Creating and Growing a successful pickleball club in South Suffolk
Meet Sue Nicol, Chair of South Suffolk Pickleball club who recently spoke to Karen Mitchell.
In 2017, Sue was a pilates teacher in Capel St Mary near Ipswich. She also taught Zumba but was looking for a safer exercise to encourage clients to exercise aerobically. She went to a spa weekend with friends and was introduced to pickleball for the first time. She loved it! It offered aerobic exercise, lateral movement and strategic thinking and, above all, it was safe, sociable and fun!
Back home, Sue looked for somewhere to play but there was nothing locally. So she set up her own club in January 2018. She got help from a local racquet sports company who lent them nets to use and also lots of help and advice Jane at the UK Pickleball Shop. Sue invited her friends and advertised on Facebook.
The Club grew quickly to 65 members with several sessions a week. Then the pandemic arrived.
Did you lose many members following covid?
When restrictions were lifted, many of our members returned but our membership was depleted as with all sports clubs. However, we had the opportunity to grab more sessions (as other clubs were slower to return than us) and therefore needed to rapidly grow our membership to support more court bookings. It is always hard to find places to play but when we lost a session at our main venue, I contacted the CEO of Abbeycroft Leisure Centre. He agreed to come and watch a pickleball session and talk to our members. Now we have a preferential contract with the centre, pickleball line markings and a marketing link. We also have four outside courts at Capel St Mary which the local Council and Veolia helped us to fund.
We now have around 80 members and run four sessions each week at the Centre and two elsewhere. Two sessions a week are totally for coaching at the moment as we have been growing our membership to support these 6 sessions. We are in the process of arranging higher level coaching and are encouraging our members that it is worth the extra cost! One session a week is restricted to the more experienced players. And we have an internal tournament once a month. We have recently run a taster session which was very successful and helped us to significantly increase our membership.
How do you communicate with members?
Originally I set up a What’sApp group to help us to stay in touch with each other. Then we decided to have two separate groups – one for chat and the other for booking sessions.
Do you use a system for bookings?
We are now using ‘Spond’ online system to manage bookings, payments are made directly to the club’s bank account on booking the session. We may decide to use the Spond payment system in the future as reconciling payments with sessions booked is a big job! This app has been fantastic for making the booking system easier and saved us hours of work going forward.
How much do people pay to play?
We charge £5 for two hours play and there is also a membership fee of £40 per year. The first session is free for new members and they have to decide after 3 sessions if they wish to continue and join the club. We encourage members to purchase our club kit – this is important to generate a sense of commitment to the club. We get our kit from a local company and have just changed supplier and expanded our range.
As well as court hire costs we pay for the pbE insurance through Meads which covers the club. We also pay IPTPA to insure our four qualified coaches.
Any challenges that you haven’t yet tackled?
Under 18s are not allowed to join as the safeguarding issues are too problematic. Very occasionally older children have come with their parents or grandparents. It would be great to involve young people or schools, but it is so difficult to get it going. We are also now in the process of starting to run tournaments with other clubs, something we had done pre covid.
What advice would give anyone setting up a pickleball club?
Facebook is brilliant for advertising – finding, joining and advertising in all the local area groups. Local radio can also help. Don’t be afraid to charge the members a fee to join. Money is always useful! We did have to run at a loss whilst building back up after covid – so it is very important to make sure that you generate enough when things are going well to ride out difficulties. Contact people and organisations that can help you with expertise and grants. Get in touch with others involved in pickleball. Go to outside events – if you are quick enough to register! Meet like minded people and pick their brains – it really is a pickleball family and everyone wants to share information and help. But the focus should be on growing the club itself.
It is a really exciting time at the moment as pickleball continues to grow in the UK. I would happily talk to others about setting up and running new clubs as we desperately need more places for people to play.
I have loved setting up a pickleball club and I am passionate about the sport. It’s my last year of six as Chair and the club is going from strength to strength. We want to encourage more members to attend pickleball festivals and competitions both in the UK and abroad. And I am thinking of talking to the Spanish Sports Centre Manager in Murcia where I have a house to get something going there….!!
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