How USAPA Ambassador Cindy Clodfelter Brought Pickleball to NC Schools

We were contacted by USAPA Ambassador Cindy Clodfelter to share an exciting story about her success bringing pickleball to Lee County schools in NC. This was done with the help of Tramway Elementary teacher Cara Langston, additional ambassadors and supporters of the USAPA including PickleballCentral.

If you’re curious about how pickleball has been brought to schools and other communities, the following interview provided by Cindy will be of great interest and show how the entire pickleball community can help rally behind a great cause. Enjoy!


How did you end up helping Lee County with their pickleball program? 

I was contacted by Joe Borelli with the USAPA to present pickleball at the NCAAHPERD (North Carolina Alliance for Athletics, Health, Physical Education, Recreation, Dance, and Sport Management) Convention. He also contacted Cara Langston to help me with the presentation. I didn’t know Cara at the time but enjoyed working with her. We were given 50 minute time slot and spent some time planning together by email/phone.

There were 80 participants who attended our presentation at the convention, which was held at the Benton Convention Center in Winston Salem, NC. Most were PE teachers from the state public schools and colleges. Several were already avid pickleball players themselves. Many said they tended to introduce pickleball at their schools near the end of the year, because once their students played, they didn’t want to go switch to any other game!

Cindy with students

Cindy Clodfelter with Tramway students (Sanford Herald)

What sort of support did you receive? 

I contacted the USAPA, PickleballCentral, Onix, TOPP and Engage for support in bringing pickleball to Lee County.

Bynum Tuttle from Onix presented me with a special program called the Onix Give Back Program which included special prices on nets, paddles and balls. He also gave the school 8 paddles and balls to get started. PickleballCentral gave me discount cards and bags for participants. TOPP Pickleball gave me a demo paddle for students to use.

I applied for a USAPA grant and was provided $350 which I used to purchase 2 net systems and 8 PickleballCentral paddles.

What’s it like being a USAPA ambassador and what was the process like for bringing pickleball to these schools? 

As an ambassador for the USAPA, I made a commitment to grow the sport of pickleball for people of all ages. I was part of NCAAHPERD for 30 years myself and am a retired member now. I was a Nationally Board Certified Physical Educator during my career, so I’m very passionate about PE and pickleball.

I currently play pickleball, teach beginners how to get into the game and participate in ambassador meetings and events.

As a member of the USAPA, I stay informed of the growth of the sport. All ambassadors have the same grant info provided on the USAPA website. An ambassador is the only person who can write a USAPA grant. To become an ambassador, one must be a member of USAPA and complete an application to be appointed. Schools can contact local ambassadors for help, as the USAPA offers both school and recreation grants. I often help with program and court development.

Cara Langston is a player too and knows the value of the game. She’s an accomplished PE teacher who has a desire to help her students be more fit and and live well. Her middle school already had a program in place and she had a goal of getting her students playing in addition to sharing her equipment with Southern Lee High so kids in Lee County could learn the game throughout high school.

When I was teacher, I wrote grants for my students because I didn’t have a budget to get equipment. Grants take some work, but you must want to make a difference in the lives of students and your community.

Gael with students

Gael Hogan helping to teach the pickleball walkthrough (Sanford Herald)

What is your general advice for picklers looking to start programs like this and what do you enjoy most about the process? 

There is often money for bright ideas, but you have to apply to get it and show the data to prove the impact in your teaching.

Don’t be afraid to ask companies for support—all they can say is no, and many don’t mind helping!

Cara’s students were awesome. They had fun and seemed excited about learning more about game. I called on fellow ambassadors from my area and players in Lee County to help me teach.   Other ambassadors are always willing to help, and in this case it was Gael Hogan from Sandford, NC who supporting me in the walkthrough at Tramway.

Pickleball is addictive and the fastest growing sport in the country. It’s often more than a sport, but a way of life. I’m always grateful for the friends I have met playing this game. My “pickleball family,” as I call them, mean the world to me.

