by Jeff van de Hulst, North East Regional Director for pickleballEngland.
In the current climate tennis has seen a surge in people playing again during COVID-19, but for how long, many tennis clubs have seen a decline in membership numbers over the past years and this is where pickleball can help reverse that.
Last year, the LTA made an announcement that they will be integrating the new upcoming sport of padel into their operations. That is great for padel but they did decide as well not to support pickleball as their part of their plans.
Now here is my take on pickleball v tennis:
With the decline in memberships at tennis clubs, pickleball could actually bring some new life into those declining numbers specially at local smaller tennis clubs, because tennis is often seen as an elitist sport and often expensive coaching is needed to reach a certain level.
JUNIORS (up to 16)
You could assume that many kids that start tennis will drop out quite soon, they pay for an expensive membership and coaching for one year and they are gone the next season and the question is did they have fun??
Introducing or including pickleball at a tennis club could help to retain those youngsters because pickleball is easy to learn and fun to play and coaching is more affordable. Win/Win.
SENIORS (baby boomers)
When we reach a certain age certain things are not as easy as they used to be and when they are not easy it is not fun anymore. Pickleball is easy on the joints, less running and power is involved, it’s easy to learn and so much fun to play, this is an incentive for senior tennis club members to stay a member because now they can stay active in their club by taking on pickleball. Win/Win.
These are the members that can decide for themselves what they would like to play in their tennis club. It could be tennis, padel, pickleball or a combination of the three but overall I believe it creates a stronger sports community within a club and the growth of tennis clubs rather than the decline. Win/Win.
- Membership retention (income)
- More court time income (1 tennis court=4 pickleball courts)
- More club tournaments (income)
- New memberships (income)
- More coaching opportunities for coaches
- More merchandise sales (income)
- It might upset some tennis players
- It might effect your personal tennis game
The proof is in the pudding so to speak. In the USA alone Pickleball has been the fastest growing sport in the last 10 years by 630% and in Europe in 2016 there were 2 international tournaments and in 2019 there were 10 international European tournaments, pickleball is being played in over 60 countries worldwide.
Here in the UK there are already tennis courts with pickleball lines painted, including Norwich, Mulbarton and Dereham in Norfolk Capel st Mary in Suffolk, Purley Beaches in Surrey, Ramsgate and Broadstairs in Kent, Bexhill, Sedlescombe in Sussex and others in Hertfordshire showing that when people ask for lines it is possible. More recently, my colleague Sam Basford raised funds to convert a tennis court to 3 pickleball courts (not retaining the tennis lines), looking more like the custom build pickleball courts in the USA.
Maybe that could be the next trend!
So the question here is not Tennis clubs v Pickleball but more like this approach from a small tennis club in Norfolk: Pickleball@HinghamTennis which is a very inclusive approach:
Hinghamtennis created a group within the club calling it pickleball@hinghamtennis, the club promotes the game night, training sessions and is used as an alternative for juniors when it rains at their training sessions they go indoors and play pickleball instead.
This is a very inclusive approach because that is what pickleball is all about, it is an inclusive activity.
Don’t try to talk people into pickleball, it doesn’t work, give them a paddle instead, explain the basics and play.
Now all that is left to do is Play.
Downloadable PDF of Examples of pickleball lines on tennis courts Pickleball lines on a tennis court (81 downloads)
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