By Alyssa Gautieri
Pickleball — a court sport which uses perforated plastic balls and composite or wooden paddles about twice the size of ping-pong paddles (ranging in price from $50-$150) — is now considered to be the fastest growing sport in America. According to the Sports & Fitness Industry Association (SFIA) 2018 Pickleball Participant Report, pickleball currently has 3.1 million players in the U.S. — an increase of 12 percent over the previous year. The sport has also had a 650 percent increase in numbers over the last six years.
With the sport growing more and more popular, associations are welcoming pickleball into their communities as a way to bring residents together and build a sense of community. We spoke with
USA Pickleball Association (USAPA) Atlantic Regional Director Rocky Clark, who shared the best ways to effortlessly start a pickleball program within a community.
Contact a USAPA Ambassador.
Clark noted that, typically, a member of the community who is particularly passionate about starting pickleball will spearhead the activity/program. “Usually a resident who wants pickleball in their community will enthusiastically begin to spread the word,” he said.
Members who know very little about the sport can take advantage of the USAPA’s ambassador program. “If I didn’t know anything about how to start a program, I would call an ambassador and they would come over for free and help you get set up,” explained Clark.
Establish a Court.
In order to start a pickleball program, Clark said “the most important part is a good venue, whether that’s indoors or outdoors.”
The minimum recommended size of a pickleball court is 30 foot by 60 foot. The standard size of the pad for a tennis court is 60 foot by 120 foot, which means an outdoor tennis court can be divided into four pickleball courts — sixteen people using the courts instead of four people playing tennis!
If you don’t have temporary nets to place on each side of the court, Clark noted that you may also use the tennis court net by lowering them from 36 to 34 inches. “If you don’t have the time to put up a temporary net, you can use the tennis net,” he explained. “Place the baseline of the pickleball court seven feet away from the nets to use the tennis nets as the pickleball nets.”
In order to build a temporary court, the association may choose to chalk, tape or paint the pickleball lines onto the tennis court. “I use a three-step process if I am building up a community of pickleball players and we are using a tennis court. I will chalk out the lines first. If it is becoming popular and the tennis players don’t mind, we will tape it out for a couple months. If, at that point, we have built up a team, then we will paint the courts.”
If building a new outdoor court, Clark noted that it’s important to consider the placement of the court. “The court should face north and south, that way you don’t always have the sun in your eyes,” he said.
“There may be some problems with noise,” so you should also ensure you place the court a good distance away from residences, Clark added.
An indoor gymnasium can easily be converted to pickleball courts with portable net stands or removable net stands that are set into the floor and some tape.
Offer Introductory Lessons.
Once a court is established, the pickleball community should help the sport to grow by offering free, introductory lessons. “Offering intro classes can be done by any experienced pickleball player,” said Clark. “You don’t need a professional player, just someone who knows the basics.”
“Pickleball is a fast learning sport, and I think that is the key,” Clark added. “It is an inexpensive sport, and it is the easiest racket sport to learn,” which means people of all financial situations and athletic abilities can play and enjoy the game.
Although the game is simple for beginners to learn, it can also develop into a competitive game for experienced players.
Provide Drop-In Hours.
Another way to help ensure the program grows is to offer drop-in hours, or a set time when community members know that others will be there to play. Members may drop in, without a reservation, and play others of their similar skill level. “I recommend starting slow, having drop-in hours once or twice a week. As the demand builds, have hours more often,” Clark explained.
Communicate with Players.
As the number of players increases, a member of the community may choose to create a website or blog to communicate with the players and to provide information for prospective players.