Lee County School System was very proud of Cara and her willingness to better educate her students. Cara will work with Vickie Wilkins from Southern Lee to develop lesson plans for the game. Vickie is a tennis coach at Southern Lee High—and it’s a good indoor tennis practice activity. I am reminded of pickleball pro Stephanie Lane who was first introduced to pickleball from her tennis coach.

I’m always open to helping schools have better PE activities. It’s hard not to like pickleball and it’s great that you don’t even need to be an athlete to give it a go.

Cindy Clodfelter

USAPA Ambassador – Archdale, NC

How Do You Feel About Pickleball Trick Shots?

When you’ve got the skill, sometimes you just feel like showing off. If the stakes are low or you’re going after a difficult shot in the first place, trick shots can add more style and versatility to your game. Ever seen someone hit a pickleball behind their back, through their legs or outside the boundary lines? Then you’ve likely seen a trick shot at work. (Some players also just call it “getting lucky” depending on the circumstances involved!)

This fun and informative video from Dirty Dick and Halo Herb of The Villages shows off some of these intriguing moves and might give you ideas on how to work in more unconventional shots into your play. Options like “Around the Post” are great for throwing off your opponents and making it more difficult to tell where your shot is going to connect.

All of these moves are legal, however there is some confusion surrounding the “Herb shot” displayed around 3:20. The rule it calls into question is 11.A “Carry and Double Hits.” The rules state, “Balls can be hit twice or carried, but this must occur during a continuous, single direction stroke. If the stroke is not continuous or not in a single direction, the hit is not allowed and a fault will be declared.”

Some feel that since the ball is slightly scooped upwards then pushed back, this constitutes more than a single direction. However, it was confirmed at last year’s Nationals to be legal as of this time.

Would you consider all of the moves shown in the video to be actual trick shots or just smart play? Do you use any in your games?

Three Ways You Can Make Pickleball Newbies Feel Welcome

Sooner or later most people want to introduce their friends and family to pickleball. The more the merrier, especially when you need a partner for doubles! Many newcomers are willing to give the sport a try despite its unusual name, but others may need a bit more convincing. Some people can feel nervous, intimated or overwhelmed by pickleball at the start, but there’s no need for that with some simple preparation.

Use the following tips to seamlessly introduce your friends to pickleball regardless of their experience with other sports.

Bring Your Friend to an Intro Clinic or Teach Them Yourself

We don’t recommend throwing newbies into the fire by bringing them to standard rec play unless you have plenty of time on the court, the other players are your friends and everyone is willing to start slow. While pickleball is fairly simple to understand, it can be too much for someone to try learning the rules while also attempting to focus on a “live” game.

Instead, take them to a beginner’s clinic where an instructor will teach them the fundamentals (such as the ones we host at Pickleball Station), or do it on your own by explaining how to serve, how to volley and what areas to avoid (such as the kitchen). Breaking things down bit by bit is much easier to digest than hearing a monologue on the game from start to finish.

pickleball pals

Don’t rush through instruction and accidentally leave your friend behind! (Credit: jalexartis

Use the Right Equipment

This is more for the experienced player’s sake than the beginner’s! We highly recommend teaching friends with a starter wood or composite paddle instead of lending them one of yours (unless it’s been well used and retired).

Too many well-intending players have loaned their equipment to another only for them to accidentally drop, scrape or break it. If it happens with a $15 paddle, no problem. If it happens with a premium paddle that you’ve cherished for many winning games? It won’t only be a monetary loss for you, but the early accident could make your friend feel guilty and dissuaded from trying again.

Be Safe

The most seasoned players get deeply involved in the competition. They throw themselves into the game with passion – sometimes literally, to the detriment of their injured bodies. If it happens to players who should know better, you can bet it’s easy for newcomers to overlook safety just the same. Remind them to be aware of their positioning, where to keep their eyes, how to turn when chasing a lob, never to dive for balls and so on.

These might seem like obvious tips, but just like learning any new sport, there are common mistakes that tend to be made and can lead to devastating consequences. Don’t let an overeager beginner hurt themselves, especially before they’ve even had a real chance to get started.

