parent volunteers, and we also hosted a family night where parents could play with or compete against their students.

This year the program is at an all-time high. I have 37 students playing after school, 18 2nd-5th graders and 19 6th-8th graders, and they are insane about the sport. Every week my younger kids learn some part of the court, the game or the rules of play and we practice basic techniques like forehand shots, volleys and serving. We end almost every practice with a game called “Defender” – sort of like King of the Court – and they all groan when I say time is up. My 6th-8th graders work on skills and strategy. They play as many games as they can during the hour and half practice. I’ve literally had to blink the lights on them to get them to quit and go home.

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2016 Spring Swing Tournament Participants

We really are a pickleball school, as silly as it sounds. When my players traveled to Louisiana in May to compete, it was the farthest any of our athletic teams had ever traveled to compete. I have kindergarten parents stop me and tell me that they can’t wait for TWO years from now, when their child can start playing pickleball. One of our biggest challenges is that they don’t have the opportunity to compete against other students, or they aren’t really welcomed to enter in the 19+ division of tournaments. They are crazy about pickleball, and it’s so cool to see their development and growth in the sport. I love what the sport has done for our students and for our campus as a whole.

Thank you Anne for sharing how a program like yours can grow pickleball athletes!

Don’t Forget This Important Step Before Playing Pickleball

It’s easy to get caught up in the excitement of pickleball, but if you jump into a game as soon as you hit the courts, it may be more than your technique that suffers. Warming up is a big part of not only improving your performance, but ensuring you stay safe during play. Slogging through a series of stretches and 15 minutes of jump rope isn’t the only way to activate your muscles; instead try these simple tips.

Stretching woman

Stretching doesn’t have to be a pain!

Drills

If you have a partner to work with, practice dinking back and forth or focusing on other techniques that concern play up at the net. You can slightly bend your knees and rally the ball back and forth, making your way toward one side of the net and then the other. This will not only get your body moving, but help you work on accuracy and control.

Walking Lunges

This exercise is a great choice for pickleball since your knees should normally be bent in a “ready” position during play. Take a long step and then slowly lower yourself in to a lunge, then push up with your quad and repeat on the other leg. You can do this a few times by following the length of the court. Don’t just go through the motions; imagine that you’re having to stretch for a wayward pickleball every time so that your muscles really activate!

Jogging

This is usually more fun if you can run outdoors, but taking a few laps will get your heart pumping so that your body is prepared for fast action when the game starts. The warmer your body is, the more hemoglobin gets produced, meaning higher levels of oxygen in the bloodstream pushing you toward peak performance.

Ready for a Jog

Suit up for a quick run

Swinging Motions

You know how you can end up flailing a bit when reaching for tough shots? Well, this warm-up technique is like that, but more controlled. Moving your arms in big circles or “windmills” will loosen up your joints and muscles so they’re ready to swing for pickleballs later on. The more prepped your arms are, the more flexible and resilient they’ll be.

Rock Your Ankles

Be careful moving into this position, but if you can comfortably get on your hands and feet, try linking one foot behind the other and gently move your grounded foot up and back. You should feel a stretch along the back of your calves. This motion can also improve your balance. Keeping your ankles safe during play is very important since it can be easy to trip by moving too quickly.

These are just a few ideas to get started, but if you want to continue playing pickleball for a long time to come, please be sure to properly care for your body before and after play. What are some of your favorite ways to get your body ready for pickleball?

How to Set Up a Local Pickleball Club

Pickleball is a social sport by nature, and since many players’ favorite type of game is doubles, more people equals more fun. But what can you do if there aren’t many picklers in your area, or if pickleball itself is relatively unknown?

We recommend starting your own pickleball club. This can seem daunting at first, but the truth is it can be as simple as contacting a nearby rec center or finding an old tennis court. You’ll end up with more people to play with, and a whole new group of pickleball fanatics will be born. It’s win-win!

Pickleball is highly addictive, and if you can get even a few people on the courts, it’s almost guaranteed that you’ll get return visitors bringing their friends. Let’s walk through how you can go about setting up your own pickleball paradise.

