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The Pickleball Blueprint: Redefined

By: Scott McCulloch

It is no secret that pickleball is on the rise, both on a national scale and within the CDT network. According to a recent report by the Sports & Fitness Industry Association, there was a 21% increase in participants from 2019 to 2020. Meanwhile, nearly a quarter of the CDT portfolio currently offers pickleball programming at their facility. When a new game makes this significant of an impact on the sports and recreation landscape, the question is no longer how to attract players to the sport – but rather, how to retain them.

As we all know, there are numerous methods designed to boost player retention across sports, but the primary area CDT leadership has focused their energy is within programming. Rather than simply offering the courts, our racquet sports leaders have made a deliberate effort to re-vamp the pickleball programming with a scalable pathway designed to keep players learning and progressing for years to come.

New participants begin with Pickleball 101 and 201, our four-week beginner classes modeled after our popular (and successful) Tennis 101 and 201 offerings. Within a month or two, the goal is to empower beginners with a solid foundation so they can enjoy the sport for years to come. However, with pickleball’s rapid learning curve, the beginner classes are not quite as critical as the classes that follow them. Since players can effectively pick up the game quickly – unlike tennis, which requires more formal instruction to master – many players may choose to opt out of 101 and 201 programming. As a result, it became clear very quickly that our post-201 classes and play options would be the critical components of a positive player experience.

Ultimately, “Dink N’ Drink” drop-in play, level-based match play, leagues and monthly mixers comprised the magic post-201 formula. Participants appreciated the variety of social play versus competition offerings, and this mix staved off the plateau that often follows the initial excitement of picking up pickleball so quickly. While at first glance, pickleball can appear as a very simplistic sport, our mission was to educate players on the strategic side of the game, so they continued to learn and find value within the sport even if they were not progressing at the same rate as they did when they first picked it up.

Simultaneously, our team examined avenues to educate our pros, many of whom came from a tennis background, on best practices to teach and support pickleball’s popularity at their facility. Currently, we are in the final stages of introducing our own Pickleball certification that focuses on our pros’ teaching skills (how and what to teach), experience (how many hours they are teaching) and play options offered (what they are doing to further their players’ pickleball journey.) Most tennis pros can make the shift over to pickleball very easily, so our certification was not necessarily designed to teach that transition, but instead give our team a blueprint to run an effective program that makes their players successful for years to come.

Pickleball shows no signs of slowing down any time soon and as racquet sports leaders, it is up to us to offer programs, pathways and play options that maximize the popularity of this rising sport. With a firm commitment to education of our team, as well as innovation of the pickleball “blueprint,” CDT has done just that. ...the goal is to empower beginners with a solid foundation so they can enjoy the sport for years to come.


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