It also goes without saying that you should avoid more physical aspects of the game like tagging until later. Some might think it’s funny to pick on the new guy/girl, but it can be very disheartening to feel like you’re being trounced before you’ve gotten a chance to settle in.

What’s the #1 way you like to introduce friends to pickleball? Do you have a super smooth onboarding process, or do you just wing it and hand your buddies a paddle? Share your thoughts!

Young Pickleball Friendship Spreads Love for the Game: ​​Mattia Astori & Myles Getto

Several years ago our Director of Sales passed on some information about two young athletes working hard to expand the reach of pickleball, particularly in Italy. It’s a tale of two young men from two different countries who met by luck and connected through their love of sports.

The two picklers in question are ​​Mattia Astori from Italy and Myles Getto from the USA.

Mattia Astori (right) and Myles Getto (left) show off their medals in Vegas

You may remember Mattia from our mention of him during the Italian Open in 2018. This interview with Mattia below is from 2017, and he has since went on to work with Zelindo Di Guilio (founder of the Italian Pickleball Assocation) to build pickleball’s presence in Milan. He’s also become an IPTPA Level II-certified instructor, so he’s certainly been keeping busy!

We thank Carol Amos (Myles’ aunt) for her personal help and for supporting Mattia’s efforts, along with Mattia for providing us this wonderful story. Enjoy!

—–

I’m 17 years old and I decided to become an exchange student last year. It’s probably the best decision I’ve ever made so far. I got ‘shipped’ to Fallon, Nevada, a place completely different from what I’m used to, since I live really close to Milan in the north of Italy. I’ve played tennis since I was eight, doing multiple tournaments around the country and outside the country internationally. I stopped playing when I was 15 in 2014 because school ended up requiring too much time.

While I was in the U.S. I decided to join the high school tennis team, and that’s where I met Myles. Myles is who introduced me to this wonderful sport and I loved it from day one. We practiced together for the whole year and played multiple tournaments together, getting one bronze medal in Utah, one silver medal in Sacramento and one gold medal in Las Vegas. During the year he hosted me as a brother and now I’m hosting him as a brother in Italy for a little while. These days I’m hoping to get pickleball started with his support.

My mom works and cooperates with a guy that owns a sport center in Brugherio. I already know him, Alessandro, because I worked for him in a summer camp two years ago. As soon as my mom told him about pickleball he got so excited and wanted to be the first one to start it in Italy. He wanted me to start a little course for the children of the summer camp and really thinks they’d enjoy it. (I do too!)

Carol helped me so much to make this dream come true providing us with all the equipment needed to start the course. Unfortunately we’re having a little problem with the equipment because it has been stuck in customs for almost a month now. Alessandro is taking care of the case and sent all the papers required to make them go through, and I’m helping him try to find a phone number and see what the problem is.

It’s not the first time I’ve had problems with customs sending a package from the U.S. to Italy, so I guess it’s common, but we’ll find a way to make it work!

Blacklight Pickleball – Do You See an Opportunity?

Here’s an idea that could give your game a “glow up” when you want to try something new: blacklight pickleball.

Nothing to see but glimpses of picklers, some neon accessories and a shining pickleball. Want to give it a go? This idea was shared by Kevin Huff in the Pickleball Forum Facebook group. Take a look at how it plays out below!

 

Kevin explains that his group rented a commercial black light from a local company and then added a few of their own 48” bulbs in mobile fluorescent light fixtures. They used Gamma Photon Indoor Pickleballs which naturally showed up in the blacklight.

In order to make the lines more visible, they added white tape on top of what was already present and then removed them after use. The actual location used was Bethany Christian Church in Anderson, Indiana.

Maybe it’s time for us to raid some local party stores for glow sticks and bracelets? This looks like a fun and relatively straightforward way to add more of a party atmosphere to your games. Try it out for a special event or just for fun.

According to the players there was some concern about visibility (mainly regarding bumping into fellow picklers), but they were able to play without trouble. Even so, we recommend those who don’t have the best coordination to be extra careful and avoid anything that limits environmental awareness like this.