Find a Place to Play Pickleball

The first step is finding a suitable place to play. Choosing a centralized location in your city is always a plus, as it will make your club more accessible to visitors. If you know of a nearby rec center, park or other public facility where there are already tennis courts then that’s a plus, as you can fit 4 pickleball courts within 1 tennis court. There are detailed instructions on how to utilize a tennis court for pickleball here. Doubles badminton courts are the same size as those used in pickleball as well.

Warehouse Pickleball Court

Our court is in the warehouse, but the net gets moved around depending on how many boxes are present…

If you can find a location with pre-established courts, you’ll need to ask the owner or coordinator of the facility if it would be possible to allow a time for pickleball drop-ins to play, and if it’s okay to use court tape or temporary markers on the ground to establish boundary lines. Another useful tool is a net adjuster so you can lower tennis or badminton nets to the appropriate height of 34”.

Of course, the most accessible place to play is the court you build yourself! If you have the space, you can always install your own court using our Wilson posts or set things up on the go using a portable net system. We also know about plenty of communities that have lobbied to get public pickleball courts installed with great success.

Choose the Right Equipment

Once you have a court, the next step is to ensure your members have equipment. It’s great if people can bring their own paddles and balls, however if you’re starting from scratch, there’s a possibility most of your members will be newbies. It doesn’t hurt to have extras on hand for anyone curious about the game either, since most people end up investing in better paddles down the line.

The most affordable type of paddles are wood, so it’s possible to buy several without breaking the bank. However, if you want potential members to get a real sense of what a “good” pickleball paddle plays like, buying a couple low cost composite paddles (which will be cheaper if they’re gently used) will be your best bet.

Find Members for Your Pickleball Club

So how do you go about finding members? A good place to start is to look at nearby USAPA members and other clubs in your area by going to USAPA.org. Not only will they be able to offer advice on getting up your club set up, but some members might find it convenient to visit your location.

You can also build interest by advertising at recreation centers, senior communities, talking with friends and otherwise sharing it along the grapevine. Word tends to spread naturally once you find a few people to start, as members get their friends and family involved. Offering free lessons is the best way to get newcomers to the courts, otherwise they may feel out of their depth. You don’t have to be a professional to share your love and general knowledge of the game.

Pickleball teacher

A pickleball coach sharing the game from Pickleball Canada

The USAPA provides a lot of materials that you can use to supply players with information. At PickleballCentral we include Coach Mo’s Strategy Guide in most of the packages we send out, so that’s another good tool to have in your arsenal. These sort of “take home” packages are a plus, but we find that simply getting people onto the court is the quickest way to rack up interest.

Another tried-and-true way to get attention and make sure everyone in your area knows about pickleball is to contact the local media. Even if only a few members are in attendance, news outlets are eager to feature new initiatives, and the increase in exposure can really help your club thrive.

Keep People in the Loop

A simple way to maintain ongoing engagement is to create a website so people can view your schedule. This makes it easier to get information to members and beginners alike. Setting up a website is quite simple these days. You can sign up for free at WordPress to get access to the same user-friendly platform we use to share our blog. You should also get yourself listed on the USAPA’s Communities and Clubs list and their Places to Play section—it’s free!

Enjoy the Best Savings

Lastly, be sure to sign up with our Club Rewards program. There’s no fee to get started, and you and your club members will receive a special code to get 5% off every order at PickleballCentral. Another 5% of your order total will go into a savings account which will accrue funds based on all your members’ purchases throughout the year. At the start of the New Year, we’ll send you a gift certificate code for the money you saved to be spent on new supplies and gear.

US Open Courts

A look at the extensive U.S. Open courts

The USAPA says that in 2015 an average of nearly 20 new locations to play pickleball are being established weekly: That’s over 1,040 courts a year! With the sport experiencing such massive growth you can bet that starting your own club will allow you to get the most out of the pickleball movement.

Can you recall the History of Pickleball Composite Paddles? Steve can!

We are so glad to know Steve Paranto!  He is a wealth of information about all things pickleball.  In this installment,  Anna interviews Steve about the history of composite paddles and Pro-Lite Sports. Enjoy!

