It is just about ten years since we first picked up pickleball paddles. Oh my, how pickleball has changed.
Visiting The Villages
We were fairly certain we would retire in The Villages as we were both devoted golfers. We packed up our golf clubs and rented a home for the month of September 2007. As we drove the golf cart to the golf course, we heard this strange noise. We investigated and found people playing a tennis-like sport on a smaller court. The next day we tried it out for ourselves. We moved to The Villages just two months later.
The Villages was certainly the pickleball mecca of the east coast. But it also has a lot of golf courses, so we split our time between both sports. Though we each worked to improve our game, we didn’t really get fully hooked until Denise retired in 2010. Then things changed.
Occasional clinics became twice-weekly drill sessions. We both started traveling to play in pickleball tournaments. With this perspective, we feel able to compare the sport then and now.
Denise played in The Huntsmen Senior World Games in 2011. Our recollection is that registration opened in April and she was able to still register in August. In fact, we don’t believe anyone that entered prior to the deadline was turned away. Now we find players setting their alarms to grab a spot. Some complain that one’s internet speed or proximity to the USAPA server effects their ability to register in time. This is just one of many ways pickleball has changed.
We believe The Huntsmen will incorporate a lottery system this year; allowing players with points earned for volunteering during the 2017 games to qualify before others. The remaining players will enter online and then be put into a lottery to determine if they have secured a spot.
Certainly, major tournaments have seen unprecedented participation, but this is not the only way pickleball has changed. Money has entered our sport. With this a host of new issues:
- While amateur seniors who outnumber professional youngsters fund the sport, preferred courts and special treatment is lavished on those playing for cash;
- Amateurs go two and out as they are combined with professionals in age events;
- Questions have been raised related to the size and/or “ability” of male and female professional brackets being reflected in prize money. (Frankly, I thought we fought that battle in the ’70s).
Perhaps one of the biggest differences one recognizes when attending major tournaments is the commercialization of pickleball. There are more vendors, and while most are still “mom and pop” operations, some are established sports companies. One suspects that there will be consolidation in the coming years. Who will cash in and who will simply disappear? Only time will tell.
Of course, some have voiced discontent over the sale of video rights to tournament events. There has been plenty of discussion of this issue on the Pickleball Forum and to their credit, the USAPA has responded.
Another way that pickleball has changed relates to instruction. When we began playing there were a few “better players” that offered clinics, but most we attended were free or very low cost. We now find some professionals hustling to make a living giving lessons, and several pickleball instruction/destination companies now offer a roster of alternatives.
In 2007 we aren’t sure if there were any books on pickleball on Amazon. Today there are dozens. Today there are over 60,000 YouTube videos related in some way to pickleball. You can watch great matches, learn how to referee, and get lots of instruction. Some of the instruction is quite good…in other cases, you are getting exactly what you paid for it.
My How Pickleball Has Changed
If you read the October USAPA newsletter, you learned about the number of new courts, new USAPA members, the growth of the SSIPA for seniors, and the growth of the game among juniors. There will certainly be times when many of look back and long for some of the good ol’ days, but for the most part the changes are for the best.
Are there pickleball changes you are happy to see, and others not so much? If so, please let us know.