Have you ever held a pickleball event with an unusual twist like this? We’ve heard of costumed tournaments before and courts on cruise ships, but not much has transformed the actual courts like this. We’d love to hear your experiences!

How to Help Friends Get Started Playing Pickleball

Pickleball is a fairly simple sport, but when you’re tasked with introducing it to others, it can be tough finding the right words to explain everything. If you’re not in the middle of a court with equipment at hand, then it makes it all the more difficult to help others visualize the game.

If people keep asking you, “What is pickleball?” and you find yourself stumbling over the words “dink,” “kitchen” and “pickles” to the dismay of your confused listeners, we’re here to help!

We’ve put together a simple PDF brochure for anyone interested in the basics of pickleball. It serves as a simple primer and will introduce the game to complete newbies in under 5 minutes. It explains what pickleball is, what equipment is needed to start playing, where to find courts and how to get a copy of the rules.

what is pickleball

Click to download the “What Is Pickleball” PDF

You can either send interested parties the PDF directly or link them to this page.

For easy reference, the links included in the brochure are:

PickleballCentral.com – For players’ equipment needs

Usapa.org/ifp-official-rules – To download the official rulebook

Places2play.org – To find local courts

We also recommend Pickleball.com’s “How to Play Pickleball” page for a more succinct summary of the rules. Think of it as a “Quick Start” guide.

The USAPA has a Basic Rules Summary that also sums things up in an easier way, and includes the following video if your soon-to-be picklers are visual learners:

We also like this video from PlayPickleball.com for those who’d like to see people in action while learning the necessities:

Of course, it’s always easiest to learn the game by actually playing it with a more experienced pickler. We recommend newbies ask at local clubs if they’d be willing to teach the sport or if they happen to have dedicated clinics and training days, such as those at Pickleball Station.

Do you have any additional resources you use to inform beginners about the game? What do you find is the easiest way to explain pickleball to the uninitiated?

Where to Host Pickleball Events Indoors

It can be tough to organize pickleball events, especially in the midst of winter. Chilly players are not the only issue. You might be forced to cancel an event if heavy rain or snow decides to make an unfortunate appearance.

If you’re concerned that weather could be an issue, then you may want to consider indoor venues to avoid trouble entirely. To get started, we’ll give you some ideas below.

Schools

High schools and college campuses can be quite large and have plenty of space that might go unused, particularly during their teams’ off-season. Look to see if any of your local schools offer facility rentals. Remember that schools also give students a couple weeks off for winter break, so you may be able to coordinate your event around their least busy dates.

If the school already has a gym then that’s a plus, as the flooring will be suitable for pickleball. You might be able to get away with areas that are not typically intended for sports such as larger classrooms or studios if the flooring isn’t carpeted.

gymnasium

(Credit: shelmac)

Churches

You certainly don’t want to attempt playing among the pews, however some churches have larger basements that they may use for more casual gatherings or activities. When they’re not in use, you may be able to have your pickleball gathering there.

Community Centers

Places like YMCAs and other multi-use buildings are usually the first locations people consider for tournaments, but the downside is that these places are often very busy juggling their normal schedules.

If a location’s primary purpose is to host different sports and activities, then it stands to reason that they’d have their spaces booked most of the time. You don’t have to write them off completely, but it may be more difficult to find an open time compared to other options.

In any venue you select, be sure to check with your hosts about what type of temporary markings you should use. Some flooring may be more susceptible to discoloration than others, and you don’t want to leave a layer of sticky adhesive behind after your games. Unless of course you’re lucky enough to secure a place that has pickleball courts already established!

We also recommend choosing a location where the ceilings aren’t too low—not only can this be frustrating if you hit a lob and it ends up making contact with another surface, but lighting that’s too close to the action can result in game-affecting glare or damaged property.

We rent out our indoor courts at Pickleball Station, so if you’re ever in the WA area and want to host an event complete with multiple courts, a connected pro shop and supportive staff, we’d be happy to help you get started.

Have you run an indoor tournament or event before? Which venue did you decide to use and how well did it work? Let us know in the comments.