Anna:  Okay, so, here we have Steve Paranto. And Steve has a long history of pickleball. Steve if you could tell us about when you started playing and what kind of paddle you used.

Steve:  My very first exposure to pickleball was my community college, which is a suburb of Seattle, where the sport, near where the sport was invented, Green River Community College. And all the tennis players, I was a tennis player, during our lunches, we would go in and play pickleball and the first two weeks of college our professors went on strike. So we felt like, well we’re not going to class, let’s play pickleball all day and we did that. And back then our paddles were wooden paddles with holes in them and they weighed about 13 ounces, so they were very heavy.

Anna: And you said that your dad..

Steve:  So my dad would follow us around to tournaments and my dad was a Boeing engineer and he was an athletic person, so he loved sports and would root us on. And the partner I had at the time, we did fairly well, but we kept losing in the semis and finals to the same people over and over. And I was frustrated and I came home one day and I said, “You know these paddles, these wooden paddles are too heavy.” I weighed a pickleball paddle and I weighed a pickleball and they were thirteen times heavier than the ball. I weighed a tennis racket at the time and a tennis ball, and they were seven times heavier. And I said, “The ratio is off.” So a week later, Dad makes two prototypes out of Boeing floor paneling, he was an engineer at Boeing and we had the prototypes, we went to the next tournament and beat those guys, the same guys that we were losing to and that was the start of the company.

Anna:  I am curious about the facings on those. Were they graphite facing?

Steve:  They were fiberglass, they were fiberglass the very first (ones). They were honeycomb, just like everything you see now is basically a copy of some sort of that material.

Anna:  Do you know what year that was?

Steve: That was 1984.

Anna: And did it have an edge guard on it or how did that..?

Steve:  That was the only part of the paddle my dad did not manufacture, we had that molded by a company. My dad made every single portion of that paddle in our garage in Eatonville, Washington.

Anna:  And then, what about the grips and the build ups on those?

Steve:  Oh well, Dad did that out of a foam material, cut that out of foam. He did that all himself. Beveled it. Had a process to bevel it and then we would be gripping paddles. It was about a 22 step process to make a paddle.

Anna:  And you made them in your, your garage?

Steve:  Garage.

Anna:  Right! Did your dad play pickleball too?

Steve:  …he did and he got very good for senior level. He was winning local stuff for his age. He is 84 now, so. At that time, he was younger than I am now. So it’s kind of hard for me to believe when I look at those old pictures that, “Hey Dad, you’re younger there in that picture than I am now.”

Anna:  Right. Your dad started the company Pro-Lite.

Steve:  He started Pro-Lite.

Anna:  And he named it Pro-Lite because of…

Steve:  Well, it was the lightest paddle available and we thought we’d put “Pro” in front of it. The lightning bolt came from watching the movie “The Natural” by Robert Redford. We were watching the movie when we were starting the company and we liked how Robert Redford put the lightning bolt on his bat. So the next day we had a lightning bolt as our logo.

Anna:  Great. And then you guys sold the company to..?

Steve:  We sold it to Mark Kendall Lario who then a couple years later sold it to Mark Friedenberg and now Mark Friedenberg’s son, Neil has it.

Anna:  Very good. Well, thank you Steve, so much for sharing with us the history of the paddle.

Steve: Yeah, you’re welcome.

It is so good to hear this story.  Pickleball started as a cottage industry and has grown by leaps and bounds in the last 20 years.  If you have a good story about the history of pickleball, just shoot me an email, eliza@pickleballcentral.com.

Baby Boomers Return to College for Pickleball! The Western Institute for Lifelong Learning

When you think of a “typical college kid”, what do you picture? An 18-year old walking around with an oversized backpack and a pile of books? Perhaps a young adult with a look of pure excitement on her face, walking across the stage on her graduation day?

Would you picture a 68-year old married woman, with two kids and 7 grandchildren, with a degree she received over 40 years ago?

This is just an example of a typical student you’d meet at the Western Institute for Lifelong Learning, or WILL. According to their website, “WILL offers a lifetime adventure for continued intellectual discovery in a supportive, expansive, and informal learning environment – for eager learners of any age”. The idea for this sort of program stemmed directly from the local townspeople, who had seen similar ideas in other communities.

