Written by Dave Pearson, who incidentally was the first person to secure his DBS certificate via PickleballEngland.
In June 2021, coaches Dave Pearson, Ruth Tomlinson and Richard Dixon from North Herts Pickleball were invited to help the local 8th Letchworth Scouts to achieve their Skills badge by learning pickleball for an hour a week over 4 weeks. We agreed first and considered how we would do it later. Here are ten things we learned along the way.
Focus on the teaching and let others do the rest
We didn’t know where we would hold these sessions and we could have used a lot of time trying to secure a space. Instead, we gave options and suggestions to the Scout Leader, Zeke Hill, and left it to him to reserve the space. He managed to reserve use of three local outdoor pickleball courts.
It’s ok to teach kids in a different manner to teaching adults
We didn’t know what level of hand-eye coordination the kids would have and we didn’t know how they would respond to us as coaches. So, we took it steady with simple steps first. Before we gave them a paddle, we did drills with the ball such as pairing up to pitch and catch, to catch just with their dominant hand and to catch after a bounce. Only then did we introduce the paddle with drills such as bouncing the ball on the paddle.
Keep sessions moving
As well as keeping drills simple, we kept the drills short. The kids were great at following the instructions given, but their curious minds soon wanted to move on to the next thing.
Keep learners safe
Before we did anything we emphasised safety. This meant that the kids were mindful of stray balls and shouted warnings or stopped play until the balls were cleared, and they rarely ran backwards.
Competition is a force for focus
Interesting though it is to use a new paddle and ball, novelty can wear off very quickly. We were careful to add a level of competition to the drills. As learners completed the challenges they moved on to another part of the court, or similar. This helped keep focus and interest and allowed them and their leaders to get a sense of achievement and improvement.
Nothing beats a game of pickleball
We wanted to have the Scouts play a game on court from the first session, without overwhelming them with too many rules. So in week one, we had them play a simplified game. As the weeks progressed, we added more so by the end of week 3 they could play a game with all the rules.
Group activities keep the group together
In the first couple of weeks, we had all members of the group taking part in the same activities. This allowed them to learn together and to see who was doing best and who needed more help. In the first week, all were on best behaviour, and by week two, they started to get the measure of the coaches and the format. So we changed it up by week three.
Skill stations really move the dial
In week three, we divided the group into three, put the groups on a separate court and rotated them round the courts, each coach teaching them specific shots on each court. This kept them moving and gave them closer attention to their technique with different coaches. This really seemed to move their skill level along, particularly those who were showing an aptitude for pickleball.
A group is comprised of individuals
While the group was coherent, the individuals in the group each took something different from the sessions. For some, getting away from the X box was an achievement, for some improving their hand-eye coordination was an achievement and for some being able to play a good game of pickleball was their aim and their achievement.
Pickleball is a sport for young people
Our question before week two was whether the kids would come back and still be engaged. We needn’t have worried. The first kids started to return 30 minutes before the official start time and readily started practicing right away. Some had also enthused their parents and grandparents. This level of enthusiasm was maintained over the whole four weeks.
Pickleball is fun
From prompt attendance to their willingness to take part in the activities and their banter and laughter it was evident that the kids found pickleball fun. They enjoyed being outdoors, they enjoyed hitting balls and they enjoyed learning new skills and a new game. It was great fun for the coaches too. We enjoyed sharing our love of pickleball, we enjoyed the exuberance of youth (theirs not ours!) and we enjoyed learning to introduce this age group to the sport.
Teaching pickleball to a group of Scouts was about being flexible, adapting instruction and drills to fit the need and trying different approaches. It is fine to be less than perfect; that’s why you’ve read 11 observations not 10! It is imperative to be confident and to instil confidence.
We thank the 8th Letchworth Scouts group for inviting us to introduce them to pickleball. We would gladly do it again for similar groups and we recommend it to anyone thinking of doing something similar.
Comments for this Blog are restricted to pickleballEngland members. If you are a member, please log in. New members may register below.