Starting Pickleball in a Community
By: Bill Booth
As a resident of Sun City Grand in Surprise, AZ, I started the pickleball program here in 2002. It has been phenomenally successful. We now have over 850 members in our club that play on 12 courts. There are also additional non-members that play (residents of Sun City Grand, but not pickleball club members).
We started out by converting a tennis court to 4 pickleball courts on a temporary basis. At that time, almost no one here had heard much about pickleball, so it was done on a temporary basis to prove the popularity of the sport. After we proved ourselves, we were able to get 8 permanent courts and were able to increase the number to 12 when we outgrew the original 8 courts and we still don’t have enough courts.
The minimum recommended size of a pickleball court is 30’x60′. The standard size of the pad for a tennis court is 60’x120′. That just happens to be exactly big enough to divide into 4 pickleball courts. A larger size is recommended if you have the room, but 30’x60′ is adequate if you have space or cost constraints. Our original 8 courts were put into the same space that was intended for 2 tennis courts. The additional 4 courts were made by converting an existing tennis court. Click here for diagrams and information for setting up temporary courts.
If you have an indoor gymnasium, that can easily be converted to pickleball courts with portable net stands or removable net stands that are set into the floor. The dimensions of the perimeter lines of the court are 20’x44′. That is the same size as a doubles badminton court. Indoor courts are often set up for dual use of pickleball and badminton.
The secret to making the sport grow is to give free introductory lessons. If you just put the courts there, people will be shy about knowing how to get started. My wife and I personally gave introductory lessons to over 500 people. Once we got them on the court, the game sold itself. Now, that our club has grown, there are others that give the introductory lessons. It is important to find someone that is capable and willing to fulfill that role of getting people started and organizing the program.
The other thing that helps it grow is to set aside a special time for what we call drop-in. That is a time when everyone knows that others will be there to play. We call it drop-in because people just drop-in, without a reservation, and play others that drop in. The players just rotate freely in and out of the courts and tend to play others of similar skill level. That concept greatly increases the social aspect of the sport. Many of our members joined the club because they wanted an activity that they could do with their spouse. Our membership includes about 170 couples.
As the number of players increases, it is important to have a good way to communicate with the players and to provide information for prospective players. Create a website or blog to help keep the players informed of schedule changes, leagues, and other activities. It is free and easy to do with blog services like blogger.com and wordpress.com.
Be sure to list your courts on the new Official USAPA Places 2 Play website. That helps prospective players to find you.
To help schedule court time for club activities and to allow players to reserve courts, click here for a free online reservation system. We have seen similar success with other senior communities in our area. We now have 5 senior communities within a radius of about 5 miles that have installed permanent or temporary courts.