Western Institute for Lifelong Learning

 

 

Offering 70 courses this fall, ranging from a one day hike to a semester long program, WILL is a unique opportunity for students who may not fall into the “traditional” age group. For only $75 per semester, students can take as many classes or activities as they want. Held at Western New Mexico University, inside the city limits of Silver City, the program is a convenient way to have both an active mind and an active body.

June Decker, the facilitator of the pickleball course, is thrilled that pickleball has caught on in her community. In 1979, Decker was teaching at a university in Vegas, where a coworker introduced her to pickleball. For years, they joked that they were the only two in New Mexico who knew how to play! After moving to Silver City from Vegas, Decker was determined to start pickleball as a part of the New Mexico Senior Olympics. Once they started playing at the state level, the cities wanted to join in on the fun as well. Decker had the skillset and the drive – all she needed was a facility. That’s when the WILL program came along. The Western New Mexico University already had good pickleball paddles and indoor pickleball balls, giving her a great opportunity to share pickleball.

WILL pickleball players

Once pickleball was introduced, the community caught the pickleball craze! Decker jokes that she “never would have believed I would create a community of addicts”.

Pickleball is one of the most popular classes at WILL. When pickleball was first offered as a course in the fall of 2013, registration for the 18-person class was full within minutes of opening. There were so many people on the waiting list that the decision was made to create a second class section. This year, in addition to the beginner’s class, there is also an ‘Intermediate’ class offered for those who took the class the previous year. Each class lasts for about an hour, and there are thirteen sessions per semester (once per week).

Thanks to the large number of pickleball fans, Western New Mexico State now offers community play two days per week. There’s always enough space, thanks to the 6 outdoor courts and the 4 indoor courts in the university gym. Decker said, “I am very glad we have a pickleball community here so I have people to play with, and I’m glad that people enjoy this great sport.”

WILL pickleballers

Decker keeps her advice for new players simple: “See the ball, hit the ball. If you think too much, you tend to over-teach, and then the [new student’s] heads are spinning!”

As the conversation ended, Decker started laughing while she joked, “We’re keeping senior citizens off the streets!”

Thanks for sharing your story with us, June!

Photos courtesy of http://www.will-learning.com/

by Miranda

Setting Up Pickleball is as Easy as 1-2-3

Pickleball mania is spreading! How do we know? PickleballCentral was recently contacted by a group in Dublin, Ireland who wanted to know what they needed in order to get started playing. That made us think there may be others out there who want to get started with this addictingly fun sport and need a rundown on the basics too. So, here’s what we told our friends across the Atlantic:Basket of pickleball paddles

Here’s the basic equipment you need for pickleball: net, paddles, balls, a place to play, and a desire to have the most fun you’ve had in years!

You can play indoor or outdoor, on a flat surface that’s at least 20’ x 44’. That’s the official court size, but we recommend a little extra space all around the playing area for player movement.

Pickleball courts are the same size as badminton courts, so if you have access to badminton courts you’re in luck. Tennis courts can also easily be temporarily converted, and the USAPA has an easy-to-read article on how to do that here.

If you’re converting badminton or tennis courts for your game, you don’t need to worry about nets. If you’re setting up a new court from scratch then you will want to invest in portable net systems. They cost $160-170 and can be set up and taken in down in about 5 minutes and come with a carrying bag for transport/storage.

Paddles start at about $15 per paddle for wood paddles up to $100 per paddle for top-of-the-line graphite paddles. For kids and adults new to the game and only interested in casual play, wood paddles can suffice. Adults who want to play on a regular basis generally prefer composite or graphite paddles. Composite paddles start at about $50 and graphite paddles at about $60. Generally you would want a minimum of four paddles per court.

Pickleballs for indoor use start at $12.99 per dozen.  Outdoor balls are $24.99 per dozen.

So, a low-cost set of equipment with wood paddles to get you going would cost in the range of $250.  Not too bad to get started in the fastest growing sport in the U.S., now spreading like wildfire around the rest of the world!